Saturday, August 19, 2006

Community Connections

Today we went to a funeral. At first, I wasn’t planning to go, because I know how tiring it can be to sit for hours hearing a language that you don’t understand, but in the end I decided to go and I’m glad that I did. It was the mother of a cousin’s wife, so it was good for me to be there with the rest of the family. It took us about 3 hours to get there. The first hour or so of the funeral wasn’t bad. The second hour was a little tiring. At a typical funeral, there are probably 30+ people who all get up, introduce themselves and say something – parents, siblings, children, in-laws, cousins, sisters, brothers, neighbors, etc. Each group gets a turn and it goes on forever. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was a bit surprised when they called me up to say something. I greeted everyone in Luhya and Swahili, explained that I was an in-law to the family and said that I was very sorry (pole sana). I’m not sure how I feel about being the token mzungu who makes the host seem more important, The day I arrived in the village, I was invited to a wedding of someone I didn’t know, for the same reason. At the funeral today, I didn’t even know the lady amd I’d never met her daughter, but still, they asked me to get up and speak. After about 2 hours, someone came to get me and the rest of our family. At first I didn’t know what was going on, but I just do what people tell me and usually it turns out okay J. They took us back to the house where we had something to drink and some lunch. It always seems a little odd to get up in the middle of the funeral to go eat, but from what I heard today, it sounded like maybe they feed people in shifts as food is ready and dishes are clean. After an hour or so, they were just starting to fill in the grave, having finally placed the casket there. Our family left, I think because it was such a long trip home.

When we got back to the road (there were 11 of us going home), we found an empty matatu that agreed to take us almost all of the way home. This definitely saved time and a bit of money over taking 3 separate matatus plus a boda boda. So, the driver and the tout tried to find 3 more people who were coming the same direction to fill the empty seats, but when they couldn’t find anyone, they put the private route sign in the window and decorated the matatu with branches to show that it was a funeral matatu. That way, when we went through the police checkpoint, they wouldn’t get in trouble for not running the regular route (that was my impression at least). Well, when we stopped at the police checkpoint, they told the officer that they were taking s to a funeral. She pulled off the branches and told them just to put the private sign instead of decorating the matatu like a Christmas tree. Everyone got quite a laugh out of that as we drove away.

On our way home from where we got off the matatu, I saw several people that I knew, including one of my students. I was glad to hear that he’s in high school because he was a very bright student, but he comes from a very large, poor family. Several people told me that I have really done well to come back again, which definitely makes me feel good about the decision to come do my research here in the village. One of the reasons I decided to come was to be a consistent presence in the community and not just a here once gone forever person. It also makes participating in community activities easier, because I’m already connected in a social network. Being connected in the community is very important to my research, but I think that if I were just brand new, I would have a hard time balancing getting work done and being a person here in the community. Because I have some established social networks, I have built-in expectations for what I will do. This helps me get out and about, although I need to be careful not to be so involved in life that I don’t get my work done!

Anyway, all that to say that I feel really good right now about being here. I feel like I have sufficient strength and contentment for the journey. The joy of reuniting with family and friends is even sweeter that I anticipated.

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