Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Three sisters

I lost three sisters last week: “lost” as in they died.

We lost a student at my college and I refer to her as a “sister” because that is how Tswana people often greet each other: “Hello sister,” “Hello brother,” “Hello mama…” (to an elderly lady), etc.

She died last weekend, supposedly of a “heart attach.” It seems everyone here dies of a “heart attach,” even if that particular cause is unlikely. She was awfully young, in my opinion, to be dieing from a heart attach.

(I don’t think we tell the truth about why people die in the US either.)

There seem to be two phases of a funeral in this culture as far as I can tell: the funeral service itself and a memorial service that usually precedes it by a day or two.

The memorial service was held on Thursday last week. As I’m an American, it’s important for me to be punctual and I’m especially sensitive to punctuality in this kind of event. I was told the service would be held at the college at “half past two.” I mistakenly interpreted this information to mean 2:30. The service actually began at 1:45 so in my trying to be punctual, I was 45 minutes late and very embarrassed.

The women in this culture wail for their dead. I admire this ability as it seems stifled in my culture. There is nothing that can cure the soul, I believe, better than a good wailing. By wailing, I mean wailing, as the women will cry, pull their hair, and let out wails that chill the spine. I’ve seen this behavior photographed at the graveside here in the village, but the young women at the college who were wailing were ushered outside. I’m not sure why they were ushered outside.

Since the service was in Setswana, when the announcement of the time and place of the funeral was made, I couldn’t understand it, so I left the memorial service not knowing the details of the funeral service.

When I awoke to voices and the arrival of the bus at 5:30 the next morning, I realized that the college had arranged transportation for students and teachers to and from the funeral service. When I had this realization and was still in my pajamas, so it was too late for me to go.

Here’s why I never know if I’m welcome at these kinds of functions. I always wait to be invited, and never am. And the fault of mine this time is that I could have asked someone when the funeral service was and if transportation was arranged, but I did not. When I was proactive and asked about the funeral arrangements for the last funeral I attended, I never felt for certain if I was welcome.

Of course, come Monday morning, everyone was asked, “Why weren’t you at the funeral?”

Also last week I received the sad news that I had lost a “sister”—a friend and colleague from the US—to breast cancer.

My friend’s name was Carolyn, and I worked with her at a private learning center in Louisville. Because of the center’s unique teaching process, we worked one-on-one with students (usually little ones) for two hour sessions. As was often the case, two “teachers” would work with one student and I was often paired with Carolyn.

We would work in 55-minute sessions then have a 5 minute break to use the toilet (see, I’m getting better and better at using that word!) and prepare for our next session. It’s amazing how strongly you can bond with someone in 5-minute increments and I came to enjoy working with Carolyn very much.

She was a gentle spirit and easy to laugh. I would often hear her laughing with another student while I was working across the room. (We worked in the same room with cubicle dividers)

I also had the great pleasure of meeting her son and spending some time with him. He is a beautiful, young man, very bright and inquisitive (and very much like his mother!). He is only thirteen and my heart hurts especially for this young man who has lost his mother. Please keep Carolyn’s son and her family in your prayers.

And lastly, I lost another “sister” last week. I lost a spiritual friend of the insect world, and please don’t take offense at my comparing the loss of an insect to the loss of a human life. I mean simply to relate that I’ve lost a special relation.

One of my largest gardening delights comes in mid-summer when I usually find a garden spider living among my tomato plants. They are fiercely colored with bold yellow and black markings, and although they appear dangerous, they are harmless to humans and very helpful in the garden.

This summer, I squealed when I found a South African version of a garden spider (see photo). She looked just as ferocious, with her black and yellow and perhaps a bit more so because this is AFRICA! and she had jagged edges!—but I learned that she too, is quite harmless to humans and very helpful in the garden.

I have visited her everyday for months. While you in Kentucky are warming, enjoying sunshine and blossoming, we here in South Africa are experiencing the opposite: winter is coming and our super hot days are cooling it has been very, very chilly at night. With the drops in temperatures, I kept waiting to “lose” my garden spider.

Sure enough, last week when I visited, she had dropped from her web and disappeared. Each day I went in hopeful search of her, only to find her web more battered and tattered and her still gone. Her season is certainly over and I’m sad at her loss and feel as though I’ve lost a friend.

So, last week, I said goodbye to three “sisters.” I am always amazed at how the fabric of my life changes when I experience loss. And the fabric of my life has changed.

Again, prayers please for my human families.

Soon, Karen

picture credit:

1 comment:

  1. It's good to see a post and we are sorry to hear of your losses. I relate to the loss of the spider, too. Remember Annie? I think spiders are especially keen on our attentions and that they don't mind as long as we keep our distance and show our respect. I don't see anything strange in mourning her loss.