Yesterday I attended my first Tanzanian funeral. The experience was bittersweet. It began slowly, as many events do here. We woke at seven and planned to be ready in thirty minutes, but at about 7:35 we figured out that the water was back at the house (Hallelujah!!) and a man came over unannounced to receive counseling from mama so we had time take some much needed showers. We were ready to go around 8:45 and all piled into the car and jetted out of the driveway in a hurry to get to the funeral. Just kidding, the car didn’t start. The battery was out of fluid. Getting it started from there was a three-hour procedure.
|Scariest jumper cables I have ever seen|
Once we finally made it to the funeral sight around 12:30, the service had not even begun (this made me wonder what we would have done from eight had we arrived on time and I was suddenly thankful for the mornings’ malfunctions). The service took place in a traditional Lutheran church. It was something like a mixture of a wake and a funeral. The casket was open before the altar and all the attendees were expected to walk around it before the sermon began. The deceased was Zoe and Princely’s second cousin. She died tragically in a motorcycle accident at age 24 in Dar es Salaam. There were over 400 people at the funeral, most of who were family members.
The service was partially in Swahili, partially in Machame, which is the tribal language of the area. When it ended, the close family members carried the casket and led us to the burial sight. The moment the casket was picked up, tens of women started screaming. It caught me off guard and took me a moment to realize that they were crying. It literally sounded like banshees at the screening of a horror film. This intrigued me because in America, had so many people reacted in this way, the close family and friends would have been embittered with the presumption that many of these women merely intended to call attention to themselves. Here, the instinct was to go comfort these women and cry with them and the preconceived notion is everyone reserves the right to grieve.
The mother was silent the whole time. I did not notice she was even there until the reception. She was the one who had identified the body. The motorcycle accident was on Saturday and after calling her daughter again and again with no avail, she called the police and was asked to come to Dar to identify a Jane Doe on Monday. It was her daughter. The mother did not have an easy life. She gave birth at a young age and was ostracized from her family for promiscuity. She raised the child on her own and spent everything she had to send the girl to school. Her daughter was everything to her and was ever appreciative of her mother’s love and sacrifice. She vowed to support her once she was of age and had a steady income, but sadly that day never came.
The experience was invaluable. It was tragic, beautiful, and brimming with culture. I thank God for the opportunity, but wish it had not come at so high a cost.