The village of Kaweke was known as the poorest in the country, but it was not for lack of trying. Though blessed of rich loamy soils, a two-rain cycle, and evergreen, it had since sunk into a dusty village paralyzed with poverty and diseases like jiggers. Some wondered why.
For one thing, Kaweke people were always quick to embrace new ideas, though they soon gave up, for not realizing fruits soon after. That is how they had given up on coffee, once a promising crop that they had left to waste due to lack of good care. After abandoning coffee many tried vanilla, a creeping plant that everyone promised was the new gold. It started well, but when a glut on the market made prices fall, everyone gave up on vanilla.Then they rushed into rabbit farming. This was embraced with full zest. But as rabbit meat was a new delicacy in the country faced with low demand, everyone soon gave up on rabbit farming.
They were all kinds of speculation as to what was amiss. Some said Kaweke was a village cursed with evil spirits. Indeed, there was a medicine man, Manyondo, with the only car, whose job was to ward off evil spirits chaining people in drenching poverty. There was always a line at his shrine waiting on him. Manyondo attributed poverty to evil spirits.
One day a man called Alaba came and settled in Kaweke but with what many soon recognized were strange ideas. Where others moaned that Kaweke was a cursed village he told whoever cared to listen that it was one of the richest places on the planet earth. “I have never seen a place like this,” Alaba said. “What can you plant here and it fails to grow? The problem is you people just want quick money. Anything can turn out well if only people here were a little more patient, worked hard and remained focused.”
“Alaba must be a government agent,” the villagers started spreading a rumor. “We all know it is government that has made us poor yet he says the problem is with us.”
A chance for Alaba to prove his point came when a community organization started a programme to donate heifers to each household to produce milk for sale. When it was announced that the cows would be given free of charge, everyone in Kaweke was ecstatic. “Poverty is over!” cheers were heard. The news spread like wildfire. On the promised day, everyone turned up at Kaweke trading center. The villagers sat excitedly in a shade in anticipation, each expecting to go back home with a big heifer. But when the organizers turned up empty-handed there were gasps of shock and voices of protest.
“Are you people conmen,” Katuuzi, who reeked of alcohol in the early morning hours bellowed? “Where are the heifers you promised us?” He was joined by others. “We want heifers! We have come for heifers!” “Allow me to say something!” said Sarah, a short dark-skinned community organizer, standing in black gumboots. “We came to list those interested in training. Before we give you a heifer you must first go through three months of how to look after this animal. We call it mindset change training.”
“Who will pay for this training?” a voice was heard from the back. “Shall you give us food to eat when training us!” someone else screamed. “You lied to us that you were going to give us free heifers,” a man stood up agitated. “Did you say you want to alter our minds with poisonous ideas!”
Disappointed, one by one, the villagers marched out in a file. Most were men. Soon it was only Alaba left with about a dozen women, most of who held on to the hope of finally owning a heifer. These were listed and told to report for training five days in a week. On the first day, a dozen reported. Sarah took them through her lessons on animal husbandry and household economic management. Alaba sat in front, taking notes. He would often raise his hands asking Sarah to go slowly and explain carefully each point he hadn’t understood.
“You are delaying us,” one villager came and confronted Alaba during lunch break. “These lessons are boring. All we want is to get a heifer.” One by one, the villagers started dropping out of the training. By the time the three months were over, only half a dozen were left. It is these who received a heifer. When those who had dropped out, led by Katuuzi, heard so, they scoffed back. “See that was a trick! Those people didn’t have heifers and had to find a way to get rid of us.”
Having got his, Alaba found looking after a heifer was some hard work. One had to get up early to look for pasture, feed and tidy the animal shed. The heifer would suffer all manner of sickness; to forestall, it required constant spraying against ticks. Alaba did all. But most of others who had received heifers complained that it was too much work. Whenever a heifer would fall sick, they would call on Sarah, “Your animal is sick. Come and look after your heifer.”
Once when Sarah showed up and started by going over lessons of good animal care, an irate beneficiary hissed back, ”Don’t again give me those mind-altering lessons. All I want is my milk to sell and be happy! I have too many children to look after and my husband long left me.” In no time almost every villager had dropped out, except Alaba. Eventually Alaba’s heifer started producing milk, which he sold at the health center. The demand was great that Alaba took on another heifer. From his income Alaba started improving his household welfare. He bought himself a new bicycle and raised a new brick house with iron sheets from his profits.
And that is when his other problems started. No one talked to Alaba anymore as his life situation improved. At the drinking station Katuuzi, who was notorious for beating up every woman he took home, shared the report,” That man is a government agent. How do you get a new bicycle these days!” Around that time a young man called Pastor Afunna came to Kaweke. He opened up a church built of iron sheets enclosures with a few rickety benches inside. Pastor Afunna started preaching to the villagers what they had always believed was the cause of their endemic problems – flying evil spirits. “But I have got the right answers better than Manyondo.” He promised that those who “sowed money” into his mighty church he would pray for deliverance from those tormenting spirits of poverty.
For some reason, this message swept Kaweke village like wildfire. Finally, someone had found the keys to end the poverty of villagers. When they failed to get the money Pastor Afunna would challenge his parishioners to donate him their land. “Just transfer your title into my names,” he convinced one couple, “and all your family problems will be done with.”
And, with time, Pastor Afunna’s condition improved, as most of the villagers, remained trapped in poverty. He became one of the largest landowners in Kaweke. Once one person was walking out of Pastor Afunna’s church and saw Alaba who had graduated to a motorcycle from selling milk, riding by. “But how come, he rides!”
“You know Alaba is a government agent,” said one villager lamely.