The thing I’ve learned most from living in Kenya is to “go with the flow.” At some point I realized that it’s best not to fight or try to understand anything, but better to just let it happen. I’ve learned more from just taking things as they come than I would had I stopped to analyze and question things about life in Kenya. A perfect example of this is the funeral we attended on Thursday.
We were told we would be leaving at 9 so, taking Kenyan time into account, we prepared ourselves to be ready by 9:30, expecting to leave at 10. When we went to eat our breakfast, however, we discovered the house was quickly filling with women. Within an hour, at about 9:30, the sitting room and front porch held 40 – 50 women, doing micro-financing. When we asked our host, Margaret, if we were still going to the burial, she said of course and that all these women were coming, too, but first they needed to do micro-financing and then she needed to bath. She said it in such a way that made me start to wonder why I had questioned it in the first place; of course, if, at 9:30 in the morning before a burial you feel you urgently need to do some micro-financing, then you’re going to do it.
At about 11, Margaret came into our room and told us to hurry up, that it was time to go. It was time to go right then, no waiting. So we scrambled into our shoes and ran out the door after her, leaving the 50 women in the house to continue their micro-financing. At home, I wait on my mom a lot. We’re usually about to go somewhere and then she gets a call so I sit around and wait for her to be ready. Then, once she’s ready she always jokingly gets impatient with me, saying “come on Callie, I’ve been waiting.” Margaret reminds me of these times, except she isn’t joking. In Kenya, you have to constantly be ready to go at any second, even if that second is 3 hours after your planned departure.
We got to the homestead and sat under a tent in plastic chairs that had been gathered from every home in the area. “Oh good,” said Margaret, “it’s just starting.” I decided not to wonder about her originally telling us it started at 9:30, since it was now almost 11:30. The coffin was carried out from the house, led by 3 pastors and followed by a group of singing women. Every few seconds, they would put the coffin on the ground and turn around for a few seconds. Then they would pick it back up, walk a few feet, and do the same thing again.
For the next two hours, men and women got up and gave testimonies (eulogies) in Luo, the tribal language of this area. After that was an hour of “preaching the word of God,” as Margaret called it. This gave Annie and I a good 3 hours to zone out and have a break from all thinking. During this time, however, our non-thoughts were interrupted by two mourning women. We had been told before that many try to mourn as loudly as they can, even if they didn’t know the deceased, to get attention. Often families hire mourners for the burials to make them more exciting. The first woman was older and ran into the house with blood-curdling screams. After a few minutes, she quieted down and came out with some other women to sit down. The second woman was in her 20’s and waiting until she was in the middle of the homestead to start wailing and running towards the house. Within 5 feet of the door, she threw herself onto the ground and began rolling around and screaming. Luckily, she got her backpack off first so she was more comfortable down there. Two men came and dragged her, yelling, into the house. She took a little while to stop, but was then brought out, looking and acting perfectly fine. Later I looked over and she was talking and laughing with a group of friends. Funny how those little moments of insane grief just come and go.
When the talking was over, the women started singing and Margaret said it was time to view the body and give offering. I looked up and suddenly the casket was open with the offering plate on the glass, right over the now-exposed body. She said if we were afraid to look, we could just give offering without viewing the body. We asked her how to do this and she said “don’t look.” Hadn’t thought of that.
So we got in line with our offerings and approached the coffin. It was clear that if you wanted your money to make it into the plate, there was no way not to look. Everyone in front of us was blowing kisses and waving to the body. I gave a polite smile as I placed my offering and then tried to look away, thinking he wouldn’t want me staring at him since I’d never actually met him.
When the line ended, they carried the coffin to the grave and began burying it. However instead of joining the crowd watching, Margaret and her BFF, Margaret, rushed us off to the house across the street to eat before the crowd came. They hurried us into a small store room with bunk beds in it and told us to sit. If they weren’t two adorable, gossiping old ladies then I would’ve been concerned that I was going to be killed. They brought in little dishes of food and plates and told us to serve and eat. Margaret the Second said if we didn’t eat more our intestines would growls, which meant they were angry at us for not feeding them more. When we finished eating, we washed our hands and left.
There were so many times that day, including later when we were stuck inside a church that was about 20 feet from home because it was raining so hard, in which I just had to silently laugh and think to myself “I’m living in Kenya, go with it.” I’m not really sure that’d work anywhere else, but in Kenya, it’s a good way to live.