Monday, 15 July 2013

A Proper Burial

Time is certainly flying on this trip to Kenya. It seems hardly any time since I last sat typing the blog but a week has passed by. This is, I'm ashamed to say, very poor communication. On the other hand its good because it means I now have less than two weeks to wait until my wife Judi joins me here in Kosele. I haven't seen her since the beginning of May (the longest we've spent apart ever, I think) and I can't wait to see her again.

The work in our schools carries on at a good pace. Having devoted a significant amount of time to working on primary school projects since the start of the year I've spent the last couple of weeks building up our secondary school - training with the teachers and starting a couple of new curriculum projects. Our Form 1 and 2 students were shocked today when they were presented with a fairly tough maths test as the start of our 'Maths Boot Camp' project. We first started this approach to maths teaching in our primary school last term and will be developing it in the secondary school for the rest of the year. It has been very rewarding working with the secondary school team. Having time to work on team and relationship building is one of the joys of being in Kenya for a long visit (I won't be returning to the UK until the middle of December). It's very encouraging to be working with such a dedicated group of teachers.

It has been just over two weeks since we learned of the death of James, one of our security team. He was buried yesterday (Sunday) and we attended his funeral in the afternoon. Funerals in Kenya are a challenge to a Western view of life. A combination of religious and traditional customs ensure that funerals are massive social events. James' funeral was no exception. Funerals nearly always take place at weekends over here, giving time for relatives to travel to attend. Over the years I've read many accounts in the newspapers of the huge burden that funeral attendance places on the Kenyan economy and on the pockets of the bereaved family. In the UK excessive amounts of money are lavished on weddings. Over here lavish amounts of money are spent on funerals.

Attending James' funeral made me realise how much I still have to learn about local culture and how important it is to strike the right balance between 'western incredulity' over the amount of time and money that is spent on funerals and local community sensibilities about this important rite of passage. If I'm honest I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the abject poverty that I see all around me in Kosele and the knowledge that every funeral places a huge financial burden on the immediate family of the deceased. This fact hasn't gone unnoticed in the press.

The funeral 'celebrations' last for the whole weekend, starting with the body being transported from the mortuary to the home usually on Friday. This event is accompanied by wailing and a crowd of followers escorting the vehicle bringing the body. On the evenings, starting on Friday, there is loud music which, in the case of James' funeral, carried on until daybreak on both Saturday and Sunday. The funeral proper took place on Sunday afternoon. It was conducted very well. A number of speeches were made in honour of James and his life (including one from me) and he was laid to rest at about 3 pm in the grave dug by the side of the house he lived in with his wife and children

We were all shocked and saddened by James' death. He was only a young man with two small children and a lot to look forward to in life. It was sad, at his funeral, to be reminded by a good number of the people who made speeches that there are many widows in our area. I'm sure I wouldn't find it much of a consolation to know that I was a member of a rapidly growing club if I was James' wife.

For all my misgivings about the cost and conduct of funerals over here I hope that James' wife will gain some consolation from knowing that James' passing was celebrated properly with due respect and "all protocols observed." There seems to have been a funeral within earshot of our place every weekend for about the last month, all playing out the same rituals. I know that James' funeral won't be the last this year, but I really pray for some respite in the community from these sad events and in the long run a change of heart about the best way to conduct a burial.

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