The Friday before Christmas I helped a small bit with funeral preparations for a neighbor woman's funeral. I didn't really know her but I know her daughters. They're Khetho's friends. When I came home from Mbabane that afternoon, Muhle Hlope (a family member) told me to come help collect the stones for the grave since I'm a member of the community. I was tired, but decided it was wise to go and help (wasn't it a privilege also?). Most of us stood around while a few labored with picks to free the rocks from their earthen mold. Once loose we collected them and piled them nearby. The pickaxe changed hands again. After quite a pile was collected, Muhle brought his bakkie and we loaded them onto it for the short ride to the gravesite. We loaded them one at a time. Even the small ones, though my arms felt empty, were to be carried one by one. That's what Swazi tradition calls for. I tried to ponder this as I made another trip from dwindling pile to filling bakkie. There was something satisfying about such a task.
I didn't go to the whole funeral, but I got up around 4 a.m. to see them take the casket to the grave. The women came by after it was lowered and each tossed a handful of dirt on the casket from a shovel-full held for them. The men then took turns shoveling the large pile of earth back into the hold from which it had come the day before. We all took a turn just for a little bit. Two men walked back and forth barefoot to pack the soil down. Then came the stones and more soil until the oval mound was complete. There were some more words spoken and prayers prayed, songs sung and then I walked with my brother Dumisa our of our way back to the deceased's home before departing to our own.
I haven't been acquainted to many funerals in my life and yet they're happening all the time here. Just about every week or so Make and Babe go to at least one if not more. There were three in this community the weekend before Christmas. AIDS, 'sugar diabetes', stroke, age.
After nearly six months in a place I guess part of me feels entitled to feeling more at home or something. This past weekend I found myself feeling quite annoyed and out of place.
Make (Mom in siSwati) asked me to go buy some bread on Sunday morning-something I usually enjoy doing. This particular day, however, it seemed like people enjoyed making a spectacle of me (I guess I haven't been seen so often along this particular route). The laughing, excitement and the comments, grated on me. They seemed far from the normal greetings exchanged when I meet people "along the way". I suppose they meant no harm, but I couldn't help but feel frustrated, angry and in a hurry to move along the red dirt path.
I didn't feel very generous or gracious that morning-or the day before when, on an outing with some people from the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), a community leader I met commented to me directly, "We're glad someone like you has come to our area." What was that supposed to mean? He didn't know a thing about me.
Don't get me wrong,
the Swazis are great people-extremely welcoming and friendly-but sometimes
I wish I could blend in and be an "average Joe" again.
I rose early before the Scorpion, still at play in the West, hid in his nest, the new day. The waning moon hung low in the East with Venus shining bright even lower. The air was cold and dark except for the idea of dawn rising on the horizon. My feet scuffed and scraped the hard clay path as I hurried to the hill called Encakamatje, unseen clouds of red dust enveloped my boots. I passed three other dark forms on my way. They too were awake with the chickens as they hurried to school or work. I found one of those big stones on Encakamatje and had a seat.
A line of apricot was rising in the East, straining to lift the dark blanket of night with the cacophony of poultry and canine arousal echoing below. Listening above the noise took effort, but yielded the sound of songbirds stirring with the new day. As apricot became apple flesh and widened, blue appeared and stars went away; the efforts of electricity at the homesteads became redundant.
I was impatient (I don't know why). I wanted to rush the beauty, the arrival of day. I didn't even notice the clouds behind me that had replaced Scorpio in the sky. They were being set afire from across the great expanse. White clouds for sure, they were now dressed in orange and pink and gold, silent in the blue above the dark mountains.
In front of me a peach had gathered on the edge of the hill and grew. The clouds and the mountains changed attire in response.
The low places were still dressed in shadow, but there was no more hiding. I descended quickly as the fire crested the hill, sending me on my way to hot oats and tea at the homestead. Amen.
update in progress