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Valentines Day and a Burial

TEEZ Valentines Dinner Fundraiser:

On the Eve of Valentines, TEEZ held a Valentine Dinner Fundraiser at their guest house. Those wishing to support TEEZ, or just have a night out with their Valentine, purchased (or bought on credit) tickets to attend a festive evening including dinner, music, a guest speaker and other festivities. Brent and I were rather surprised to learn that Valentines Day is celebrated here in Zambia. However, it has only been in the last few years that the Hallmark Holiday has made its way across the Atlantic. The days leading up to the event were a little hectic but the evening proved to be a success while TEEZ also learned some things that will make next year even better. Here are pictures of the dinner and other recent happenings in Kitwe. Below the pictures is another post with Erin’s reflection about a recent burial we attended.





A Burial:

Mrs. Daka, the accounting assistant at TEEZ, lost her younger sister, Catherine, last Thursday. Brent and I, along with the entire TEEZ staff, attended Catherine’s burial last Saturday.

Mourning one’s death is communal in Zambia. As soon as one dies the “funeral” begins. Relatives and friends gather at the funeral house – the house of the deceased or a relative’s home of the deceased – and mourn together for several days. All of the furniture is removed from the home in order to make room for the women who sit on the floor and mourn while the men sit on the furniture outside. After work on Thursday, several members of the TEEZ staff went to the funeral house to mourn with Mrs. Daka and were there until 8 or 9 p.m.

On the day of the burial Brent and I arrived at the cemetery, along with most of the TEEZ staff. When we arrived at the cemetery I was surprised by the large number of people and said, “There are a lot of burials taking place today.” Reverend Chimfwembe responded with a sobering remark: “Everyday there are this many burials. If you even come here on Tuesday from morning until night there are burials one after another.” We counted 8 burials happening simultaneously to ours (it was only 10 a.m.). There were several fresh graves as well as two graves dug right next to Catherine’s waiting for another burial later in the day. The life expectancy here is 38 years (Catherine was 36) and Saturday made this a reality. There were far too many graves with birthdates in the 80’s.

When we arrived, the service had already begun and the women were seated near the casket – all wearing chitenjes and head coverings, and the men stood in a group nearby while some younger men continued to dig the grave. Among the woman there were two teenage boys, one probably 15 weeping and unable to hold his body up as his friend, around 17, held him. This was Catherine’s son, and her daughter, around 16 or 17, sat nearby also weeping and supported by a friend. After the minister finished speaking we all passed by the casket and viewed the body. The wailing then began and a despair and bottomless sorrow shook the woman as they cried out grieving their sister, their daughter, their aunt, their friend. The casket was then lowered down into the grave and several men filled in the hole and made a large mound of dirt which was firmly patted down by several women. Family, friends and the TEEZ office, including Brent and I, put flowers on the grave. As Catherine’s children placed their flowers they wept, shook and laid on the dirt that covered their mother. It was gut wrenching, heartbreaking, and horrible.

A face was given to AIDS; a name given to a country with a life expectancy of 38; and a glimpse given into the everyday reality of life and death as a Zambian. O God when will you have mercy on this continent!

Despite my unanswerable questions, sorrow, and even anger, I experienced death in a new way; as communal. Working as a Hospice chaplain a few summers back I learned that often times, in order for a person to truly grieve and mourn, one needs someone else to mourn and grieve with them; to dwell together in the midst of despair; to sit side by side in anguish and pain; and to get up the next day and do it again. This is exhausting and painful work. It’s far easier to try and help someone get over their loss and move on than actually sit with them in the darkness of death. However, at the cemetery I heard women wailing together with Catherine’s family. I saw friends holding Catherine’s children allowing their bodies to shake with grief. I watched as men dug Catherine’s grave and lowered her into the ground and then covered her with dirt. I experienced people sitting together in the uncomfortableness of death. For Zambians mourning and death is a part of life and an important part.

Posted February 20, 2010
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