I haven’t been too homesick since arriving in Kenya, until this week. I was sad on Christmas when I missed my family, traditions, and home, but didn’t really want to go home. And now, I’m at a strange and somewhat confusing state of homesickness. I don’t want to go home necessarily, because, what would I really do there? But I don’t really want to be here either. It’s not that I’m bored or overworked or any other emotional extreme that would cause someone to want to move. But it’s the overwhelming frequency of death. Maybe I’m being immature, but dead things terrify me. Whether it’s the full chicken head (beak and rooster waddle thing included) that ended up on my plate or the horrifically mutilated rat that met its demise in my rat trap (and that hung for my ceiling dripping blood until a colleague helped me remove it) there is something odd about once living things. Not that I fear wilted flowers or browning fruit nor even dead insects that I willingly squash with my shoe. But there is an eerie association for me with the death of something that once breathed, and moved, and had a life of its own. And, lately, I feel like there has been much too much death here (There are least a few funerals every week). While I in no way can compare the death of a colleague to the death of a pesky house rodent, both deaths still evoke a similar peculiar sensation in me, somewhere between remorse and wonder; remorse that I didn’t have any final positive moments with my colleague and wonder to where he is now, remorse that I may have brutally murdered a rat patriarch and wonder if it was a good enough scare to drive the rest of his family out of my house
To be honest, before coming to Kenya, death was something that was not a part of my community, my life. I’d been to only one funeral before, and never seen a dead body. But in accordance to traditional Luo burials, the dead are to be viewed before being buried in the family’s backyard (which is much less grotesque than another Kenyan tribe that traditionally buried its dead with the head above ground). As a result, I have seen more dead bodies than I would have liked to in the past 4 months. The same senses of remorse and wonder enter my mind at the sight of a lifeless body. Sorrow for remaining family and wonder as to what really happens after death.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this question lately. And while religion dictates heaven or hell or purgatory (LOST fans anyone?), I want to believe that there is more to it than that. While I don’t consider myself religious, I see the appeal to something constant, like religion, especially in a place like Kenya. Poverty, and the associated challenges, are unexplainable in so many ways (Why are some people born into suffering? Why do some people go to bed hungry? Why do some many people die of AIDS?) that it seems logical to place the culpability in someone else's hands.
To help me sort out my scattered thoughts, I went to church today. And while I didn’t understand a word of the Luo ceremony and found the final hour sitting under a heat amplifying tin roof tortuous, I felt somewhat calmed by the music, the people, and the cohesive energy. While the singing and clapping and drumming passed, I was able to silence my mind filled with questions. Closing my eyes, hearing the beautiful Luo songs, feeling the vibrations of that church walls, I was able to conclude that death’s finality makes it both feared and fascinating. And while I have to in no way enjoy the dead chicken head or bloody rat or untimely passing of a colleague, I must accept it as a part of life. To Mr. AG, wherever you are, RIP.