Two things are certainly in life, taxes and death. I’ll talk about the latter today.
As my very sick aunt lay groaning in bed, I knew that the end was near. You have there a frail woman aged 80 plus suffering from chronic kidney disease, and add to this the fact that an average Eritrean’s life expectancy is 65 years and you say; May the Good Lord receive her soul in his imperishable kingdom.
But this is not all. A relative in the throes of death means that henceforth your summer mornings are not going to be joyous.
Knock knock…………….. “Who is it?” you look at your watch. It is 6 a.m. in the morning. Who the hell could it be? Somehow, you have the feeling that your house is surrounded by men and women with a gloomy message.
“It’s me Saleh. Are you playing football today?”
“Phew! That was a close one!”
Some old sickly women lie in bed for months and refuse to die. And already there are the neighborhood women who resort to back biting. Why is the Good Lord keeping his hand from taking away aunt Silas to his celestial habitation and on the other hand is quick at dispatching little and very innocent children who have not eaten enough and not seen enough in this sinful world? The answer, my friend is blowing in the wind.
Only sickly women (those on whom you don’t have to bet) stay alive so long that even the family and close relatives get fed up with waiting. Blessed are the vultures, for they know how to wait and will be generously rewarded with a corpse.
This reminds me of a story of an old woman who after refusing to give up the ghost during countless ‘aborted flights to heaven’ is reported to have said: O God, don’t take me in the morning when everybody is asleep, and don’t take me in the morning when everybody is gone to the field, and don’t take me during winter when there is so much rainfall, or during summer when there is little to eat; if i t i s possible, why don’t you just ignore me?
Well, if you think you will be ignored, forget it! Man is born to die. It has been decreed and it shall be done.
A relative from the countryside once told me of a man called the “town Crier.” The man announces whenever someone dies in the village. The town crier has a howl which pierces the calmness of the night, a sound lying in its range between that of a hyena and frightened coyote.
He would go Ooooy, Ooooy, and Ooooy three times, after which he would announce the name of the deceased and the date and time for burial.
“Go and confirm,” would shout his father.
He would go outside and confirm. There, he would sometimes find some young and old who had come out like him to confirm.
“Alas! He was a noble man…… The world is never ten but nine (meaning not perfect)”“God must be very angry to take Mr. So and so…..We have to repent…..”
“I knew Mr. Haile very much. Well, I wish him all the kingdom of heaven in spite of what he did to me….”
Fortunately, the death of people that you come to learn through traditional ‘howling’ is not going to hurt you much. It is on the other hand the o n e t h a t you hear early in the morning that breaks your heart.
Knock Knock…..who is there? It is I, Tesfay.
Now Tesfay is not alone. He enters your room followed by two or three people.
“Are you okay?” you say.
“Everything is okay….Well, it is okay and at the same time it is not okay…..”
To make a long story short, your dear brother is dead. It took a lot of mental gymnastics in the preparation of words and a lot of emotional acrobatics to break the news.
It is a sugarcoated pill to be taken with a lot of milk. Europeans are accustomed to take bitter pills without coating. Once in USA a mailman rang the bell in a small town and a young man opened the door:
“I have a telegram for you, Sir!” said the mail man.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Sing it!” shouted the young man rather impatient.
“Your mother is dead….” Sang the mailman in a beautiful voice.
In our culture, we don’t notify relatives of the death of their loved once by the phone or mail. We do it in person and we have a special way of doing it. But once the secret is divulged, the ensuing screaming and wailing may sadden the hearts of even the cruelest of enemies. One has to have a heart of stone not to cry or weep or at least get filled with anguish at the heart-rending cries of those who shed rivers of tears at the death of a loved one.
But sometimes you come across artificial cries hidden among the genuine. If there is crying from the bottom of the heart, there is also crying from the neck upward.
“Hawey mearey, weedy mearey, ey, ey…… (My brother my brother….)”
No tears, no red eyes, just a hollow sound from an unresponsive heart. But, such people are needed to remind the lighthearted of the solemnity of the occasion. The consoling party then gets up and leads the crying actor to an available bench.
“Anat me’aas de’a arifu (When did he pass away) Hamimu dokhe neyru (Was he even sick)?” says the man faking it.
Well, there is a ready-made consoling word for all situations. Anyone with interest in tradition can with proper application learn these phrases easily. For those who find themselves tongue tied at funerals, we have ‘funeral parlor conversation made easy’. If the mother has lost a son you simply say: dehanyu aytiguhayi……zey stbah kitweldiyom ikhi fetari nimen iluwo (the Lord will repay you manifold tomorrow, don’t worry.)
If the dead person is an old woman, simply say……Addey Haregu zeymotet de’a men kimewt, dehar ke’a hadgi gedifa enday, ay sala deka endiya kebira zneberet, nay adey haregu mots, mot aykonen…..N’ana kem’a yemaselena ( Haregu has been long overdue. Thanks to her children and grand children, she lived like a queen. Haregu’s death is not death at all. May we all go the way she did.)
The next day, it is a funeral day. Social obligation makes a lot of people join the funeral procession in a manner that looks like a recreational grief. Women wail and near relatives as if the Good Lord had unjustly stolen their loved one. Some shed warm tears of grief. Others squeeze their eyes shut to squirt the last drop of tear from their stony face.
The priest is now the star of the show. He tells the sinners who come to bury a loved one that their time will come soon if they don’t repent. I don’t think people care to listen. Most are impatient for the bereaved party who make the rounds inspecting faces and checking attendants. Everyone is staring at the bereaved party. Look at me! I have come to the funeral of your loved one. Next time, don’t forget to come to my loved one’s funeral.
Now they have the video to record that dreadful event. One more reason to attend the next funeral.