Maybe I’m becoming more Yawo than I realise. The 40 or so days after someone’s death are considered an official mourning period. Any family or village decisions that need to be made relating to the person who has died are put off until after the sadaka (remembrance gathering) on the 40th day after the funeral. Yesterday, Sally and I went to “help” with the preparations for the sadaka for the young woman whose funeral I attended on Good Friday. The sadaka was held this morning and now that that is done, it seems fitting to finally complete Part 2 of the Friday Funeral story…
It wasn’t how Bek and I had anticipated spending Good Friday. We usually keep Good Friday reserved for a bit of rest, reflection and fellowship together. Which I guess did happen, just in a different way. Bek and I set off at about 1030 – being a Friday, the funeral was planned to be held after everyone had returned from prayers at the mosque. We dropped past a friend’s house in a village on the way. She had planned to join us but received visitors at the last minute and had to stay home to entertain. She was quite concerned we wouldn’t be able to find the way to the funeral but I assured her, having been there just the day before, it would be fine.
It was quite a walk (about 5km) but the sun was shining, we weren’t in a hurry and we had the chance to stop and chat with people along the way. As we approached the house, Baba Nikiss spotted us and came over to meet us and lead us in. This isn’t really the normal thing to do and we’d probably be just fine to find a place to sit on our own, but it was sweet that he was looking out for us. He took us to the edge of where the women had gathered and spoke to someone who then went and located his wife to be our companion for the day. We initially sat down by the side of a hut, finding a bit of shade for our faces and thankful we’d remembered to put sunscreen on our feet.
We were close to where a group of women had gathered to sing. Around 20 or so women sit in a circle, one or two will lead a song and those who know it well will join in while others do the beatboxing – rhythmically moving side to side and performing a series of chants to accompany the singing. There isn’t much chatting that goes on at funerals, it’s a lot of sitting in silence – the occasional greeting as people arrive and a few reserved comments here and there. I asked Baba Nikiss’ wife how her leg was. She asked us quite a few times whether we’d like to move and sit under a tree. After declining the first few, the sun eventually reached our faces and we had to relocate.
We sat in the dirt for a couple of hours, by which time it was the middle of the day and the sun was beating down. At one stage, one of the grandmas from the singing circle came and asked us to join in. We declined – we already make quite the spectacle just sitting being “normal” so we try best to avoid situations where we’ll stuff things up, especially at funerals. Talking to a friend about it afterwards, she suggested the better thing to do next time would be to join in with the beatboxing side of things? So who knows?!?
As 1pm rolled around, we could see many man walking by having returned from the mosque. We knew it wouldn’t be long before prayers would be said and the body carried away to the graveyard. Right about this time, thick black clouds started descending from almost every direction. It was near the end of the rainy season but it looked as though it was shaping up for a huge storm.
When the time comes for the men to carry the body away, all the women stand, place their 2nd capulana either up over their shoulders or over their head and then move to an area where they can see the procession. This is one of the most emotional times at the funeral – all of the women begin to wail. I stood there amongst the others… it was Good Friday, the sky was black with clouds, there was an eerily solemn atmosphere and the women were weeping all around and then the rain starting to pour down.
Despite the ominous outlook, the rain didn’t last. After watching the men move off, we retreated to sit on a verandah until the clouds passed. Soon after that we farewelled the women sitting around us and a few of the family members and made our way home.
40 days later…
I had heard early on that the baby was indeed alive – my fears that it was bundled up, dead in the mattress along with its mother were alleviated. I had been once to visit in the first week, to see how things were going and drop off some clothes and blankets for the baby. But since that time, I hadn’t been back and I’d been hearing various reports about whether or not the baby was doing well, whether or not there was someone to feed her and where she was living.
Yesterday Sally and I had planned to help with the preparations. This involves taking a donation of food (usually flour to make ugadi or some rice) and then joining a small group of women who are cutting onions or tomatoes or preparing leaves. We never had the opportunity to do any of that, instead we were told to go and sit in the house and within minutes I was delivered a chubby, peacefully sleeping 6 week old girl who looked like she was more than holding her own in the world without her Mum.
Her name is Sara and she’s adorable – she’s even smiling already! She lay sleeping in my arms for an hour or so until the grandma insisted on waking her up so I could see her smile! When she started crying, someone in the family took her off me and fed her – she’s breastfeeding really well. It wasn’t the lady who normally looks after her, but that’s not really important here. She’s getting a combination of breastmilk and formula and she’s perfectly healthy and from what I can see, very well loved and cared for.
We spent a couple of hours sitting and chatting about all sorts of weird and wonderful things. It’s not a village that we often go to so people are still a bit fascinated by us. One lady came in and declared we were angels! Most would greet us and then once we’d responded they would say in amazement to their friends – huh, they really do speak Ciyawo. It was a pretty sweet time and great to see little Sara doing so well.
Here she is…