I remember it like it was yesterday. No, really, the only reason I’m using that old, overused cliché is because it is true, I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was around 6am and I had just woken up. I have this weakness where after waking up, I take around ten minutes adjusting to my surroundings. Like a computer. I wake up, curse silently, close my eyes and curse again – Louder this time. Then I just lay there, my mind a blank mess. I was in that very state when my phone rang. As expected, I ignored it. The caller was persistent and I, while doing the one thing I do so effortlessly – cursing- picked the phone up. It was my sister.
“Uncle Cyrus has passed on,” she said in a whimper. I thought I heard a sniff and in my confused half conscious state mistook it for a stifled laugh. I felt the anger rising.
“What kind of a prank is this?” I shouted on the phone. “This is absolutely not funny,” I went on through clenched teeth. “Not funny at all. In fact it’s a nasty, sick –” the line went dead. She’d hung up on me. I got up, all confusion gone. Actually by now, I was as alert as someone who had just had a cup of Cuban coffee.
My phone rang again. It was one of my first cousins who also happened to be a favorite. I swear in my whole life I never felt my heart beat faster than it did when I saw that phone call. My mouth went dry, I felt Goosebumps on the back of my neck and if I had balls I’m sure they would have shrunk. I picked the phone, my hands trembling so hard I had to steady them. That incoming phone call was like a confirmation to me that indeed one of only two remaining paternal uncles had passed on. (Why do they say passed on? Passed on to where?) A thousand thoughts were cruising through my head. But how? Uncle Cyrus? To think I had just talked to him the night before, not more than seven hours ago!! He was happy, chatting without a care in the world and above all, alive! Alive! A word we take so much for granted.
“Have you heard the news?” I heard the voice on the other end ask. It sounded so far away, as if it was two continents away and not in Nairobi, 500km from where I was.
To be honest, the incidents surrounding this phone call are a bit vague. I remember screaming on the phone and my cousin screaming back in reply. No, not just screaming like a man who had just realized that the cockroach he was about to kill had wings. You know, like when you want to hit it with a slipper and then it charges towards you; wings, antennae and all like the little monster it really is. Not that kind of screaming. I mean screaming like professional mourners. Yes, that kind of scream. I live in a flat by the way. I don’t know why I just said that, but I feel its best you know. So I was there, screaming in my mother tongue as my cousin cried along with me, 500km away.
Now, if ever I had doubts that I had real African blood in me, these doubts were washed away on that day. How did I end up crying like that on that early morning like a professional mourner? Looking back, I ask myself, where was that village streak hidden all along? I mean, I’m not going to deny it; that was classic village behavior right there. There is a little villager in me!! Not that it makes me cringe or anything- on the contrary, it makes me very proud. That right there confirms my African-ness. Ask yourself, what is the one thing that shows you are African? Nothing, no? But are you Caucasian? Or Mexican? Are you Chinese then?
I was born and bred in Mombasa. I don’t know why I’m saying that either but you know, #imjustsaying. So I don’t know where I acquired that streak.
Let’s get to the main reason why I’m narrating this story, shall we? African funerals. Why is it that most funerals are usually this shambolic? Why? Maybe I am becoming paranoid but I am telling the truth and nothing but the truth when I say most of the funerals I have attended usually end up in disarray.
First of all why is it that people usually find this the best time to settle old scores? I am telling you fights will be fought, old grudges will be unearthed and very harsh words will be exchanged of the likes never seen before. Is it the unlimited flow of alcohol? Changaa, busaa or if you are from central, a killer brew whose contents no one knows? Or maybe that is the only way people can vent their anger, disbelief and grief. I honestly don’t know. All I know is, chances of blood being spilled are very high.
The first cause of tension will be the cause of death. Where I come from, it almost always boils down to two things. One, the dead person was bewitched. Or he died due to an unknown illness which was a direct result of –you guessed it right- bewitching. A whisper here, a rumor there and finally there will be uproar. There people don’t die because of normal circumstances, or old age or disease. No, they get killed. Plain and simple. And there is always a reason.
Lord, I’m tired.
When these issues arise, groups will be formed according to what everyone believes happened. You could be in one clique with someone in this funeral but the next funeral you won’t be Seeing Eye to eye because of your different
“ideologies” on who killed the “late”.
If people aren’t fighting over these unbelievable, sorry rumors they will be fighting over who stole what. During my uncle’s funeral, while people were busy exchanging blows, one woman was caught running away with bread, sugar and milk in her bra. I don’t even know how she managed all that, and what’s even more perplexing is who noticed the items in her clothes, in the dead of night while other people were busy breaking each other’s noses?
Who even does that????? Steal food stuff from the home of the deceased? See what poverty is doing to the mwananchi, serikali? A friend of mine from the lakeside told me hunger is so much there during funerals, people pick raw pepper from their farms and carry them in their coats to spice their food once they get to the matanga.
Just the other day someone else I know passed away. As usual, war broke out and the local chief was called in to bring sanity. They took his walking stick and beat him with it. He had to run away screaming like a criminal. Imagine, beating the government itself. Reason? two different women had shown up; one with two kids and the other with a six month old boy, each claiming they were mistresses of “marehemu.” They wanted a piece of the cake. The cake here being the vast wealth the man left behind. Of course the family could stand none of it. Hence the chaos. That war was so hot, not even the chief could settle it.
Man, African funerals are a circus.