One Thursday afternoon, I went with one of our Zambian Arise volunteers to visit a grandmother who is a guardian for four Arise orphans. She used to work as a secretary so she had a good understanding of English, even though she spoke in Bemba. When we arrived at her home, I noticed several cars parked near the house - quite unusual as the people we support through Arise are unable to afford cars.
Sadly, the reason the cars were there was because the lady’s family and friends were gathering for a funeral. She explained that one of her own children had died just the day before. He was just 32 years old, the same age as me. As he had only been ill for a couple of weeks, it was quite a shock when he passed away. I found out that the lady originally had 8 of her own children but only two of them are still alive.
Since I moved to Zambia, a number of people I know here have had to deal with death and attend family funerals. My teaching assistant's niece, who was only in her twenties, died recently. Another colleague's sister died earlier in the year. One of the pastors we know here led a funeral for his 11 year old nephew who died from malaria, and another friend’s relative died in childbirth. Then last month one of the Arise boys in Grade 12 died from tuberculosis. These were all children or adults under forty.
|Kansenshi Cemetery, Ndola|
I’ve found that people here deal with death in a more matter-of-fact way than I am used to. This isn’t because they're not sad, because when I talk to them I know that they are. People still grieve and sometimes this is actually shown in a more extreme way than what we might expect. For example, you can spot women at the airport who have flown in for a funeral - they often wail loudly when they greet the people who have come to collect them and sometimes they collapse on the ground.
I guess the matter-of-fact manner that I’ve seen here probably comes from having to face the tragedy of death more often than many people do in more developed countries like the UK . I've learned that in Zambia it's polite to ask someone what happened when you hear that someone has died. It's more acceptable to ask after them even if you don't know what to say in response.
Large numbers of family and friends gather for funerals here. They all eat together at the home of the deceased, so it can put a considerable financial burden on the immediate family. Women wear traditional chitenges (bright fabric wrapped around the waist) and often an open coffin means people can view the body. The gathering at the home is referred to as the funeral and then the burial happens afterwards. Most people here don't approve of cremation.
We drive past a large cemetery on our way in to Ndola town. One day the traffic was really slow going past, and it turned out to be because a huge crowd of people were gathering for a burial. I wondered if it was someone well known in the area as there were so many people there. Music that sounded like a brass band was playing loudly.
Sometimes life seems very short, and this is even more apparent in Zambia. I believe we feel like this because God designed us to live for eternity and what we see around us now is not all there is. There are so many unanswered questions and things that don't make sense to us as humans but I am encouraged to 'live by faith and not by sight' (2 Corinthians 5:7). We should also remember my sister Rachel's favourite saying… 'We're here for a good time, not a long time!'