Monday, April 21, 2014

The Funeral

Someone died.  I'm told that he was my neighbor and we talked a lot.  His name was Soule, a young guy who worked at a little boutique near my house selling music.  I don't know that name.  And I can't place him or even imagine his face.  I'm not sure who he was.

In a small village, people just know things.  They grew up together.  I had to ask directions to go wherever I was supposed to go.  There were a ton of people sitting outside a compound so I went up and greeted people.  I don't know what you say in English when you lose someone and certainly am at a loss in French or Fulfulde.  It was his father's house.  I was told to enter the compound.  Inside there were more people.  A ton of women in one courtyard and older men in a second.  One man I greeted was in tears, but I was being directed too quickly to even think that perhaps that was the grieving father.  Unlike everyone else, I don't generally know the intricacies of family connections, but I think that is the first time I've seen a Cameroonian man cry.  I was directed to where the old men were sitting cutting up a sheet.  They told me to go inside a room.

I don't know if they do viewings here and thought I might be walking into that.  It was a dark bedroom and they left me alone inside.  I thought perhaps it was the guy's room and I was to pay my respects.  I found some pictures on the walls and looked through them.  There was a common guy in most of them.  As happy as any Cameroonian in a photo can look (they generally refuse to smile).  Perhaps that was him.  I sat down waiting for either the next person  to come or someone to get me.  After awhile I figured out that no one was coming.  They likely put me in there because there was a comfy chair and it is out of the sun.  And I'm white.  No long sure if that room was important or related or just had a chair.

I went back outside and sat down with the older men.  The Imam was there and my friend the tailor.  The sheet was to be the shroud.  No one was talking much and I wasn't sure how long I was to sit there.  I was mostly waiting for someone else to leave.  I usually time events by the call to prayer; if I don't know how long it will take, I go thirty minutes or an hour before one of the calls knowing I'll be able to leave then.

Eventually everyone just suddenly started to go outside, so I followed.  We all stood around waiting for a bit and I found some younger guys I knew to stand with.  They brought out the body covered in the sheet and wrapped in these nylon mats that they bring everywhere to sit on instead of the ground.  They put him in a wooden trough with poles to carry him to the burial.  Then the Muslims lined up to say a prayer and I stood with the Christens bowing my head.  Everyone started to disburse afterwards and I thought we were to go home, but I realized they were all going the same direction.  I followed and we all walked outside of town to a cemetery nearby.  I've passed it many times and never realized what it was; just mounds of dirt covered in grass with no markers.

There were a ton more people gathered at the cemetery waiting.  Some of my really close friends who I'd wondered where they had been were digging the grave.  They dug as we watched waiting silently.  It was a big hole with a smaller body-sized hole at the bottom.  They placed the shrouded body at the bottom and put some crossbeams over him.  Then they placed a wooden plank that covered the smaller hole and covered that with green leaves.  Finally they filled the grave with dirt.  We all kneeled down and were lead in a Muslim prayer.  Then we walked back to town.

It was a somber day.  People say it is destiny and God's will.  They will say that it is sad.  But that's all.  He went to wash his clothes in the river and swam a bit after.  He died.  And I can't remember his face.