You sit and wait, and wait and sit, and shift your weight, and sit and wait some more. Just when you think your butt can’t get any more sore from the hard ground, everyone suddenly stands. Dust and dirt is brushed off everyone’s stiff limbs, and off everyone’s nicest set of clothes.
There are hundreds of people, because it’s not every day that the brother of a highly influential Senior Chief dies. Hundreds of people that have been sitting around his house for hours and hours. Some select few special guests enjoy chairs under a large outdoor tent, but even the immediate family are just sitting on the ground with al l the others.
During the long wait, the words of a sermon were heard by the closest people, and the occasional bit of laughter spread through the crowd. You can’t imagine what would be funny in a funeral sermon.
As the crowd is finished dusting themselves off, and you watch the line of vip cars move out towards the cemetery, you find one of the english speaking family members to walk along with. Some people exchange a few words or greet old friends and family members they haven’t seen in years, the women wail and cry, but most walk in silence along the dusty road.
As you walk along the slight slopes and turns of the path, you catch glimpses of the whole line of people, and get a better sense of the size of the crowd. The line of people narrows once the path to the cemetery is reached, the cars park and their occupants join in with the walking.
The cemetery is in a forest, the densest area of trees you’ve seen in the country. You pass by the empty grave, and look down into the 9 foot empty hole. Everyone makes their way through the tombstones and sits close together on the ground. Trees to lean up against are the best places to sit, who knows how long until you move again.
Once everyone is settled, a long process of speeches begins. A group of workers moves to fill the grave once the coffin is lowered into it. The dust cloud from the grave filling has everyone coughing. You try not to think about breathing in graveyard dirt.
Then select individuals are called up by a master of ceremonies to lay wreaths on the grave. You’re not really paying attention to the process, or to the particular small set of steps people go through in laying the wreath. Most of your attention is to the strange assortment of insects that are crawling all over you. It’s seems that the people around you are similarly preoccupied.
Your ear catches the calling forward of the Kasungu District Commissioner, and you notice the motionless silence that follows, and how everyone is looking around. You join in on the looking around, because the DC is one individual you’ve actually met before. Although only for a few moments just the week before, after waiting to be introduced to him for 3 months. A very high level person in the district, but the number of other high level people at the funeral make it likely that he would be there.
You catch a glimpse of the Senior Chief as he seems to be motioning at you. Those around you prod at you and motion towards the grave and wreaths. Apparently you’re the representative of the DC, and now you’re wishing that you paid a lot more attention to the process involved in laying the wreaths.
Despite the extreme awkwardness, you feel a strange sense of pride that brings a big smile to your face. A smile that turns into a strange grimace as you try your hardest to stifle it given the solemnity of the occasion. You feel even more awkward.
You stand up and brush the bits of nature off your clothes, move towards the grave, and fumble through the process of wreath laying. It’s quickly over and you move awkwardly back to your place by the tree, still unsure of what to do.
Of course the muttering of the crowd hasn’t ceased since you were pointed out, continuingly adding to the feeling of being out of place. But as you sit back down close to the people you know, you are given affirming looks and even slight smiles. Your place and respect within the community and family is actually further established as you’ve joined in on this particular experience with them. Another shared experience that will mark your time with them, and that completes a meaningful series of experiences from enjoying new life, to taking life, to giving the last respect and honor to a life that’s over.