Location: Magamba, Chunya District (1.5 hour drive from Mshewe, my village home). Most people there speak the Nyiha language and some speak the Safwa language or other languages such as Sukuma. Nearly everyone is also able to speak Swahili.
I picked up Amani (my Safwa colleague who lives in Mshewe) at 8am, or at least, I arrived at his house at 8am and he wasn’t quite ready, and our Nyiha colleague, who was supposed to be coming with us, hadn’t arrived either and wasn’t responding to phonecalls or text messages. We decided to leave without him. I played with Amani’s little girl while I waited for him to get ready and we set off quarter of an hour later. The road is a graded dirt road, and for the most part is rough but in reasonable condition, but some bits were very bumpy and made worse by recent rain.
As we drove, Amani told me he’d had a phonecall from the pastor who was arranging things for us in Magamba, to say that there was a funeral. This may not sound so significant to you, but I know what that means. It means that many people who I would have expected to see at the seminar will instead be at the funeral, which typically lasts three days. At some point on the journey we picked up three people to give them a lift to Magamba, as they were going to attend the funeral. When we arrived, we found out the person who died was a fairly close relative of the pastor who was hosting us, and so any hope of starting the workshop that day was lost. No-one would have turned up anyhow. Instead, we went to the funeral. There were crowds of people, women sitting in one area and preparing food and men sitting in another area. It was very much an open-air event, though thankfully we got ushered into a house away from the loud speakers and out of the hot sun. You wouldn’t have known that it was a funeral from the music being played, it just sounded like a typical gospel event.
We were joined by a group of pastors (as usual, though being a lady I wasn’t expected to be with the ladies) for chai and mandazi. For us the funeral involved a lot of sitting or standing around and waiting. I got a chance to chat with some people and show them local language Scriptures and later we got a chance to chat with the pastors who had come (it seems that pastors from all the local churches will come to a funeral to pay their respects and to preach) about our work. Can you imagine using a funeral in England as a platform for advertising what you do?! But here it was fine, and indeed a good opportunity, because at no expense to us, we were able to meet with pastors from various places that we might otherwise never meet.
The funeral in general seemed to start with lots of church choirs and music, followed by some preaching and then the burial, which took place in the back yard of the person’s home. Before covering the body, people were able to pass by and say their final goodbye. After covering, as we do in England, people could throw dirt in the grave and finally place flowers etc on it. I just observed all of this from a distance – I couldn’t really see anything, but asked Amani for explanations. After the burial, people gave their condolences in the form of money and they added it all up and announced the total sum. This may seem very mercenary to us, but I think we have to remember that a funeral is an expensive event – the family have to feed everyone that comes, and that could literally be hundreds of people (I don’t know how many people were at this one, but it looked like well over a hundred), so people’s condolences help cover the costs. (We got fed there too, even though we didn’t know the deceased. I got a plate of rice with a bit of cow that I tried not to look at or smell but just eat, it was offal of some kind – it tasted okay but the texture was far from pleasant).
We returned to the pastor’s house after food and sat and chatted about the Bible with some people that were visiting him, before returning to the funeral for a while to see the pastor. Now they were preaching. And when we visited the funeral again the next day, there was someone else preaching, so I get the impression that after the main event, the rest of the three days is taken with preaching and music and just being there with the bereaved people.
That night it poured with rain, a real thunderstorm. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep particularly well! Despite the rain it was still pretty hot, though by morning the rain had cooled things off. I was worried it might affect the roads, but thankfully it didn’t. So on day two we were able to hold the workshop, although the pastor was still at the funeral, and I think a number of others must have been too. Instead of the twenty plus participants we had at the first one, we had just six, and they were late. I tried not to be discouraged, and actually taught the children for a bit while I waited for the teachers to turn up – there were a lot more children there than teachers! They came and sat through most of the workshop, just for something to do. Sometimes I was able to involve them in games and songs, but mostly they just sat and watched.
The workshop went okay, but I had to squeeze 1.5 days of teaching into one day because of the funeral, so I had to do some rethinking! It felt a bit like they hadn’t learned anything, as the way that they did the exercises didn’t seem to show any improvement form the first workshop, and two of the teachers hadn’t done any teaching since the first workshop. But I just hope and pray that it has had some small impact. I was encouraged by one of the pastors at the funeral who said that he had noticed a difference since their Sunday school teacher had attended the first workshop. The six participants I had were an enthusiastic bunch and we had some lively conversation over lunch, so the day passed quickly and I enjoyed it despite having a headache and despite the heat (it got pretty sticky in the afternoon). And we had two little visitors – hedgehogs! First there was one, which I took outside, but it came back. So I took it out again, further away, and it came back. In the end we gave up, and it found a dark, dry corner of the church to hide in, behind the electric guitars, and later it was joined by its friend.
Before leaving we called by the funeral again to say goodbye to our host-pastor. The preaching was still going on. He took us to the market as he wanted to buy as a gift of fish, which are plentiful there as it is about an hour away from Lake Rukwa. I really enjoy the fish, despite the bones. They fry them so that they will keep for a while, without refrigeration. We gave three people a lift back to Mshewe, arriving back in the village around 7pm, and the evening sky was just stunning. As I drove the last little bit back to my house alone, I just stopped the car in the middle of the field I was driving through (on a dirt track) and watched the glorious sky that no photo could do justice to. Breathtaking.