September 16th, 2012
Beauty Dvube was my Gogo, or grandmother. She was my Babe’s mother, which made her the matriarch of the giant Dube family (I don’t know why her name is spelled with a v and mine is not). At the time of her death she left behind 4 living children, 41 grandchildren, 58 great-grand children, and 3 great great-grandchildren. She was 94, amazing right!?! Her homestead is in my community, but she would come and stay on my homestead every once in awhile when her health was troubling her. She came to us about a month ago needing care. In the end of August she suffered a small stroke leaving one side partially nonfunctional. Complications of this eventually lead to her death about two weeks later. She was in the hospital right after the stroke, but fortunately was released and was able to enjoy her last few days at her home.
I always liked this Gogo. She was feisty. The first time I met her she said to me in siSwati that she “liked to speak English, but knew very little.” I gave her a smile and said “I like to speak siSwati, but also know very little.” Our conversation never circum passed the basic greetings, except for once. I was walking back from the pit latrine one day last summer and passed Gogo sitting on a grass mat outside. We greeted each other as usual and then with such passion she proclaimed in English “It’s Hot!” I just cracked up because I totally didn’t expect such a profound outburst and was overjoyed that this was the one response in siSwati I had totally mastered: I replied “Yebo Gogo, kuyashisa kakhulu!” (Yes gogo, it is very hot!” We both just laughed together after.
As I’ve mentioned before a Swazi funeral is a multi-day affair. My family spent the entire week preparing for the two-day event that included a church service, followed by an all night-vigil, then a morning burial procession. A giant hand crafted stick and tarp tent had to be constructed, food had to be bought to feed around 200 people, arrangements for the burial and church services had to be made, and arranging just how everyone was getting to Gogo’s homestead for the event was a tricky process. Finally the weekend came and everyone and everything was set into motion.
I spent all of Saturday evening baking buns for the funeral guests with bosisi bami (my host sisters). We baked from 5:00pm-10:30pm. Then we got bundled up for the night. It’s raining again, which is great for life in general, but bad when you have to spend the entire night outside. It was bitter cold, I had on 2 complete outfits, plus two jackets, plus a blanket that I oh-so-fashionable wore tied around my body. I still couldn’t feel my toes by the end of the night.
I arrived at the night vigil in style via the back of pick-up – a midnight ride through my community was quite peaceful from the back of a truck, unfortunately it was cloudy but I can imagine just how amazing the stars would have looked. I immediately slipped into the cooking hut as to have as few people see me as possible. Sadly a year plus here and my presence still creates a spectacle. I walked into the cooking hut and was greeted by my eldest sisi who was hacking away with a machete at a hunk of fresh beef hanging from the thatched roof. She stopped to greet me and as she stepped away I saw where the hunk of beef came from. An entire cow carcass was on the floor, the skin was laid out as a protective barrier for the floor and the rest was being chopped apart by a bhuti (male) with an axe. The only part not dissected yet was the head, which sat off to the side. Bits of flesh and blood were splattering the wall and surrounding area so I swiftly walked to the other side of the room and found something to do. I quickly got swept into the business of preparing a meal for the 200+ guests that were in attendance. I have to admit I wasn’t much help and was too tired, wet, and cold to put much effort into making myself useful. I eventually fell asleep on a table and woke to an almost empty hut, just the cow head, the heart, which was now hanging from the ceiling, and me.
It was the 3:00am teatime so everyone was out delivering tea and sandwiches to the guests. I had no desire to participate and I have to admit that I feel very in the way at these events since I don’t really know what’s going on. My family is good with trying to make sure I am ok but they were so busy at this vigil I didn’t want to bother them with helping me try and help them, if that makes sense, so I just went back to sleep.
I eventually opted to leave my safe haven for the procession to the gravesite. It was raining so I donned my rain jacket and the only visible part of me was my face. I managed to remain hidden until we got to the gravesite and everyone stopped moving. The walk there was on a treacherous, muddy, flooded dirt path through the bush. Turns out thorns can go through rain boots, got one right in my arch trying not to fall into a mud puddle. I managed to loose all my family members in the procession so when the service at the gravesite started I just stood in the crowd and tried to watch. I didn’t know anyone around me and they were giving me weird stares when they realized I wasn’t a Swazi. I was feeling really alone and just wanted to cry for Gogo, for my family’s loss, for being wet and cold, for feeling like an outsider.
Finally I saw Gogo’s Paster whom I met a few weeks ago and he smiled and waved at me through the crowd. I smiled back and that gave me the strength to not break down right there. I eventually decided to leave the crowd and see of I could find any of my family. I didn’t, but I found so many people I did know; ladies from my family’s church, neighbors, and family friends. I was trying to wedge my way underneath the single tarp that could fit maybe 1/8 of the people there to avoid the rain. Here I found Gogo’s best friend Sara. She is probably as old as Gogo and only has one eye but she remembered me and she waved and gave me a silent greeting. I greeted her back with as much sympathy as one can express in a silent exchange and then I almost lost it. I was so sad for her – she just lost her best friend. When I met Sara my Make told me that she was Gogo’s best, best, best friend. They lived almost their entire lives across the path from each other and held each other’s deepest darkest secrets. I could feel the power of their friendship. Life is hard here and the courage and strength to get through it may lie simply in the power of a best friend. It made me miss my best friends.
I haphazardly made my way back to the homestead with the crowd. The meal was already underway with people being served in take-away containers. I didn’t really know what to do now so I just stood in the rain and watched, eventually making my way back to the cooking hut where I found my Make and one Sisi. They got me food, which was much, much needed at this point. I hadn’t eaten since 5pm the night before and was getting shaky. After food I attempted to help clean but proved to be useless again. My brain was not functioning and I just needed directions to be given to me, and no one was there to give them so I just stood in the rain that had turned to the slightest snow flurry I swear (or I was just delirious at this point). I told myself I was just observing and that was an ok thing to do to. I watched as dogs snuck into the cooking hut and stole scraps of food and fought each other for them. I watched the men pull the giant tarp tent apart. I watched as a truck got stuck way deep in the mud and a tractor plus the encouragement of all the men pulled it out. I watched as the kids, despite being half dressed and barefoot, still managed to play games and laugh. I just sat back and watched Swazi life happen. Eventually I hitched a ride home where I had to de-thaw my feet in a bucket of hot water and then curled up in bed the rest of the day.