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i’d misplaced the moon…

January 27, 2012


Blogo-soundtrack: a recent acquisition of a recording from Bonnaroo which can only bring a smile tomy face

I found her last night at a funeral. Yesterday afternoon, Alima stopped by my house to let me know that the weaving center was closed for the afternoon: an old village vieille (old person) in our neighborhood had just died. 

I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, as I didn’t really know the woman, and had only been to greet her once since she’d been ill for months now. I came back into my house and opened up my GRE book, dismayed mostly that I was doing so poorly on the reading comprehension section. Finally, after some deliberation, I admitted to myself that it was completely acceptable to show up alone (the uncertainty of whether or not this was acceptable was tantamount, I imagine, to wondering whether or not its worth it to show up at a high school dance alone); I am now a part of this neighborhood, if only fleetingly, and I rationalized that it’d be ruder to not pay my respects.

I didn’t dare venture into the small, circular courtyard where all of the elderly women were sitting around. I sat outside with someone I recognized and patiently waited for the priest to come. After he arrived and said his prayer, the congregation of men charged with getting the body out of the small, circular, straw-topped hut (with an unusually small door, almost like it was made for a hobbit) arrived and proceeded to bicker, I assume, over the best way to pull the woman from the hut. An understanding having been achieved, a few crawled in, wrapped her in a natte (a thin plastic mat that most sleep on), and dragged her body out and laid it in a side nook adjacent to the house. A group of elders pulled the straw partition to a close and began undressing her and removing her jewelry. Though I couldn’t see in, I think that this part of the ceremony was in order to clean her.

What I thought would happen next didn’t. While all of the praying and the sitting and the staring into space was taking place, the men were busy digging her grave behind the courtyard. In my naiveté I expected the body to be carried to her grave and buried. I’m glad I was wrong; instead, they placed the body back in her hut, and proceeded to sit back down and stare and mourn (though I saw no tears). Feeling out of place since I was alone, I walked back to my house (this is where I spotted the sliver moon that’s been hiding from me this past season). Walking home, I came across Jo and Alima carrying clay bowls on their heads. They smiled big and told me they would be filling the pots with water and would be beating on them all night long, partying it up as they like to do. “All right, well… bilfu then.” (See you later).

Snuggly back in my hut, I almost didn’t go back out. Again that stupid wavering resolution of mine: should I go? Is it inappropriate to come alone? Is there really a celebration? (I’d like to take a moment to explain where this seemingly unreasonable fear comes from. I can’t even count the number of times that Jo has told me of some party happening, some festivity with food and dolo and dancing and singing, some really great time that is going to be had, only for me to go because, you know, I’m expecting a party, and be met with silence and a normal routine, basically nothing. So you see… I was skeptical.) But as I approached her house, I heard percussion and song, foot stomping and chatter. Noise is always a good sign.

I dropped by Jo’s to drink some dolo, even though it was well past my bedtime (9pm, can you imagine?). She’s always a sure bet for the dolo. I then made her take me across the path to the courtyard of the woman. There were at least a hundred people cramped into the small courtyard, and Jo shoved her way through to the hut and dragged me in. So there I found myself standing inside a hobbit hut, with one candle lighting it up, staring down at the small, fragile, wrinkled body of Awa. She’d been laid on her side with her arms extended away from of her face, and was covered by a thin pagne, but her face remained exposed. Jo bent down and touched her cheek, but in a rushed, rough enough way that made me think she was inwardly criticizing the way they’d arranged the sheet around her face rather than out of any kind of sorrow or nostalgia. She said something, someone picked up the broom of twigs, swept the floor near the door, pushing a mound of dirt onto my shoes waiting for me outside, and we left. I’ve only seen a dead body once in my life, and the feeling around it was very different and much gloomier.

We walked outside into the dancing and beating of calabashes floating on water and calabashes turned upside down on the ground, with 4 women beating on their given instrument, and everyone singing. Butt shaking was happening, as everyone chirped in with her own celebratory two cents (“Yy Woddo!”). I explained that this was not the type of ceremony we held for our dead where I’m from, and was explained to in turn that this can happen because she was so old and that the women are the only ones to sing and dance, since the men are responsible for digging the grave (the men obviously got the short end of the stick on that one, for once).

This woman, Awa, was probably in her sixties, though she could have passed for about 90, if you take into account how withered and small she had become with age and the hard conditions of life here. She was likely born in the 1950s, though no one can know for sure, least of all her; her tombstone, if she gets one, will probably say that she was born in 1913 or some other ridiculously impossible year. She’s been in the village for maybe 40 years, probably more given that girls get married off when they are just that: girls. She probably helped raise at least 30 children, if not more (because that saying about it taking a village to raise a child is actually accurate and real here). And just like that, she’s gone and all that’s left is her shrunken body in a little hut with a candle. Cause for mourning, we’d say. But what’s so beautiful about what I got to participate in last night (and this morning, since the festivities continued through the night and into the sun today) is that it is a celebration to her life, a moment to come together and dance and drum and sing for her, while all the people that she’s known and even ones she hasn’t known come to send her off with such enthusiasm and joy. We could seriously take lessons from theMossi.

This morning they danced and sang and drummed as they again waited for the priest. She was carried out of her hut wrapped in a Jesus sheet (just what it sounds like: a sheet with pictures of Jesus on it) atop a wooden platform. They put her in her grave and shoveled the dirt that was blowing everywhere as again, everyonesang. I saw two women walk away with their face in their hands, weeping for their sister or mother, or maybe just because it’s hard to say goodbye to something that’s been so solid in your life for as long as you can remember, whether it’s a blood relative or not. I got this deep, sinking feeling that we’re very alone in spite of the masses that surround us, but then the crowds dispersed so they could stake out a spot of shade and drink and drink and drink dolo, until all of the jerry cans scattered about dry up, while they talk, laugh, socialize and remember. 

much love

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