Monkey Nuts

Waking up on Sunday morning in time for church is often difficult. I confess (all too readily, perhaps) that the church services here aren’t what I particularly crave in the way of spiritual edification. The music that sets my teeth decidedly on edge (insanely overblown speakers, off-key saccharine synth jams pumping from the electronic keyboard, etc…) has already been mentioned, for example. Of course, they do some things here in Riamukurwe Parish that are a breath of fresh air. Women from the community, not even trained ‘ministers’, regularly preach. ‘Presentations’, or songs performed by any member of the congregation, take up a large portion of the service, and it’s nice to see such involvement appreciated (even if, to my classically-trained ears, those moments have a definite Purgatorial feel).

But, “Church” is another entry, deserving of a title different than “Monkey Nuts,” which you may be wondering about. The story I want to tell happened a few weeks ago, and it was in fact during one of those Sundays where Eunice, the Manager (heroine of so many of my blogs, it seems), was delivering the Word of God. As everyone who preaches seems to think, the Word of God by itself can be a bit boring, and so it’s good to spice the message up with illustrations and anecdotes.

As Michael, Emilee, and I were sitting three-quarters of the way to the back of the small church, Eunice began to tell a story about certain farmers in another part of Africa, ostensibly to support a point she was making. I was only half-listening, expecting this story to follow the general pattern, that is, to have no link at all to anything that has been said so far. I think I was right. But anyway, the story went something like this:

These farmers produce, as a cash crop, a certain variety of nuts which sell well in other regions. But, as it happens, a local species of monkey is driven wild with pleasure when eating these treats, and so they do all they can to steal them from the farmers. The farmers, being humans and therefore more ingenious than the monkeys, devised a way to trap the monkeys and save their crops: they would take some nuts and put them into a large clay pot with a very narrow mouth. The monkeys would smell the food, rush to the pots, and insert a little simian hand, grasping the nuts. Of course, their fistful of treasure then makes their paws too big to remove from the pot without first letting go of the prize. Unwilling to do this, the monkeys are forced to stay with one hand in the trap, until the farmers can come at leisure and kill them.

So far, so good. I thought it was a worthy story (in fact, one I’d heard about in 5th grade through science class, and liked). I could see where Eunice was going with it too–the nuts are analogous like those things we foolishly hold on to that are going to bring us to ruin. Therefore, we shouldn’t be like those monkeys (in our spiritual lives), clinging to pleasures that will only bring death.

But while I was thinking these things, Eunice made her conclusion in some unexpected words: “The Lord wants you to release your monkey nuts!”

I snickered, and looked around thinking everyone else must be too. But all the Kenyans were staring straight ahead, some simply nodding in agreement. Eunice went on, excited by her point. And then she said it again, with feeling: “The LORD wants you to release your monkey nuts!

I realized at once I was in trouble. The Lord wants me to release my monkey nuts? Ha. Ha ha ha. Monkey nuts! Though I don’t laugh at every dirty double entendre I hear, the context, the complete lack of intention, was too much. The corners of my mouth began to quiver, and soon I found myself smiling uncontrollably. A Kenyan to my left looked at me, and I looked down, hiding my face. Then the laughing began: those stomach shakes that I refused to let move up to the throat. “If only I can avoid looking at Michael and Emilee,” I thought, “I’ll be OK.”

But Eunice was not on my side. Really worked up now, she got a bit more personal, and asked the congregation a question, leaning forward from the pulpit and talking in a suddenly low, serious voice: “What nuts are you holding on to?” she said with a penetrating gaze.

And that was it. A stifled guffaw inadvertently escaped my lips, and I ducked behind the pew in front of me, pretending to be reading a Bible. Then I heard movement from Emilee beside me, and saw that she too was trying to keep from breaking out in laughter. I couldn’t see Michael, and that was probably what saved us all from total humiliation. But, that feeling came that we all know, when it’s one of those times where it’s completely inappropriate to laugh, but two people think something is funny, and the mere fact that they know the other thinks it’s funny too makes it impossible to get a grip.

Remembering that I’d read about such situations, I tried a folk remedy and started pinching myself. The pain didn’t help. And so I stayed bowed forward for a full minute, until I thought the storm had passed, and the lashings of laughter subsided. Eunice had moved on, and we were in the clear. That is, until she came to her grand finale, and in full-throated Kenyan fashion made her pronouncement: “It is not a surprise that some of us will burn in Eternal Hellfire because we are holding on to monkey nuts!”

So true, Eunice, so true.

Needless to say, a lot of people were wondering what was going on with the Wazungu, though no comments were made. I tried to make it look like I had been crying (and I was…), moved by the sermon–but it wasn’t that kind of sermon. Anyway, it’s these little cultural or linguistic differences, and other random hilarities, that keep life here exciting. Like tonight, while playing Pictionary with the Form 4 Leavers (the secondary school graduates), when the phrase to draw was, appropriately, “Baby Jesus”. One team’s artist chose to signify the stick-figure infant’s holy status by drawing a manger, and streaks of light shining gloriously around Jesus’ body. The other team’s artist chose a more realistic tack, and decided instead to draw the little newborn, not just as Baby Jesus, but as “Extremely Well-Endowed Baby Jesus If You Know What I Mean”. Everyone in the room had a good laugh for about 10 minutes. Oh, and in case you were wondering: the streaks of shining glorious light turned out to be a better symbol–our team won.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

1 reply on “Monkey Nuts”

I can’t believe NO ONE has commented on this…it is HILARIOUS!! Maybe everyone is rolling on the floor and can’t get enough of a grip to write something. Well done, Jonathan! I think I’ll print this out and keep it around for those days when I need a good laugh!

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