People from the city do not know how to be at our funerals. I pity them. You see, they do not throw themselves to the ground and mourn and cry out their voices hoarse. They do not know how to cry loud and sing out their emotions like we in the village. They cover their eyes with big black glasses and mop gently under them with clean white handkerchiefs that eventually become wet with lines of brown black and other shades of rich colors. Some use tissues in tiny packets that leave particles on the faces, as if to show evidence that behind the dark glasses tears emerged. Some use the wet kinds that wipe away their complexion so at the end of it, it is difficult to recognize them. That is how they cry for our dead.
They are shocked at how we wail. They look on in amused wonder whenever there is the arrival of a distant –close relative who starts wailing at the gate and everyone who knows them leaves whatever they were at to join the new mourner so she wouldn’t cry alone. Sometimes they are so moved when the family joins they bare their eyes to see properly.
When night falls I usually want to help them all. They do not understand our discomatanga (the music that is played throughout the night by the local DJ to help people keep vigil and encourage donations). The DJ is usually at pains to please the city folk. They keep forgetting where they are for all the times they keep demanding for songs we have never heard. Songs we can’t dance to because we can’t sing along. They dance funny these people. My best friend had problems with her hip bone the next morning after a night of city moves. Some have been to so many of our funerals they bring along DVDs of their music and give to the DJ early enough, he, usually reluctant at first will say yes after his pockets receive the blessed encouragement and a promise of bitter water later. When they are tired and sleepy, they start to complain at the lack of nice places to spend the night and the in-disciplined mosquitoes.
Oh then the pit latrines. Their children get in naked. They remove all their clothes and leave them outside so the smells won’t stick. They go when the need is super close so they spend the least time in there. Our water from the stream and river even the one we get from far away at the mission well makes them sick. They bring their own water from the city. We call it funeral water. When they leave, they reward us with the bottles that we pick from our shambas. The plastic is not good for the soil.
At the service, they put on the very tight trousers, the kind the ushers have strict orders from the priest to not allow us in if we come dressed in. The city people are not sent back. They are sweetly led in. They have reserved seats next to the bereaved family. The priest asks for the other Offertory box. The one that can’t allow entry of coins but a rolled note, he looks on as the city people with clothes about to burst offer their city notes. They make noise in church, walk out to pick calls and with their huge phones take pictures of everything. I will never know if city churches allow that.
I love how they speak of the dead. Most are usually relatives they saw last when they could barely talk before they moved to the city. When they speak it is as if they’ve lived with them their entire lives in the village. They speak beautiful English. I listen carefully hoping to learn. Most of it however I can’t remember for it got stuck somewhere between their noses and throats. Villagers are amazed and eager to please them so they throw about English words in their own tributes.
City people bring to the village nice t-shirts with an image of the deceased. They ask the poor villagers (who have been there for the dead throughout his/her life and even took care of them when sick) to spend their hard-earned savings on them. They will not offer them for free even to show gratitude. They say buying, producing and transporting them were expensive. The villagers look at the lovely shirts from a far with desire so deep in their eyes it looks like tears. The city people go back to the city with the remaining t-shirts. I will never know what they go to do with them.
After the burial, city people are happy. They can finally go back. The githeri and chunks of beef from cows slaughtered in the village had started to bore them and make the skinny ones fat, the already fat ones complained it was unhealthy for the whole time they kept calculating the calories. They ask the villagers to give them maize, fruits and vegetables to take to the city. They do not pay for them for the villagers have big shambas they won’t feel it, they are too expensive in the big city stores the city people say. Village people are relieved; they can finally have quiet peace.