I’ve only attended a total of 4 funerals in my American life. Three of which for adults, one for a high school friend who died in a car wreck. Since I’ve been in Kenya, I’ve been to more funerals than I can even count, but of those, two were for children. That’s something worth noting. And something I wasn’t prepared for (who could be?) or expecting when I joined the Peace Corps. The slogan clearly states “The toughest job you’ll ever love,” and today, I feel that could not be more accurate.
This morning I woke up at 5, getting ready in the dark for the procession to Kisumu for the funeral and burial. We chose 20 kids to take with us, including all of Evans classmates in first grade, as well as the prefects for each of the other grades. Funerals here are viewed much differently from those at home, and they are a great social event, and the more attending the better – because it’s physical proof of how loved the person was. So, we brought as many as we could fit in two, 14-passenger vehicles. We divided the boys from the girls, and somehow I managed to be the only staff in the girls car, along with the Superintendent and a student’s mom. Both vehicles left at 7:30, ours following the boys, destined for Evans’ family home in Kisumu.
About half way there, after stopping twice to get pocket-change quantities of fuel and once for a bush bathroom break, we come to a routine police check point. The first vehicle with the boys passes through without a problem, then the police come to peek in our windows and get a good look at the white girl. He then shouts at the driver about the “speed governor” (speedometer) and demands to see the license for it, because obviously every vehicle should have a license to be observing their own speed. Unable to provide the license for our speedometer, we’re forced to the side of the road while the driver and the Superindendent go try to resolve the issue at the police station (pay a bribe). The mama goes somewhere… and I’m left in a van with 10 kids, along the busy road in Maseno…. for 3 hours.
Eventually, another teacher actually leaves the funeral in Kisumu to come pick us up in the first vehicle, the one that carried the boys, because our driver is in court. We get to the funeral just in time to see Evans one last time, as my boys carry the coffin from in the house to a stool in the middle of a tent for everyone to walk past as they exit to their vehicles. After that, the coffin is tied to the top of the van we came in from Nina while all of the adults cram into the back of a large truck, equivalent to a livestock carrier, hanging out of the top, calling out to announce the funeral as we pass through town on our way to the cemetary. The vehicle with the coffin is in the front, followed by about 10 motorbikes, all honking and screaming, then the large trailer crammed with people singing and screaming, and lastly the van with me and my kids… which isn’t making any noise at all.
We literally drive through the bush, across land that would make an excellent setting for a film set on the moon. Our van scrapes several times as we descend some rocky ledges, and the cattle trailer in front of us sways and loses a few passengers who were hanging onto the sides and top as it advances towards a patch of land that has miraculously sprouted a few flowering trees. Here, the parade stops, and the coffin is unloaded from the van while the crowd moves through the bushy trees to the freshly-dug grave. We all crowd around, some standing on markers of other graves to get a better view. The mamas start singing beautiful hymns while the men lower the coffin and begin scooping the dirt back where it belongs.
One of Evans classmates comes and puts his arms around my legs, face pressed in my thighs. We stand like that, in the blistering sun, until the ground is level again. Then some of us circle the grave while a prayer is said, and we leave.
All I can think is kids shouldn’t die.