I met a woman yesterday, whom I went to visit so I could ask her to be in my research study. When I arrived, I sat down and she told me a bit about the work she does, and then I told her about the work that I do. She showed me pictures of her and her garden from years past. I was very excited about meeting her because I’ve had a lot of trouble finding women gardeners to participate in my study. Then, she told me that she hasn’t really started cultivating this year because her oldest son died 26 days ago and she is in a period of mourning. She went on to explain that he just got sick and died. It all happened very quickly.
Recently, the brother of my taxi-driver friend, Thomas, died as well. He’d been sick for awhile, and it was evident when I saw him that, in the absence of some kind of miracle, he was not long for this world. He was emaciated and could barely move. I spoke with Thomas the day after his brother died. I almost didn’t recognize his voice, it was so heavy with grief. Thomas is now in the village with his brother’s family, helping with the harvest.
Of course, everywhere people get sick and die. Of course. But, it just seems so up close and personal here…and so common. And so often, no one knows what caused it. So-and-so just got sick and died. I know that this is part of the story of Africa. Disease and death sometimes seem to overshadow the rest of the story of Africa, which is unfortunate, and maybe makes Africa a place that seems scary to a lot of people. But, it is true that death is more familiar here…and I get the feeling that it always seems very close to people, both physically and metaphysically.
I used to think that people here were so used to death that each individual death didn’t mean that much to them. I thought that because it seemed like death was treated so matter-of-factly, and maybe it is. Also, crying is relatively uncommon and not something one does in public. But, that doesn’t mean each and every death isn’t felt deeply. Death is treated with the gravitas it deserves, and it is, as is so much of how people live, a community event. There are very clear social and cultural ways of dealing with it, which I think helps people to move through mourning with a lot of community and family support. People do not mourn alone and there are constant acknowledgements of grieving through certain words that are said, and certain practices that are carried out over a period of time. In a way, it kind of seems that death is integrated into life. I have no idea if that makes sense….
Still, it is too common and the causes are too mysterious. That is all.