Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rest in Peace

Recently I had my first experience with Kenyan funerals. It’s surprising that after living here for 6 months this was my first one. A little 9 year old girl named Michelle died. Her father, Boniface, works at the hospital and I had been to their home many times. Michelle, her mother Saline, and her 4 month old brother, Angelo, were on an overnight bus travelling to another part of the country. The bus was in a head-on collision with a truck that didn’t have its lights on. Michelle and six other people died at the scene. Saline had cuts on her face, and baby Angelo miraculously escaped without a scratch considering he wasn’t in a car seat. (I’ve never seen a child in one)
For the funeral me and 6 of my co-workers crammed into a tiny car, about the size of a Ford Escort, and made the 2 ½ hour journey to the funeral. The funeral was at Boniface’s family homestead near Kendo Bay. After travelling down a bumpy dirt road we pulled into the compound consisting of two mud huts, with thatched roofs. A tiny white casket is sitting on a table next to the house. A big pile of dirt sits beside the house with a freshly dug hole for the burial (very common practice here). We pay our respects at the half open casket and have a seat underneath a tent set up in the front yard. The funeral program says it starts at 10am, however it is 10:30am and we are one of the first people to arrive. So we sit and wait and read the newspaper to pass time. Stray dogs wonder by and sit in the shade under the casket. Extended family members bathe their children in the front yard preparing them for the funeral. Slowly more people come. Vans of wailing women are dropped off. They yell, scream, and drop to their knees at the casket. After about 5 minutes of mourning they stop, are completely compose and have a seat. This happens over and over. It’s almost like its exaggerated mourning. One minute they are hysterical the next minute they are fine.
Finally at 1pm, 3 hours late, the funeral begins. That is even late by Kenyan standards. A pastor invites friends and family members to give speeches. Everybody from school teachers, to grandmothers, to priests say something. So after an hour of listening to this, we’re instructed that all the guests from St. Camillus should go eat lunch. But the funeral is going on? We’re just going to get up and leave? Yes, about 12 St. Camillus employees get up in the middle of the program. We wonder through the bush to a neighbour’s compound. All the neighbours have brought their chairs and plates from home to serve lunch. We eat as other funeral goers trickle in.
Eventually we head back to the funeral tent. Mass is now going on. After 15 minutes of being there, the sky turns black and it begins to pour. The casket is covered with a tarp and everyone huddles under the tent. The rain picks up even more so they move the body into the house. My co-workers agree that we better leave because the dirt road is going to become impassable if we wait until the rain has ended. So 9 of us (we picked up two extra people) cram into the car and head out in a hurry. We slide down the dirt road, unable to see because of the steamed windows. Nine sweaty bodies sitting on top of each other create a lot of heat! Maybe next time, I’ll experience the funeral in its entirety.
Finally at 6 pm we arrive back home. Recap of the day: 12 hour journey, 5 hours of travel, 3 hours of waiting, 30 min of eating, and 1 ½ hours of the actual funeral.
Please keep Boniface and his family in your prayers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Half way there, ooooh oh livin’ on a prayer…

I am halfway through my stay here in Kenya. Some days I feel I left home years ago, and other days it seems just like yesterday. I have a feeling the next six months are going to fly by. Here is a random sampling of things I've learned the past six months. ( In no particular order)

1. Nobody is ever in a hurry. It doesn't matter if someone is dying or you're an hour late for a meeting. Nobody rushes to do anything.
2. Human life is less valued compared to home. When somebody dies, the common consenus is,
" It was her time." My reaction, "She was six months old! I think she deserved to live a bit longer!"
3. Kenyans are terrified of chameleons ( which are harmless). They would rather see a poisonous snake.
4. Words have different meanings. The word 'sweet' is synonymous with 'delicious'. People describe everything from meat, to carrots, to beans as being 'sweet'. The word 'smart' is synonymous with 'beautiful'. When I wear a dress people comment, "Oh, you look so smart today!"
5. People believe all Americans carry a gun, have two children, are rich, and are tall.
6. Television and the the internet are overrated. Yes, when you're on the other side of the world internet makes communication easier, but other than that it's a time waster. I now have so much more time to do other things since I'm not on Facebook or watching TV shows.
7. Less is more.
8. Life isn't fair.
9. The most beautiful sunsets occur in Karungu.
10. I'll answer to any of the following names: Loreeeeeen, Christine ( I'm often confused with the other volunteer), Obama, Akinyi (Luo word meaning woman born in the morning), Muzungu ( Swahili for white man), Ciao ( due to the large number of Italian volunteers)