Not The One in the Bible
Page 2

Story and photos by Jessica Lee


The next morning Nyahururu was a world blanched of color. Great big fat African rain had lashed my windows all night. It was still pelting down as I picked my way through the muddy swamp that was the bus station, trying to find transport to Maralal. Crouched on the steps of the bus, sheltering from the rain and sucking on a lollipop, Hillary the bus ticket seller supervised a man lying on top of a bunch of cardboard boxes under the bus who seemed to be discarding most of the engine innards. Things did not look promising. There was a dubious sound of clanging coming from beneath. It was competing with the steady rhythm of the rain. Hillary put the lollipop back in his mouth and wrote me a ticket.

His friend Martin climbed on the bus wearing overalls which proclaimed that he worked for the Happy Land Sausage Factory. He wanted me to sit up front next to the driver.

"No way," I said. "Head on collision. First to die."

"God will deliver you there safely. I am P.C.E.A." He said drawing out every letter so that they fell out of his mouth like bullets. "Presbyterian Church of East Africa."

I sat in the seat behind the bus door. My faith in higher powers and sausage factory workers didn't extend to Kenyan road statistics.

When the mechanic appeared in the doorway and pronounced the bus roadworthy, Haman Peter climbed on board and Martin begged Hillary to refund my ticket so I could stay in Nyahururu another night.

bus passengers

"We'll show you good times," he said dancing in the aisle and thrusting his hips about in a way I wasn't sure the P.C.E.A would heartily approve of. I declined as Hillary dragged him off the bus and waved goodbye.

Under Haman Peter's watchful eye we were heading to the isolated north of the country. Now and again, in the middle of nowhere, a passenger asked to get out and Haman Peter helped them unload their sacks from the aisle and then left them standing by the side of the road in the wake of our dust. Every time this happened I scanned the surrounding countryside for signs of a settlement and saw nothing. Haman Peter told me that some of them would walk 20 or more kilometres to their villages somewhere out there in the endless savannah. It was a foreboding landscape of vast tall grass, sprinkled with the scraggly forms of acacia trees spreading their branches wide and flat against the sky. I wondered how a bunch of buttoned-up European missionaries had managed to so well and truly conquer such a wild land.

Persistent Protestants in Africa
Christianity first landed in Kenya with the empire-building Portuguese in the 16th Century. By 1599 Mombasa had its first Catholic church but only 600 people had been converted to the cause. This first stab at missionary gusto didn't even last 200 years. In 1729, having been wholly beaten by the Arabs who were also trying to take command of this stretch of the East African coast, the Portuguese were forced to admit defeat and set sail to try their luck in Mozambique instead.

Kenya giraffes

The Protestant missionaries of the 1800s were more determined to stick around. John Ludwig Krapf landed at Mombasa's port in 1844 and within two years had produced the first bible in Kiswahili. Despite this linguistic achievement he failed in his hope to baptize the nation (he only managed one conversion during his first stay in the country) but the book he wrote on his return to Germany managed to single-handedly arouse interest in missionary work in Kenya and so ushered in the nation's era of missionary zeal.

By the beginning of the 20th Century every European church seemed to be getting into the act of converting the Africans. There was the Christian Missionary Society, the Church of Scotland Mission, the Roman Catholics, the United Methodist Free Churches Mission and The Gospel Missionary Society to name a few; all of them intent on gaining (in what some would say very un-Christian ways) their own slice of conversion-pie.

Of those early missions some, like the Church of Scotland Mission, would become extremely successful. Others, as Christianity began to flourish with the local population, began to splinter away from the established missionaries thus beginning Kenya's startling, and highly confusing to the outsider, vast and acronym-loaded breadth of Christian diocese. Today in modern Kenya around 70% of the population is a member of one of approximately 200 different independent churches and my journey so far had been an education in many of them.

The bus shook and rattled into Maralal finally.

Kenya Maralal street

"Jessica we are here," Haman Peter announced. We formally shook hands to say our goodbyes.

"I hope for you the best," he said, "I say that Haman Peter me and not the one in the bible." And with that he slapped the book once more on the metal bar before tucking it into his pocket.

I got a room at a place just down the road past a couple of rickety shops where old men sat on front porches in perfect stillness. In my room, on top of the bedside table was a bible. I picked it up and leafed through it till I found the Book of Esther. It was all plotting, conspiracy and murky undertakings and I realised why Haman Peter kept reminding me that he was not him. Haman of the bible was the nasty villain of the piece.

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Travel writer Jessica Lee is the author of Footprint's Syria, Lebanon and Jordan guidebooks and has also contributed to various Lonely Planet travel reference titles. Born in Wales and brought up in New Zealand, she hightailed it for the road at the age of 18 and has been perpetually on the move ever since. She has been based in Cairo since 2007. Visit her website at

Related articles:

Notes from a Revolution in Egypt by Jessica Lee
Nairobi by Degrees by Lori Hein
Israel is in my Passport, but is it in Me? by Emily Matchar
How the Last White Rhino in Zambia Wins at Strip Passport by Edward Readicker–Henderson

Other Africa travel stories from the archives

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