Steve's Yarns-- All those years growing up
and living in Oklahoma, California, Arizona, T
exas, and Africa..... Ain't done growing up 'til I get over on the other side :-)

Steve Van Nattan






In Eldoret, in the west of Kenya, life has been good for many years. The reason is that the weather is predictable, moderate, and there is never drought. One day, Pastor John Gichohi and I were visiting a bush church away from our main compound. Pastor John was asking about how life was in the area, and he asked how the crops were coming. The deacon said that there had been a drop failure. We looked around, and the fields looked great. The deacon went on to explain-- The neighbors' cows had broken down his fence and gotten into his corn field. That was crop failure in Eldoret. Anywhere else in Kenya, crop failure meant the rains were poor.

Also, Eldoret is in the highlands of Kenya where the climate is ideal. Another asset are the Nandi tribe who live in the area. They are not a lazy people, though they can be independent thinking. As a tribe they do not easily turn in hate on other tribal people who have moved to the Eldoret area.

It is a good life in Eldoret.

On Monday morning all the farmers in the area come to town on their tractors. Main street is a sight, and you must be careful not to get in their way. Main street is wide and built on the old colonial style. There are canopies over all the sidewalks, and shops are neither small nor large. The shop owners concentrate on a short inventory selection, and you must wander about town with your shopping list to get all you need.

Down toward the middle of town is the Lincoln hotel. It is the old style colonial hotel, with a lovely garden, bougainvillea hanging on the walls, and you can get a good curry dish there on Sunday. In great British Raj fashion, the Sunday meal ends with the British version of coffee which is terribly strong, and a cheese side board is available. The blue cheese is exceptional with water crackers on the side. During the week, we used to stop for a cup of tea and tomato and cucumber sandwiches.

Now, when we lived in Eldoret, our grocer was Aziz and Akbar. Aziz was the father, and Akbar the son. These men came from Dar es Salaam many years before, and neither of them had ever been to Pakistan, their land of origin. They were Muslims, and we traded with them because their ethics were governed by Islamic law, which demanded honestly. The Hindu merchants had no ethics, and we could trade with them, but it was a bit hazardous.

When you went into Aziz and Akbar's Grocery, the inside of the store was not very large, but the inventory was enormous. The shelves went all the way to the ceiling. The center of the store was reserved for produce and chutneys, tea, jam, and coffee that one would want to handle and browse a bit. But, the customer was not expected to get his own groceries. Looking and asking was eagerly met with a sudden climb up the ladder to the ceiling, and the NIDO tin came down in a rush and into your waiting hands.

When we stepped into the store from the street, Aziz and Akbar would stop and greet us thoroughly. They told us that when we were done with any browsing, just hand them our shopping list. My wife would often have every item already on a list, and she would hand it to Akbar. He would hand it to a African worker with orders to fill it, and he would tell the fellow which automobile was ours outside on the street.

Then Akbar would send us back to his office, which was also a bit of a lounge, and we were prevailed upon to have a cup of tea and Marie biscuits while we waited. One of the family, often Akbar's wife, would sit with us and visit. If we were lucky, Akbar's mother would have just made some fresh chapattis. These people would not think of leaving us alone without someone to visit with while we drank our tea.

When the tea time was over we walked to the counter, and Akbar would inform us that our order had been finished and was in the car. We said proper unhurried good byes, and went to the car and drove home. You see, Akbar would not think of spoiling a nice visit to his store by asking us to pay. We had an account with him, and the bill came in the mail at the end of the month.

If I was away from home, or it was a rainy day, Akbar would take Elizabeth's order by phone, and it would be delivered to our mission station in his Peugeot pick up truck by his African driver. Christmas was not a Muslim holiday, but regular customers always received a tin of biscuits of a cheese on the holiday. Was this just Asian custom? I don't think so. We were invited to dinner at the Akbar home one evening. Our grocer was simply a good friend.

Now, did you think living in Africa would be primitive and backward? How many of you reading this story have an account at the local grocery store and can get free delivery on a rainy day? Not so primitive after all.

Down the street was Bansal's store. He was a Sikh. We talked about Guru Nanak and Jesus Christ, and Bansal thought that Jesus and his Guru were a lot alike. I told him that Nanak was quite different in that Guru Nanak was dead and his tomb was know, while Jesus rose from death, and his tomb is empty. I told him Nanak gave many moral laws which no one could keep perfectly, while Jesus died for those who broke God's law, which was much higher than Guru Nanak's. Bansal was fascinated. Sadly, we had to leave Kenya before I could tell him more.

We left on the train for Nairobi, and I came back for one last meeting with the local church. On the way from Eldoret to Nairobi I was driving over the rolling hills east of Eldoret. I was alone and feeling sad, for we had decided that we should not return to Eldoret after furlough since the local church was fully ready to be on its own before the Lord.

God did something then which only he could do. A golden crested crane came flying along, dropped down ahead of my car, and flew along ahead of me for probably two miles. I slowed to keep pace with the crane. It seemed like God was having one of his amazing creatures give me the last good bye. It was very moving to watch the graceful crane fly along for so long without veering away.

Sometimes I miss Eldoret and the little luxuries of life there. To me luxury is meeting friends on main street, sharing an hour over a cup of tea, moving a little slower through the day, and having a butcher who raises a turkey in his back yard just for you because he heard you have a special feast in November called Thanksgiving.



I recently received mail out of the blue from one of the family of Aziz and Akbar. Aziz moved to Canada some years ago, and Akbar moved there later, taking his father with him. Everyone has prospered. The photo of the original store is shown above, and as far as I know it is still there. Relatives who have not left Kenya are keeping the store today. This is just another of the classic stories of people from around the world moving to Canada and the USA to find a better life and prosper without the uncertainties of their past. My family came from the Netherlands to do the same thing-- we just came a little earlier than Aziz and Akbar-- in 1695.

We have better information on names. Aziz was the older brother, not the father, in the family. The father was Gulamali, and Aziz was the oldest brother in the family. Gulamali was the classic Zanzibar gentleman who followed the path from Pakistan to East Africa to stake a claim in colonial Africa. It is curious today to see the heirs of these fearless entrepreneurs rescuing gas stations and motels across Canada and the USA.