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.