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June 26, 1979

Dear Mom,

… We have worked out a new system to get out mail a little quicker. The most southern Italian mission is about one hundred miles north of us in a place called Erga Chafe. They are in very mountainous country among a farming people called the Daraza. The country is much like the Meru Mountain in Arusha, plenty of bananas and very fertile land. The Daraza live very close together; I’m sure that there is not five square feet of unused land in the whole country. This mission in Erga Chafe is the only one among these people and was only started a couple of years before we started among the Borana. For the mission and school work, there are two priests and a brother. Then three Canadians, two nurses and a social worker have started an out patient clinic and some health education. We have arranged to pick up our mail there once a month and have left two canvas bags with them for that purpose. They travel to Awassa fairly often and can pick up our mail there. People from Awassa in turn often go to Addis so it is easy to bring our mail as far as Awassa for them. Both the Italians at the mission and the girls have been down here to visit us and now that the road is open we are looking for more frequent visits from them. For the Borana to see unmarried men is really strange, but when three unmarried women came along, it was almost too much. They were trying to figure it out and asking questions about it for weeks afterwards.

As I wrote some time ago, we have started teaching in eight villages in the area right around us here in Dadim. The first step (we are fourteen weeks into this right now) is getting them used to having weekly prayer meetings with us. For this purpose we go to each village every week. The meetings center around their making of coffee and “eating” it, which is the way they have prayer meetings traditionally. The whole beans, outer cover and all, are fried in butter, then mixed with milk and passed around in wooden cups. They customarily have this coffee together with prayer at every occasion big and small. Anything from simply receiving a visitor to the installation of a new age set. Part of every occasion is always the coffee with appropriate prayers. Part of the meeting is always a story related to village or family life followed by a discussion. We are trying to use their own traditional stories and fables for these sessions. Because of this we are collecting these stories all the time.

These fables, stories, historical legends, songs and so forth are very interesting in themselves. After a while you begin to see themes and ideas, which keep recurring. For a people with no written literature, these are the things which must carry their philosophy of life, how people should act, what kind of ideals people should aim for, etc. I came across one recently that you might be interested in hearing. This was given to me in Borana in a kind of free verse form. It is the kind of thing the old men use when reaching the younger people about life, perhaps sitting around the fire at night or in the shade of an acacia tree of an afternoon.

This fire burning here
It is our custom to burn it
This house is made of grass
If a man stays in this place of the fire, it is good
If he refuses to stay here but goes away, it is destructive (this refers to people who leave Borana land to, for example, get a job up North).
It will destroy this house
The house will burn down
The thorn bush fence surrounding the village and cattle enclosure will also burn
If he does not stay but must go away, it is very bad
If he goes it is bad
If he stays it is good
This is the way fire destroys a home

Furthermore another evil thing
Is a man
Who has wealth
Who has milk
Who had butter
Who has meat
Who has coffee
But does not share
Who refuses to share anything of his own
Who eats alone and everything he has he himself consumes
This is a very bad man
Whom nothing of his reaches another person
Who “hates” everybody
This very selfish person who shares nothing
It does not matter if this man lives or dies

But there is another kind of man
A man who is good
If a man who is good has cattle, he shares
If he has food he shares
If he has clothing he shares
If he has money he shares
He gives milk to hungry people
He invites people in if he has coffee
The spirit of this man rests in God
Whether he lives or dies is in the hands of God
He is blessed

This is an example of the kind of thing we are taking from the traditions of the people and using in our discussions and prayer services with them. There is no limit to the wealth and richness of these traditions; it just takes a little patience and effort to dig it out…

Love,

Ned

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