April 13th, 2011—Смерть (Death)
As I heard the all-too-familiar dinner din of the knife on the heating pipes alerting me that dinner was ready.
Casually walking to the kitchen I notice my baba putting on her nice coat and shoes for something completely aberrant for 8:30 at night. My baba you must understand is quite active around the house, but when it comes to leaving the house, aside from weekly peregrinations to the church and trips to see her new granddaughter at her son’s house, she doesn’t exactly make it out much—let alone out of the city.
So to my surprise she and her friend were dressed up for approaching bedtime. I asked, “What was up?” to a woeful answer of “Our neighbor died. We are going to visit the family.” I didn’t know the woman that died but I do know her children who play on the street quite often—quite a sad situation. I said to pass on my condolences to the family and they departed.
This reminded me that I have yet to participate in anything related to a funeral during my time here. I say that thankfully as a volunteer who has grown close to people here over the last two years and would hate to see anyone pass away that I knew, but I have to say the traditions here are quite interesting and it would be a fascinating aspect of the culture to see (that feels morbid to say, but I mean it in the best way).
I distinctly remember the first time I heard, what sounded like a marching band playing, only to ask the baba about it and realize it was a funeral dirge being played at the cemetery (in my defense, the music was fairly/strangely upbeat and I could not see the source of the music). I have heard this music quite a few times since and it always tends to bring a certain melancholy with it.
Many other times I have played witness to the funeral processions going by, transporting bodies to the cemetery. It is always a bit disconcerting walking through the village, head phones on (guilty pleasure I will never give up), and stumbling into one of these ceremonies. Usually there are a couple of people caring large wreathes of flowers leading a large flatbed truck with an open casket on its back. This casket is surrounded by silent, mourning friends and family. The truck will usually be followed a group of walkers and them by a string of cars waiting patiently to pass.
The first time I saw this was at 8:00 in the morning on the way to a class in my first months of Peace Corps. The parade happened to pass by my house precisely when I was leaving. I was immediately accosted by the son of the woman who had died. He gave me a ring-shaped piece of bread, a candle and shot of wine. The event itself was quite discombobulating especially seeing how I just woke up.
All of this gives me cause for reflection of my own life. I haven’t had that much death in my life. Sure all of my grandparents have died, but quite honestly, I wasn’t too close with any of them, product of being the youngest child and living in different states I suppose. It does make me wonder how I will cope when someone close to me dies. I listen to my baba here talk about her family. She and her brother are the only two left out of seven children. I can’t even comprehend what that would be like.
One of my first two weeks here, I watched my baba receive a troubling phone call. After hanging up the receiver I thought she had told me that her “brother was dead”. He is one of my favorite people here and also one of the most helpful when it comes to integration. I didn’t understand this large error in communication until the subsequent morning, after I had already thought about it and the consequences for what that might mean over the next couple of months. Thankfully I mistranslated what she had said—“my brother is dying” was the intended phrase. Turns out he had had a heart attack. I had studied the appropriate words for expressing my condolences, said them, and was immediately rebuffed. One of those moments of “alright I need to listen better” I have had many times over the last two years.
I am not sure of the reason for this post. It is interesting and humbling to me that I really haven’t experienced one of the most visceral, penetrating and defining emotional events that can happen and frequently happens in this crazy place we live. Life happens—all the while we keep on twisting, contorting and doing our best to surmount the obstacles that meet us on our respective paths. I suppose it is best to deal with the realities as they come, rather than worrying about what could have been.
My sympathies to you for such a dreary post,