Sunday, May 31, 2009

One Day, Three Funerals

Today was my first day to sleep in but sleeping past 9am didn’t work too well as the sun was shining through the windows in my room. I got out of bed and ate breakfast before tackling the issue of unpacking my bags once again. I had unpacked everything when I was moved into what I thought was my permanent room but as I decided that the room they put me in was way too big for me, I had to repack everything to change rooms. I wanted to give myself a few days before unpacking everything to make sure that my current room would be the room that I would want to stay in for the next 10 weeks. As I have now spent about a week in my new room and like it, I decided that today would be the day to unpack and organize my room. I was getting pretty tired of living out of my suitcases and not knowing where everything was. It took me a few hours to get everything in its place but now my room is neat and organized and I don’t have open suitcases laying all over the ground. After I finished this extensive task, it was 12:30. I walked over to Raymond’s house to eat lunch as Raymond’s wife, Dina makes lunch and dinner for me on a daily basis. Just as I was about to start eating the delicious plantains and stew, Raymond called me and asked where I was. I responded and told him that I was at his house. He laughed as he informed me that he was at my hotel. When he arrived at his house, he was all dressed up in a huge kente cloth which was wrapped over one of his shoulders and decorated sandals. I questioned his outfit and he explained that he had just come from the burial of his uncle’s daughter. This woman was only about 35 years old and had been sick and hospitalized for the last two weeks before passing away. Raymond informed me that his other uncle, the one we had stayed with after I arrived in Accra was in town for the funeral and that we should go visit him. A taxi took us to his uncle’s Hohoe house (he also has two houses in Accra), located pretty close to Raymond’s house. Upon our arrival, we learned that Raymond’s uncle had actually just left the house and gone to the funeral grounds. We stayed at his house for a little while anyways and socialized with other family members who I had met during my stay in Accra. Sammy, the little boy who I had played with at Raymond’s uncle’s house in Accra was also at the house but he didn’t remember me at all and acted shy around me the entire time I was there.

After awhile, some of Raymond’s family left the house with us and we headed over to the funeral grounds -- located pretty close to the orphanage. We were driven over there by a taxi and passed one of the houses in which Achupei, one of the girls at the orphanage who is attached to me all the time lives. She is a twin so she lives there with her twin brother, Achu and her older sister, Sitsofe. As soon as they saw me in the taxi, they started running after the taxi, hoping to catch up with us. It was so cute to see Achupei run her heart out and chase the taxi as fast as her feet would go. We stopped near the funeral grounds and the kids, came over to me. News had quickly spread that Sister Nicole was there and many of the other children from the orphanage who live close by came out to see me.

I had known that there was a death in the area as I had seen people standing in the streets dressed in red and black (the traditional colors for a Ghanaian funeral), seen and heard trucks full of people drive through the village, waving their red cloths, shouting and singing, and had heard talk about the preparations for the funeral for the past two days. Additionally, on Thursday and Friday, women dressed in black and red had passed the orphanage singing and dancing causing me to question one of the teachers about what was going on.

In contrast to funerals in America, funerals in Ghana stretch out over a number of days. They are also more like celebrations of the person’s life rather than exclusively sad, somber events. We attended the funeral for Raymond’s cousin (whom he called his ‘sister’). There was a few huge tent like things set up to block the sun and an extensive sound system was set up. About 75-100 people were sitting around. There were rows of chairs set up – half of the chairs facing one direction and the other half facing the first set. The family was to sit on one side and the guests and local community was to sit on the other side. We sat on the family member side. There was a bunch of talking in Ewe and it was later explained to me that the guests are expected to bring bottles of alcohol and money to help the family cover the costs for the funeral. Patrick, one of the former teachers at Christ Orphanage told me that he thinks its sad because people are so willing to give money to help pay for the funeral after the person is dead but most of them are not as likely to give that person any money should they need it when they are alive.

After this funeral, we walked less than 300 feet to another funeral – this one was in honor of about a 50 year old man who had passed away. We stayed at the funeral for a little while and then walked back to the funeral we were originally at. This funeral hopping continued for the rest of the afternoon. By the time we were done, we had been to three funerals as well as to the house of a family who had just recently lost a family member. The community was unsure as to whether she had died or not so it was our duty to go over there and find out if the death was true or just a rumor. Although the conversation took place in Ewe, I could understand that this woman had in fact passed away. The 20 something year old daughter was crying hysterically. I asked why out of all the funerals we had been to that afternoon, this girl was the first one we had physically seen crying. I was told that this death was so much more recent than the others so the family was still in such shock and had not really had much time to react yet. The death was so recent that there had been no time to plan a funeral for this weekend.

I later learned that we had to go to all the funerals because Raymond, as president of the Youth Development Organization presents some money to the families to help cover some of the funeral costs. For this reason, Raymond also had given a little speech at each of the funerals. I did not follow what he said as it was all in Ewe.

While hopping around from one funeral to the next, I observed that there were many elderly people present. As I had just received a box of glasses from Sherry, founder of Eyes on Africa, I took note of the number of people who were wearing glasses. During the entire day I must have seen at least 400 people and I only observed one person wearing glasses. It was interesting to notice how much of a need glasses are in rural Africa. In addition to the box of reading glasses, sunglasses, and sewing kits that I received from Sherry, another box arrived on the same day. This box was from Vivian, founder of So You, a sewing organization on the East coast. Vivian and others from the community came together and sewed 50 pillowcases for the children to use. The post office had already opened the box as that is what they do with all big packages so when Raymond brought the box home, we sifted through the box and admired the beautiful, hand made pillowcases and all of the beanie babies and other stuffed animals they had sent for the children.

I thought that after all these funerals, I would be able to go back to my hotel and rest but Raymond convinced me to come back to the first funeral with him. He told me that there would be drumming and dancing. It was a little weird at first that people were acting so joyous as they had just lost someone from their community. Many of the children from the orphanage were around and thought that it was pretty cool that me, a white girl was at the funeral. In addition, many of the local people thought it was pretty cool too and were happy but shocked at the same time to see me there. They were even happier when I was finally convinced to get out of my chair and dance with them. Yes, I am now the white girl in town who dances. The dancing was very tiring especially during the part when I was dancing while holding Achupei. Every time I tried to take a little break and sit down, I was told that I couldn’t stop dancing yet and someone would grab my hand to ensure that I could not leave. The men were happy to dance with me and many of the women told me that they were so happy that I was dancing with them and participating in this traditional ceremony.

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