When I told my mother that I was going to church after what felt like eternity to her, when in actual fact it was just two years, she couldn’t stop thanking God. She even offered to lend me the special chiffon she got from her pastor’s wife as a birthday present. Truly God had answered her prayers. I felt so too. Her fervent gratitude to God moved me, I really was looking forward to going. I was even singing church songs as I prepared to go there. I knew it was a different kind of church, the kind I‘d been dreaming about, young people who were lively and free to worship and express their love for God however they wanted without all these legalistic nonsense from my previous church. Lefoko, Lefoko la Khutjo is the one who invited me.
I met Lefoko la Khutjo almost a month ago. We were counting money in the taxi when I noticed snuif containers hanging down her ears. Her turban was way up there, you’d swear she was hiding something under it. After handing the money to the driver I took out my current read. Well, my first book since I could not remember how long it had been since I had read any material that was not school related “Things Fall Apart”, she read the cover, then stared at me for a moment, “Lefoko la Khutjo,” she stretched forth her hand. Was that her name? Like real name? I heard it clearly the first time but I had to hear it again. She smiled and said it again with admiration this time around. I admired her parents! “Kganya,” I shook her hand. She said something in Setswana about stars; I shone like a star or stars shone like me… I don’t know, but whatever it was it sure sounded good. She began telling me about how thought provoking and truthful the book was, then quickly stopped herself as she did not want to jinx it for me. I kept nodding as I was still on the 1st chapter and remembered little because of all the characters’ names that kept confusing me. She suggested other books and began telling me about the world, history, television, reality and almost everything I had little knowledge about or none at all. I was fascinated by this girl, Lefoko la Khutjo, I kept repeating her name in my head wondering if it was both her name and surname. Before she got off she invited me to a special gathering. Her eyes glowed as she spoke about it. When I asked what it was all about she did not want to tell me much, but from her passion and how fascinated I was with her I suddenly felt excited, I was interested. We exchanged numbers. “It’s almost like church to us,” she grabbed her bag and prepared to get off, “Plus I’ll be taking on the holy ground so you don’t wanna miss it.” “As in you’ll be preaching?” I asked in amazement. “Not like that but… yeah something like that,” she shut the door.
That morning Lefoko WhatsApped me the directions to her church. It was the day I would reconnect with God again, I anticipated the moment as I made my way there. I was welcomed by music as I approached the corner, but it was a different kind of church music. Was I at the right place? I texted Lefoko but my last message to her still had one tick. I was at the right place as the sign at the gate read like the one she had sent me. I wondered about the church, no sign of the cross or Jesus or an angel, but stalls of old things; clothes, bags, cutlery, jewelry, you name it. Then I spotted her next to one of the stalls. Seeing her comforted me. She looked like she had been cleaning or cooking. She winked at me and showed no signs of coming over to greet me. I wandered around the stalls that nothing said ‘church’ about them. Maybe it was a youth crusade of some sort as people looked extra happy to see each other, a reunion atmosphere. I couldn’t help but notice that almost everyone was dressed like my mom from her back in the day pictures. It was like time travel.
That’s when I thought I might have misunderstood Lefoko la Khutjo. This was a… not a church. A “church” of liberals perhaps. Everyone was just free. Too free for church I thought. I walked in the venue and I was greeted by all these mysterious creatures and phrases on the walls, hanging bags, bicycles wheels, old shoes in glass boxes. These people had a serious love for ‘matured’ things. I began wondering at my mother’s prayers. Had she not made a mistake when she asked God to get me to go back to church again? I sat collected on one of the old chairs provided, it was either that or a bench, crate, old kitchen chairs or logs, even the floor as others gladly sat on it. People came in with drinks and snacks just before we started. The drinks were served in little glass bottles of peanut butter and jam, the snacks were served in little baskets and enamel plates. This was disrespect, it’s how poor people lived. I wondered at these people.
The MC welcomed us and hoped we were ready to give and receive everything that would come from the sacred space, holy ground-which was the stage. Holy ground! Did he hear what he said? I looked around to see if I was not the only one who heard him. To my surprise everyone was in agreement with him. I tilted my head in amazement. Then he opened the floor, the holy ground for who ever wanted to share something. Testimonies, to prepare the ground for the one we’d be eating from today, Lefoko la khutjo. People screamed and cheered when he said her name. Voluntarily a few stood up and spoke about the system, love, loss. I never understood at first as most of them spoke about a system and how we were slaves to it. I was interested to learn more about this but still confused about the church part as they referred everything to the kind of church I knew but it was nothing like it.
The atmosphere was slowly changing, incense enveloped the room and everyone seemed to be one, fingers were snapping and there was a smooth flow of things… Then she walked on stage, dressed in a long floral old fashioned dress with Converse All Stars and a turban. She looked taller and striking. The applause and cheering went on for a while. The queen had stepped on the holy ground. The room went silent. She thanked everyone for their presence and energy, “And the spirits of the ones before and after us, holy spirits,” she added and pointed at the smoke of incense. Holy spirits! I frowned. I listened but never heard much except system system and more system. Then she began singing, a guitarist by the corner joined her, melodic words by an audience member, a chant by another, a beat, a rhyme and it eventually became this piece of music, others began making strange sounds and repeating the same words, others fell into a trance…
When it died down the MC took to the stage and reminded everyone about he the money needed to keep the place running for such events and much more better things to come, then pointed at the back where the offering and donation buckets were.
Everyone wanted a piece of Lefoko la Khutjo, I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to talk to her. Besides I don’t know what I would have said about her church. This was not the kind of church I expected. Overwhelmed by discomfort, confusion, thrill and uncertainty I prepared to leave. “You’re leaving already?” this mysterious dreadlocked browned eyed guy asked, his eyes pierced right through me.
“Phantom,” he reached out his hand.
“Phantom. As in a ghost?” I raised my eyebrows. He laughed.
There were ghosts too? I don’t think my mom was praying for this kind of church for me.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo