04 March 2011

A Somber Morning

On my way into work this morning, I was informed that the 5 year old son of one of the men who works in the workshop died unexpectedly this morning.  Yesterday this little one appeared to be very healthy, in fact, it was his baby brother who has been sick for months, but he's been very well . . . so well actually, that when the doctor read his chart, based on the child's weight he was skeptical that he could actually be five . . . as most 5 year olds that are treated in the hospital are severely malnourished.  He had diarrhea throughout the night, and by 6am this morning had died from septic shock.
Because of the extreme heat here, there is a very small window of time for a burial.  So while we were at Friday Morning Staff Devotions, a coffin was being prepared at the workshop and a hole dug at the cemetery.  
We made our way to the grave site, just a short walk to the edge of town, almost across the street from the compound.  The men surrounded the grave, and the women stayed off to the side.  Because the family is Christian, a song was sung, a pastor spoke, someone prayed.
Everyone was silent.  No one cried.  When they lowered the simple wooden coffin into the ground one lone woman began to scream.  A few other women ushered her away, but no matter how far she was, we could still hear her wailing.  I imagine that is how everyone was feeling inside.  
At first I thought the crying woman was this boy's mother.  But she wasn't.  His mom wasn't there.  In fact, there were only about a quarter of the number of women as men at the grave (which I'm told is a fairly new concept . . . up until recently, only men attended the burial).
Once he was in the ground, the men took turns shoveling the dirt.  When it was finished, we all left, walking back to town to the family's home.  
As we got to their street, it was already lined with the men who had been at the grave.  They sat on the ground two people deep on either side of the alley way for at least two houses before our destination and one after.  All of us women entered the compound in a single file.  There were women and children sitting anywhere they could find space.  The pathway to the house was littered with flip-flops and sandals.  
Following the Nigerien women in front of me, I made my way into the house, found a place to squeeze in on the floor, and sat.  The room was silent except for the occasional whisper.  The little boy's mother sat in a chair in the corner and periodically broke into sobs.  After a few minutes, an old woman stood up and went and sat on the arm of the mother's chair.  Holding her as she cried, this woman began to pray.  When she had finished, we waited a few more minutes before getting up to leave.  We exited as silently as we entered, found our shoes in the sea of those that had been discarded before entering the house, and made our way back to the compound.
What struck me hardest was that this is the reality of life here.  Tragedy does not pick and choose, it effects everyone.  We do what we can, but the outcome is not in our control.  But we have hope: This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope: the Lord's loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I have hope in Him. (Lamentations 3:21-24)

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