The content of this blog is the creator's own thoughts and does not represent the views or opinions of the Peace Corps or the United States Government. I would also like to apologize for all my spelling and grammatical errors... there will be a lot.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Funerals in Zambia

Funerals in Zambia are a full sensory experience. What you see is hundreds of people, men to one side dressed in nice slacks and shirts, women to one side in multicolor sea of chitenge wrappers as skirts and as head wraps. You see children running around as if nothing has happened. If it’s the night before the burial you will also see reed mats laid out in the yard carefully surrounding large camp fires, set out for the village to sleep on overnight. You hear the haunting sound of women wailing loudly, there seems to be a certain pattern to who wails and for how long but the women will tell you its just when you are feeling sad. You also hear the eerie silence turn to laugher and talking as the night progresses, the longer the village is sleeping in the yard before the burial the more relaxed everyone becomes. You smell the wood burning, and you can detect the nshima’s familiar scent as a enormous amount is being prepared. And you can feel metaphorically at least this sense of sadness but also comfort and support.

Everyone is there; people come from all corners of the village come to stay. Rain, cold, or blistering heat people will sleep outside in the yard to “comfort” the family in morning. There is no set time in which to bury the body, until the whole family can travel there, the body is kept in the house. If there is a town nearby though, health officials will hold the body until burial. During the time between the death and the burial gifts are continuously brought – mostly food; meali-meal, saladi, tomatoes, beans. When I attended the funeral of a student of mine, I felt and immense sadness looking at my bottle of saladi and cups of beans thinking “so that’s what a child’s life amounts to?”.

If the deceased is a member of the church, the burial has a decidedly more theatrical air. During the nights staying over, the church will bring large drums made from wood, and animal skins. They will lead the visitors in songs, dances and prayers all night - you can hear it from almost anywhere. When the funeral comes there is a long sermon led, for the funerals I attended the themes spoken about were choice and acceptance. The casket generally made from a simple pin sits in the middle of the compound and everyone tries to find a place to see the center. The men sit on chairs and wooden stools, the women on chitenges, reed mats of just the soft ground.
The service is atleast an hour of so, usually including singing and dancing by the church. When it is time to bury the whole village stands and follows the people carrying the casket. At the funerals I attended the graveyard was a good walk, and looking around watching this whole village walking to one place, listening to the women wail, and sing (some collapsing down to the ground as if their legs could not work) I couldn’t help feeling like we were on a pilgrimage. You see school children pick flowers for the grave along the way, this time of year my village every time grabbed bright red ones.

As you reach the burial spot and unmarked bit of earth pre-dug for the burial, people cling to trees and each other. A shorter sermon, and more singing, until the body is carefully placed into the ground. The men using fiber from the insides of trees to steady the descent. This is when it becomes a bit overwhelming. Many of the women start screaming, there wailing takes on a whole new level, some fall the ground and shake, this generally the first time you see tears on people faces, which they quickly try to wipe away and try to return to wailing (crying isn’t considered socially acceptable). The men throw dirt on the grave, when its covered the women come and sing over the grave and pat down the dirt on there knees. At the very end the children put flowers on the unmarked grave and there is one more song, at which time people start to walk back to their homes to continue life as normal.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Community Entry is Finshed!

Alright! Community Entry is over! What does that mean? Well I have been in the village for 3 months (In Zambia for 6 – when did that happen?). It means that I can now leave my district, use the provincial house (which has internet) and use my travel days. I live insanely close to the house by Peace Corps standards and will now have much more access to modern forms of communication. Next week I head out for IST training for 2 weeks directly afterwards I head to Livingstone. My mom is visiting me on the 21st -30th so if you want to send something to me contact her. I have a lot of things I could write about for you, to be honest I have 3 journals filled with thoughts but due to laziness I’ll just give you greatest hits of sorts.
- Killing a black Mamba
- Co-teaching grade 9 Geography / grade 7 CTS
- Holding an HIV and AIDS workshop (explaining that no you cannot catch HIV from a mosquito bite).
- Building a grass fence around my house
- Attending 2 funerals (explaining that requests its own post)
- Getting a cat!
- Art trade with Megan
- Working with women’s group to apply for grants
- Changing my own bike tire
- Thinking my house was on fire and falling into a sink hole while running frantically to it…
- Sewing chitenge curtains
- Weighting babies at the under 5 clinic
- Biking up both giant hills
- Biking 150k in a week
- Visiting 5 of my schools
- Pre-school in the Nsaka
- Sports days!
There’s so much more. Living in Africa is so surreal; it is an adventure every day. So far I’ve been enjoying, and I’m excited for the rest of my service. I love teaching in a cross-cultural environment, it’s amazing to see the differences in education and thinking patterns between cultures. I’m also enjoying my work with the women’s groups, the progress is slow but it feels like we are making real strides. I’ve only got 21 more months to go which is insane, I feel like I just got off the plane from philly yesterday (and with IST and vacation I’m losing a whole month). I’m trying to take everything as slow as possible so I can really take in this experience, most of my life I’ve been in a hurry to “keep on track” but here, I’m not sure if it’s the culture or not but I’m taking a significantly more relax pace.
Stay classy friends.