(November 19, 2008)
We had a funeral today, less than a week into our in-village training.
Up to now, Africa has been only idyllic, only theoretical--almost a novelty. Even the negatives, such as the male sex trade and women's rights issues have seemed abstract, distant--bullet points on fact sheets. The bumsters, who are basically male prostitutes, present themselves so ludicrously, with catch phrases like, "Hey boss lady, it's nice to be nice," delivered between sets of beachside push-ups, that it's easy to forget the suffering and degradation behind the concept.
But we had a funeral today, within hours of hearing the high pitched shriek of a mother with her child dead in her arms.
Does this change things? Directly, no. I don't doubt myself more or less than I did Monday. I had not met the deceased girl, my host family had only a passing connection to her. My service and my life in general continue. But as we crouched behind the mosque and the Imam, both spiritual leader and father of the deceased, muttered a prayer and the tiny body encased in a white shroud was lowered into the ground, something in me felt different.
We had a funeral today, and I wore the new suit of wax-cloth I had had tailored just the day before.
It fit me well, and was more appropriate for the occasion than any of my American clothes. There's something mildly chilling in having a suit made and being given such an opportunity to wear it within 24 hours. The group of trainees met shortly after the ceremony to debrief. As we discussed the issues at hand, in my mind I could still hear the shrieks of the women, feel the stinging of my calves from crouching to pray behind the mosque wall, and taste the chalky, sugary munko rice ball given by the mourning family. As all this swirled in my head, I thought to myself:
We had a funeral today, and if this girl had been American, in all likelihood she would still be alive.