African Funeral

I’m trying not to see this past week as wasted time. Last weekend, our greenhouse manager lost his wife during childbirth and understandably, couldn’t show up for work. Using my nonexistent construction skills to attempt getting something accomplished, I realized that although I’ve known him for a short time, I’ve already come to depend on Kennedy. Since I was planning a retreat to Naro Moru over the weekend anyway, I decided to go during the week instead. The retreat was restful and reflective, although I had a relentless allergy attack. I sat in the forest next to the stream all day, read an entire book and sneezed a lot.

The funeral took place on Saturday. Thinking Josephine (our Kenyan partner) and I would go alone (since we are the only ones who work with Kennedy) I woke up Saturday morning to the news that 7 people from the church would attend, including the pastor, the principle of the school and the maintenance guy. That’s one of the things I love about Africans. An event may take the entire day, but they appreciate relationships enough to make time for people. If I had been in their position, I probably would have made some excuse about why I couldn’t attend and then spent the day however I wanted.

The funeral itself was good, although I can’t say it was inspirational or life changing, the main reason being the entire funeral service was held in Kikuyu (a tribal language) so I understood even less than if the service had been held in Swahili. Instead of blasting speakers like evangelical churches, however, a choir sang acapella in Swahili at this Catholic mass. Since I didn’t understand anything, I could only enjoy the music, reflect and pray for Kennedy. One thing I did notice, however, was how unemotional the entire event seemed: I didn’t see a tear shed. Like many cultures, Kenyans have an idea that crying equals weakness. I disagree, but perhaps a lack of emotion is seen as a positive way to deal with tragedies that happen more often. After the service, the congregation walked to Kennedy’s family home and buried the coffin in the ground. Though sad, I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful place to be buried. To reach the burial spot, we waded through waist-high tea bushes and tall swaying grass before arriving on a hillside overlooking a beautiful green valley. I love the Kenyan countryside.

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After they buried the body and we took some pictures with Kennedy (which I felt awkward about) we saw his home, where older African mamas served us lunch. We got to meet Kennedy’s extended family and I finally met his daughters, who had been waiting to meet me. Our entire delegation were, of course, guests of honor but I secretly felt pleased because I had someone to share the burden with. I was no longer a guest of honor because I was white, but because I came with the church. A subtly, but it made a difference in my mind nonetheless.

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Overall, it was a good day, I thought it honored Kennedy and Rose (his wife’s) memory well. Like I predicted, the event took the entire day but I’m learning to accept that relationships are more important than time and simply go with the flow, whatever that might entail.

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