Hali ya Hewa (The Weather)

Date posted: Thursday 16 February 2017

"The sun is fierce (kali) today," said one of the young men seeking respite in the shadows of the trees that are scattered around the Iringa Diocese Head Office. Having just choked on the dust that a passing car kicked up on my walk there, I had to agree. The forecast for the next several days is more of the same - bright sun, blue skies, and only a chance of scattered rain here and there. More so than on any of my previous visits to Iringa, hali ya hewa (the weather) has been the subject of many conversations as eyes scan heavenward for rain.
In some places, like Ifunda, they have been having rain in abundance. Two Sundays ago I was with a group from House of Prayer in Oakdale as they were caught singing in the rain in a newly built chapel. The rough-hewn timber walls and plastic-sheeting roof were simple but they did trick and kept us dry. In most places, however, the amount of rainfall is well below what is typically received by this time of year. In Northern parts of the Diocese, a colleague noted that the farms "are still sleeping." Elsewhere, we've heard stories of those who planted their fields according to the usual calendar only to lose that crop and be forced to replant. Across the region it has been hit or miss. Where and when it has rained, it has poured; where it has not, it has not.
A year ago we were watching record floods hit the Pawaga area, this year the picture is very different. Among the grassroots of farmers and herders who make their living off of the land, the growing consensus over the past couple of years is that 'reliable' weather patterns are no longer reliable. At the same time, closer to home, we hear of record level rains threatening dams in California and another winter with open water on Lake Superior. Global systems, it would seem, are getting weird.
Frankly, I'm concerned. While I'm not a climate scientist and can't speak with that level of precision about what may be occurring, I do have enough trust in our companions - both near and far - to hear their experience out. Although technology and industrial organization may render conversations at home about climate patterns as mere armchair debates, for subsistence farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa this isn't simply a political football to toss around. Vulnerable to the whims of the sun and the rain, for many the possibility of global warming is a matter of life and death.
Acknowledging that global systems are complex, my question is this: As stewards of both creation and relationships, if there is a chance that our choices for the generation and consumption of energy and goods are detrimental to our global neighbors, what are we to do?
When I travel around Minnesota people ask me how they can support their brothers and sisters in Tanzania. More often than not the answer loops back to funding for buildings, scholarships, and all kinds of projects. While those are all well and good, the question of rain this year -or lack thereof - has me thinking beyond my pocketbook. Are there lifestyle choices you and I can make that would make the world a more hospitable place? Can I walk or bike or use mass transit more? What about purchasing carbon offsets for my flights across the planet? Might we take the lead from many of our companions and investigate solar or other electrical systems for our homes and churches as well? And this is just scratching the surface...
If this bega kwa bega relationship has taught us anything it is that all of our lives are infinitely interconnected. And that, my friends, is a truism that brings great joy and great responsibility.
The Rev. Peter Harrits
Director of Bega Kwa Bega, Assistant to the Bishop