The journey to Canaan is not a joke. You can stay in the wilderness for donkey years and even many more years on Mount Horeb. The voyage could take as long as 40 years.
In the course of the journey, new people will be born. They will become parents in their own right. Some will fall on the way, including those who thought that they would romp us into the Promised Land.
That was what the Children of Israel, otherwise known as the descendants of Jacob, found out many millennia ago. We read in the five biblical Books of the Law of Moses about the Israelite exodus from Egypt to Canaan, under the stewardship of Moses and subsequently that of Joshua and Caleb.
It was a troubled mission, characterised with famine and hunger, rebellion and mutiny, as well as death and loss of hope.
In the wilderness of Massa and Meribah, the Children of Israel pitched camp at a place called Rephidim. We read in Exodus Chapter 17 of the hunger, thirst and general hopelessness that overwhelmed them, to the point of mutiny.
They confronted Moses, their leader saying, “Why did you take us from Egypt? Why did you bring us to die in this place? Were there no graves in Egypt that we should die in the wilderness?”
We read, too, of hostile tribes that had to be fought and vanquished as the journey to Canaan proceeded. Elsewhere, we read of the demise of Moses, whom God divined that he should not get into Canaan, the land of milk and honey, where he had initially been commissioned to lead the people.
The director of music in The Psalms would later return to this theme over and over, marvelling at the wonders of waters from a rock to quench the Israelite thirst and to fashion a dry path to Canaan through the sea. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 66.6: “Come and see what God has done, they passed through the waters on foot, come let us rejoice in him.”
Here in Kenya we mused, for much of 2017, of our own journey to Canaan. We went up to the hills and looked yonder, to have a foretaste of The Promised Land. We looked beyond the terrain of latter day Amalekites of the Jubilee ilk and saw milk and honey beckoning at us. Our man, Joshua, told us that he would walk us into this Sugar Candy land.
Like George Orwell’s raven in, Animal Farm, he knew a lot about this strange place, where it would be Sunday seven days a week. Clover would be in season all the year round and lump sugar and linseed cake would grow on the hedges. Besides, every day of the week would not just be Sunday, it would also be Christmas.
The Jubilee pigs did not want us to believe our talebearer and leader to Sugar Candy Mountain, our Promised Land. They told us that our raven was a liar. He was a mad raven. We were better off tarrying with them, despite the hard labour, the yoke around our necks, the bit and spur that made our lives living hell.
Yet, we wanted to believe in our raven. Some of us thought that even if our storyteller only told long stories, they were good for us. We wanted just to believe them, even if only for temporary relief.
The Pigs had betrayed our revolution. We called it the Narc Revolution. It had began in 2002 and culminated in 2010 before beginning to sink again. On the road to 2010, there had been a temporary setback in 2007 – 2008, when the leaders of the revolution clashed.
They divided us right down the middle and we actualized their differences in a bloody violence in which people died. Arsonists razed down houses, even as others raped and plundered. We were exiles, living an exiled life in our own land. We longed, like the British lyricist Cliff Richard, for a land rich in fertile valleys of russet and carpets of gold unfolding over green mountains.
We dreamt of harvests of plenty, so joyous and bright; fields of magnificent treasures – the Israel promised of old, The Promised Land. We dreamt of Canaan.
In 2013, the leadership slipped into the hands of the Pigs. The Pigs told us one thing and did the opposite. They lived in the comfortable Pig House while we put up with the icy cold. Theirs was a life of extreme comfort and supreme craftiness.
They converted everything that was collectively ours to theirs. They flew above us in objects and called themselves the Sky Team. They perfected the art of intimidation and the vice of greed. For our part, we dreamt of a new miracle. And our man Joshua, also known as Moses the tame raven and storyteller, assured us that he was the magic maker. He would deliver us yet to The Promised Land.
And so we marched on, singing:
“We are going to Zion/Beautiful, beautiful Zion/We are going to Zion/Beautiful city of God/
“Let them not sing/Those who don’t believe/Only God’s children believe ….”
Brother, things began changing. Sister, the journey stalled. The Pigs appeared to have pulled another fast one. We wanted them out of the Pig House before we could in earnest resume the mission to Canaan. But they pulled a fast trick on us.
Now our raven was not going to be the chief occupant of the coveted Big House on the Hill. We were not going to convert the Pig House to the Raven House.
It would remain a Pig House on the Hill and not a Sugar Candy Mountain. The raven and his three friends who made the quartet of our leadership told us that the raven would take a magical oath that would see him replace Comrade Napoleon, the Chief Pig.
The day of the oath came. We waited eagerly. Batted breath. Pulsating hearts. Our lives would change today. Not known to us was that the raven and his friends had all agreed that the oath thing was just a scare trick, to prompt the Pigs to vacate the Pig House.
They agreed that they would come to us on the swearing day, to explain to us why we must use another method to remove the Pigs from the Pig House and transform it into a Raven House, at a fresh start of our journey to Canaan. We waited. And waited.
Then the raven materializes alone, in a huff. He quickly takes the oath and slips away. No marching to the Pig House as we had thought.
So were we now in Canaan? Would there be candy, clover, linseed and stuff? What was happening? We woke up the next day, and it was not Sunday. We hoped it would be, the day after. It was not.
We waited for Christmas. It did not come. We are still waiting. Meanwhile what transpired between Joshua and the other three began to trickle out. We heard of narratives of treachery. Betrayal. Who betrayed whom? It became difficult to tell.
Then, one morning, we woke up to the news that our raven was in the Pig House. He was shaking hands with the Pigs. Like the animals in the story Animal Farm, we moved close to the Pig House.
We peered in through the windows and cracks in the walls. We looked from raven to pig and from pig to raven. Already, it was difficult to tell the difference. They looked so similar, so alike. They were the same.
So this was the Promised Land? So this was Canaan? So only Joshua the raven was destined for the Promised Land? So all it required was a simple handshake between the raven and the Pigs? So why did we have to go through a messy jungle and the slough of bloody despond, when all it required was a simple handshake?
Sometimes when we sleep, we hear the cry of blood - the blood of those who perished on the way to Canaan. We hear the blood singing, asking, “Why did you do this to me?” Why did you not just do the hand thing from the outset? I don’t know why. You are wiser than I am if you do. Which I don’t doubt.
Barrack Muluka is a strategic public communications advisor