Thursday, June 24, 2010


About two weeks ago, Bobo's coach passed away in the hospital from Meningitis. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to visit him. Bobo saw him a few days before, on the day he was admitted, but he didn't get a chance to say goodbye, so we went to Mazeras, a village about 45 minutes away, to attend his burial. The Christian custom here is to hold a Matanga, or funeral service, in town where everyone gathers and drinks tea and listens to music together while consoling the family of the deceased with their presence. I'm afraid to say there have been many Matanga in Tudor lately. Every night we see a new one somewhere. The family usually collects money during the Matanga, which they use to transport the deceased to their ancestral homeland where they are buried in the village cemetery. The burial is called Mazishi. I have attended several Matangas, but this was my first burial. I did attend one in Uganda in 2008, but I was not as involved and I had never met the girl who had passed away on that occasion. This was a different experience altogether, cause I knew Coach Mover (not as well as Bobo, of course, but I knew him) and because I was closer and more involved than i have ever been.
There were a huge number of people there. Bobo says three thousand. I think it was more like three hundred. Mostly from Tudor. They filled up the tiny dirt streets of the village in a procession to the church. The women were dressed in Kangas of many bright colours and patterns. Coach's family all wore the same bright pink and green. The men were more subdued, mostly in jeans or dress pants and tshirts. they carried the casket. Prayers and speeches took place in a small methodist church built in 1893. There wasn't enough room for everyone so many of us stood outside. I went with Bobo and some of coach's former teammates to drink Mnazi (palm wine) and reminisce. Two hours later, The procession found us on its way to the cemetery. We joined them. I listened to the songs they were all singing together - beautiful songs in which I could distiguish the odd word: "Mungu" (god), "Kwa heri" (good bye), etc. It was quite powerful.
When we arrived in the cemetery, the men had laid coach's body next to a fresh grave. The casket was open and people were walking by to see him one last time. I got funneled into the line before I really understood what was going on. I've never seen a dead body before. It was like a doll. A figure like a real person with no life in them. He looked pained. his eyes were shut tight and his mouth was filled with something white. i asked Bobo later if he had gone by, but he said he could never do that, he wouldn't have been able to handle it. I'm sure I would feel the same if it was someone I loved, who had had so much influence in my life.
We all stood around while they lowered him into the ground with a couple of ropes. Then they lowered a sheet of wetal over top. There were two shovels and one hoe and all the young men from the Tudor United soccer team took turns shoveling the dirt into the grave. The priest kept starting songs and everyone would join in. I wished I could join in. I was trying to take a short video on my camera and I lifted it over the heads of two women in front of me. One of them started crying hard and leaned on to her friend for support. I brought my camera down, realizing suddenly that I was being inappropriate. Until this point I had been watching everything with a kind of anthropological interest, but now i realized how serious this was. This man, who had clearly affected the lives of so many people in Tudor, was gone, and in a small way, things would never be the same again. The songs and the crying filled my ears and I felt overwhelmed with sadness.
After they had shoveled all the dirt so there was a mound of earth, they pulled out all the roots and grass and flattened the top with the handles of the shovels. Coach's mother was supported to the mound with a great big wreath, which she placed in the middle. Groups of family members were called forward to place smaller wreaths and flowers. The boys from the team were each given a red rose, which they stuck into the dirt around the edges. Coach's mother kept staring at me, and I hugged Bobo, hoping to tell her that I was there to support him. He told me that to someone from the village, a person like me is like an angel.
As he was leaving. a boy who worked in the cemetery stopped and spoke to me loudly, interrupting the song. He pointed to the next plot and said "Tomorrow, this will be my grave. Everyday we bury someone else here. I want to die." And he walked away. i didn't know what to say, but I think it must be pretty hard on a young person to work somewhere like that.
We all trickled back to the field where we ate pilau and chatted. People were fairly upbeat. Bobo and his friends snuck off to drink some more Mnazi while I ate with my friend Elizabeth who runs a small retaurant in Tudor. We headed back to the highway as it started to rain.
The whole experience was fairly affecting to me, and I debriefed with Bobo on the Matatu back to Mombasa. We talked about depression, which I had to explain to Bobo. I told him it seemed to me that Africans have an aptitude for not letting inevitablities keep them from finding ways to be happy. I was surprised at how everyone could take the ceremony so seriously, and then go back to chatting and laughing so quickly. I can't, but then I'm starting to think I have almost no control over my emotions at all. But maybe its not about control. Maybe it's just that they don't live in the past the way we do. I can ask them to explain how they do it, but... what's that line in Out Of Africa?... "it's like a deaf person asking for an explanation of a symphony."

Tonight we are visiting the Matanga of one of our Nuru soccer players' mother who passed away about ten days ago. Sigh.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Miss Laurel Jane May Visits Mombasa

June 18
Long overdue. Sorry about that those of you who have been waiting for me to write a blog. I know it’s been like a month. I can’t believe it. And believe me there has been no shortage of things to write about. It’s just that there’s usually something I’m more excited about doing than writing a blog. Like going our with my friends or working on Nuru stuff. I’ve been busy, and I have also been trying to work out a good way to access the internet from home. I have one of those little modems that plugs into the USB port, but the internet is slow and patchy, so it’s been frustrating trying to get my blog and the Nuru site updated.
My final excusefor not writing for so long is that my friend Laurie from Uganda/Australia was visiting for the last ten days or so. She dropped by Mombasa on her way back from a tour of Europe and intended to stay for a couple of nights, I guess she enjoyed herself, cause we finally had to push her on to the bus back to Uganda more than a week later. Just kidding Laurie. We loved having you here. Even though we were all crammed into one room and Bobo kept moving the fan off of you in the middle of the night.
I have to say we went a little crazy with Laurie here. We went out dancing a lot and enjoyed more than our share of Miraa and local brandy. For those who are new to my blog, Miraa is a highly stimulating plant grown by the Meru tribe. It comes in bunches of extremely bitter twigs which you have to chew. It makes you talk a lot, verbal diarrhea I believe it’s called, and you end up saying things like “Your name’s Ralph? Where I come from, that means vomit.” Right Laurie?
We also spent a bunch of time on the beach, evidence of which is available in my facebook photos. We went to the South Coast on the last day before Laurie’s departure. The South Coast has a whole bunch of really beautiful beaches, and it’s where all the big resorts and the majority of the white people can be found. Not us though. We stay in a one-room flat with no running water and a shared bathroom. And we love it! Or I do anyway. Anyway, this beach at the South Coast was really nice and they had a little bar with palm frond roofs and live music. Of course it started to rain as soon as we got there. We still went swimming though, cause the water was warmer than the air. It was definitely cold when we got out though. Bobo laughed at me for being cold cause I’ve said before that Kenyans don’t know what cold is. I maintain that they don’t. Incidentally, one of the interesting things about Laurie was that even though we share a lot of culture (which I’ll admit was refreshing conversation-wise – I was starting to miss having someone to regale with Friends and Calvin and Hobbes references) she has never really been anywhere cold. Uganda is cold for her. Now, I fully admit that Uganda is not warm compared to Kenya or Tanzania or Sudan (rain forest, misty hills and all that), but I defy anyone from Canada or even most of the northern US to call Uganda cold. In any case, we dried off and spent the rest of the evening drinking beer, listening to a local band, dancing, strolling on the beach and later watching the Australia soccer game. It was thoroughly enjoyable and honestly one of the things I was hoping to do more of while I was here. I know I’m here for Nuru and hopefully to visit my professor in Tanzania, but who says I can’t have a bit of a holiday too?
Laurie is working as a journalist for a small East African online journal run by Edirisa in Uganda. I helped her edit a couple of pieces and it really made me think about some of the things I’ve been wanting to write about in my blog. Things like the reactions to the world cup here in Kenya, Mr Joe Biden and his wife Jane’s visit to Kenya about a week ago, the upcoming referendum, etc. these are all things that I have come to know quite a bit about, and I’ve talked to lots of people and I have opinions. So I’m going to try to bring a few more of those things into my blog in the near future. Now that I have my laptop up and running, I think I’ll be better able to do that. After all, a blog is supposed to be a place to talk about things that are on your mind, and not just a record of things that happen to you on your holiday. And every day I think of something I could write about in a blog. So I promise it won’t be another month before I write again! I hope some of you will be interested in reading what I have to say. I’ll do my best to make it interesting!
Till then, enjoy your summers!