This is going to be a bit of an emo post… because I’m a little bit tired and a little bit homesick and still adjusting a bit to being back here… and really, to a whole new ball game out here in the village. But they’re not the only reasons I feel overwhelmed… it’s not as though the things I’m doing would normally be a breeze but just because I’m tired, they’re a bit overwhelming right not… they’re just hard work. So I want to share, not because I need to vent or am searching for encouragement (though that never goes astray) but because I think maybe we all need a bit of encouragement when it comes to stepping out of our comfort zone to follow God’s leading. It’s a bit of a long read – you might want to grab a cup of tea.
I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s something about the end of the driveway that makes me cry? This morning on the way out it was because I just felt a little bit broken and inadequate and not terribly excited about going out to the village to chat with people in a language I just can’t speak or understand very well! Then on the way in, it was tears of relief. That despite the fact that I can barely follow a conversation and that I stumble over most of my words – God is gracious and gives me the courage and encouragement that I need to keep going.
On Wednesday, Cam and I spent most of the day in a meeting with lots of the directors and heads of departments of education out here in our district. It was great to hear about all that they had planned and we had a great time meeting a lot of people… but that much Portuguese about subjects we’re not really familiar with is enough to give us both headaches… I think Cam thought he might actually die. We arrived home at 3pm exhausted and just wanting to crawl up in a ball in the corner and hide from the world for a while. After a coffee and some mindless facebook scrolling, I went to lie down on my bed for a little while. It was there I felt like I should go for a walk to a village across the road. I’d never been there before but I’d looked at it on Google maps and it was on my list of places to go… why that afternoon? I wasn’t really sure.
I headed out about 430pm with Steph just to wander around, have a look, chat with people along the way. We walked down the main road towards then headed off on a small road into the bush. I wasn’t really too sure where we were headed and I’d left my phone at home so I was really just following my nose. We saw a lady pop out of the long grass with a bucket of water on her head so we decided to detour down the path she’d emerged from. It was a bit hard to find the entrance – at the back of someone’s yard and covered in grass but we managed in the end.
At the end of the path was the village I had been hoping to arrive in. It’s a beautiful village on the edge of a small river. It’s essentially one long “road” of light grey sand lined with mango trees on either side. There are bout 20 houses and I found out later, that it’s mostly the one big family that lives there. As we arrived, one of the kids at the first house started crying and ran off through the village to find his Mum – good start! As we walked through the village, we greeted a few people in Chiyawo. I tried apologising for scaring the kid and making him cry.
I wondered why nobody was as jovial as they often are about a kid crying and a random white lady trying to speak Chiyawo. But I didn’t wonder hard enough. We kept walking right to the end of the village explaining to a few people that we were just out and about checking the place out. At the end of the village a young guy, who I recognised but couldn’t remember exactly how I knew him or his name, approached me. We did the usual greetings and talked a bit about the village and how beautiful it was and the mango tress and the graveyard at the end of the village. It wasn’t until after all of that, when I finally shut up for long enough, that he reminded me of his name and who he was and explained that his grandfather had died that day.
I really wish that the ground could have swallowed me up right then and there. There is a way to behave in the village where someone has just died and I don’t know exactly what it involves but I know that it doesn’t involve: 1) just wandering around having a stickybeak, 2) joking with people about a kid running away and crying, and 3) talking about the graveyard. For all I know – they could have thought that rather than talking about the kid crying, I was joking about the ladies who I later heard wailing in the hut! Ughhhhh… good one Kath!
My demeanour soon changed and I said sorry for his loss. I went across to some of the women near the hut full of wailing women and shook hands in the way that we do at funerals. I left with a promise to make sure that Cam knew and said we’d be back for the funeral the next day.
I got home and relayed all the news to Cam who went out to chat to one of our older guards about it. We found out that the man who died was the chief of that village and the leader at the mosque. He was in his 80s – a pretty good effort here and – and a very well respected man.
I was kind of glad I had gone into the village that day – even though I’d royally stuffed it up. Perhaps it was the only way of finding out about the funeral – sometimes people don’t really think that we’re even interested in that kind of thing. It’s a shame the skills, knowledge and wisdom we need to see what’s going on around us don’t come a bit more easily. But I consoled myself with the fact that going… even if you stuff it up… is better than not going. Make mistakes, learn and keep moving forward… trying not to make the same ones again. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.
The next morning, we prepared to go to the funeral. Cam had arranged to go with one of our guards who is also the chief of a nearby village. He came at 9am and we set off… the men in front and with me walking a fair distance behind. There is a fair bit of separation of men and women for many activities in Yawo culture – perhaps the most obvious one is at a funeral. My plan was to join up with a bunch of women on the road somewhere and go in with them.
I’ve been to a fair few funerals here over the last few years… but as I was walking there yesterday – I realised I’d never been by myself before! It was a bit daunting. Sometimes I’ve arrived by myself before but at a place where at least one person knows me. Normally, I try and sit somewhere amongst the crowd but then someone comes and moves me – I think it’s a combination of being worried I’ll burn to a crisp in the sun and wanting to show respect by placing me with some of the more “important” people.
I found a group of women going in from the road at the same time as me. They were from a neighbouring village. We chatted a little and then I sat down with them in the dirt on the edge of the yard where the women were all seated. It was awkward, I didn’t know anyone and I’m never really sure of my “place.” People who knew the family well or some of the more “important” people (our chief for example) are supposed to enter into the hut where the close family members are all seated. You take your shoes off at the door, go inside and shake everyone’s hand and then go back out to find somewhere to sit. I hadn’t done that and I spent the first hour or so tossing up whether or not I was supposed to.
A lot of my energy gets expended trying to figure out what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. Just by being there sitting the same as everyone else, I attract a fair bit of attention so if I can “fit in” as much as possible it’s a win. It rarely happens. Every now and then people will try to explain something to me but quite often I don’t get it and it just leaves me feeling a bit discouraged and confused. For example, yesterday there was a willy willy that whipped through the yard as we were sitting quietly waiting for the body to leave the hut over on the men’s side. I covered my face with my capulana (sarong thing) to stop the dirt from getting in my eyes. Soon after, the lady I arrived with started talking to me about covering my face from the willy willy – I honestly don’t know whether she was saying I shouldn’t, or thought it was good that I did? It’s hard to understand Chiyawo at the best of times let alone when someone’s whispering it to me at an inappropriate time at a funeral! Maybe one day I’ll understand what she was talking about.
I sat at the funeral for about 4 hours. A lot of it isn’t too hard to get right – it’s essentially just sitting, waiting, stand at the appropriate time, a bit of singing to farewell the body, sit back down, wait a while and then take your leave and go. I don’t think I messed that up too badly. The ladies I’d arrived with headed off soon after the official part was over but I told them I’d stay a bit longer. I sat for a while and then went into the hut to farewell the family members.
It was a tiny hut – maybe 5x5m with a wall down the middle separating it into two rooms and there would have been at least 25 women sitting on the floor and another 6 or 7 trying o get in and out to farewell. It was a real squeeze and at one stage I almost fell on top of some people but made it out alive, shook everyone’s hand (well a lot of them) outside, and then headed off home. I realised after a little while that someone had been sent / felt compelled to accompany me back towards my house. That’s part of life here… if someone visits, you walk back a little ways with them when they’re ready to go. It was nice… but I was tired and struggling to string sentences together. Finally, she left me to carry on alone and I walked home feeling a bit defeated.
This morning, I decided that I should go back there. Sucker for punishment? There’s normally an important ceremony 3 days after the burial and I wanted to let people know that we’re heading to Lichinga so we wouldn’t be there and also to drop off a small donation of rice for the ceremony. I put my headscarf on, packed the rice in a small tub wrapped in a capulana and headed down the drive… wondering why on earth God has me doing this and thinking about just how ill equipped I am for this job. So I asked God to help to, to go before me and that despite all the silly things I do wrong, to help people to see through all of that and see that I love them… and that God loves them.
I arrived in the village and went back to the house I was at yesterday where I found some of the family members sitting preparing pumpkin leaves. Someone came and took and took my gift and then I went and sat with the women for a while and chatted… mostly about how I didn’t speak Chiyawo very well but I wanted to learn. We talked about where I lived and my family and about how you had to go on multiple aeroplanes to get to Australia. I explained that I was going to Lichinga and wouldn’t be back until Tuesday… or maybe I said Monday – I still get the days wrong most of the time. I didn’t offer to help with the pumpkin leaves… there weren’t many and I am atrocious at it. I accidentally reached behind someone to shake hands with a lady which I only remembered as I was writing this is really rude… but you know what… I was there. I think maybe I showed that I cared. I know I nailed some of it… and probably stuffed up a bunch of things I don’t even know about yet… but it doesn’t really matter, I was there.
And so as I arrived back home after my visit this morning, at the exact same spot on the driveway I had another little cry. Relieved and grateful that it had gone a bit better than the days before, thankful that God enables us to do all that he’s asked us to, hopeful that little by little, I’ll get the hang of it and stoked to look back and realise how far I’ve come and rejoice in the fact that I’m not making too many of the same mistakes over and over!