November 10, 2008

Bafo’s Funeral

On Saturday, we took some of the Itipini staff to the funeral of Bafo, the husband of one of the Itipini staff members, who died suddenly about three weeks ago. Unlike the other funerals I’ve been to, this one was way out in the “rural areas,” the tiny and sometimes hard-to-reach villages that surround Mthatha. I was a bit leery of how we were supposed to find our way there but we took along a family member for direction and didn’t get lost once! And the long drive was well worth the view.
It was a huge funeral - there must have been 250 people there. It was notable for me in that I stood up and said a few words on behalf of Itipini and it was all in Xhosa. I think I acquitted myself admirably. Later, when it was Bafo’s brother’s turn to speak, he could only seem to talk about how important Bafo must have been to have white people come to his funeral and white people who could speak Xhosa! It was the first time he had seen white people in this village. When I get around to leaving here, part of me is going to miss the sensation I can cause simply by virtue of my skin colour.Bafo's brother

Bafo was buried on a beautiful hillside. It was also a very steep hillside and covered with dead, slippery grass. So we all slide down to the graveside (it was particularly tragicomic to watch the pallbearers) and paid our final respects.Since we had come the furthest, we got to eat first. (Good thing because with so many people and only about 50 plates we would have been waiting a while.) And for some reason, we got to eat in a windowless hut with the family. Before we ate, they closed the door and prayed. Sitting there in the absolute pitch-black dark I realized this was about as close as I could come to complete cultural immersion - surrounded by a bunch of non-English speakers, deep in the rural areas, far off the beaten path, and about to eat and drink food from who knows where. It was electrifying, in a way.
Eating and waiting to eat, both human and dog.

I didn’t have much chance to interact with Bafo’s wife, Makiwa, as she was surrounded by a phalanx of family members and looked the part of the grieving widow. But I paid my respects briefly and it was clear our presence was appreciated. Their children seemed mostly unaware of the magnitude of the event.