I've had an incredibly busy past few weeks, most of which have been spent away from "home" (my village) helping out with the training for the new health volunteers. Being away from my community and spending a lot of my time talking about various aspects of my Peace Corps service to soon-to-be volunteers has made me realize (once again) the wild range of emotions I've experienced over the past 21 months, and just exactly how torn I am about facing my future away from this place and the people who have become something of a second family to me. I won't go on and on about this, but I think I've certainly reached a point where I am starting to feel how heartbreaking and exciting this next chapter is going to be...
A little over a week ago, a few hours before I was set to leave the village for a few weeks for various trainings, I made my way over to one of my friend's compounds to attend a funeral there. My friend is a man named Adams his late 20s who cuts hair in what I call a "barber hut" in my village and is one of the few people around who speaks truly good English (probably why we became such fast friends at the beginning of my service). The funeral was being held for Adams' mother, who had, somewhat surprisingly, died the week before. This funeral made me reflect on the tradition of funerals here in Northern Ghana and the differences between the way Ghanaians display their emotions and the way that Americans are typically expected to react in such circumstances.
I can't remember if I've talked about the way funerals are held here before, so please excuse me if I'm repeating myself a little. Basically, I arrived to the area around Adams' family's compound, and there traditional drummers meandering their way around a crowd of men, who were sitting down on plastic chairs under a large mango tree, mostly talking quietly amongst themselves. As these drummers came around from person to person, the men were expected to pay small coins to the drummers and traditional singers as a token of payment for their "entertainment." I hung around with the men for a few minutes, but when it comes to funerals (in my opinion), hanging out inside of the compound with the women is the best place to be. I wandered inside to find more than 50 women packed inside the large, circular compound comprised of several round huts clustered around a central, open-air cooking area. Some women were shucking ground nuts out of their shells, some were stirring soups or forming millet-based starch balls (called TZ) to be handed for funeral goers to eat, and some of the older women were merely sitting off to the side of the compound holding babies in their laps (it is very common for the oldest women in the village to hold the tiny infants while their mothers do physical tasks). Loud music was coming from inside one of the huts, so nearly every woman was swaying her hips to the beat as she did her various tasks. After going around to greet all of the women (with a special "funeral greeting," of course), I settled in next to the peanut-shucking women and got to work. Within 10 minutes, one of the older women who was aware of my penchant for very small babies (after all, who isn't?), handed me a 2 week old baby (without any inquiry about whether or not I'd like to hold said newborn), and promptly walked out of the compound to go do something at her house next door (have I mentioned how much I love it that women hand me their children and then just walk away? I'm apparently a very dependable sitter...).
The best way I could describe the atmosphere of this funeral (and every other funeral I've attended here), was the overwhelming sense of community. Women line up to help stir pots of TZ and dole out the food in large, communal bowls and men cluster together in small groups to discuss happenings in the village, while children flit around dancing and helping with small tasks when needed. I suppose there is a certain degree of this back in the states too when someone dies-friends and family often bring meals to family members, offer their support, and attend the funeral in solidarity with those remaining, but here you truly get the sense of the village as a whole coming together during funeral festivities in a way that I just don't think happens back home.
One huge difference that I sometimes take for granted here is the way Ghanaians express their emotions at events like funerals compared to the ways that I'm used to people in states handling their grief. When I first walked up to my friend Adams to offer my condolences, he looked away and quickly changed the subject to a joke about my recent travels and whether or not I had bought anything for him while I was away. I fully expected his response to be something like this, since I've seen many similar situations where other Ghanaian friends reacted in the same way after similar comments. There was no crying at the funeral-in fact, if anything, there was a light spirit throughout the day, which I'm sure ended in a long night of community dancing to incredibly loud Ghanaian hiplife music. I've heard from Ghanaians in my village that mourners are encouraged to dance if they start displaying their grief in an attempt to brighten their spirits and help them forget about their loss. Because funerals in the states are generally all about remembering those we have lost and often results in a public griefing process, adjusting to the Ghanaian way of funerals has been a strange (but not entirely unwelcome) change of pace for me.
I'd love to say more about funerals and many many other topics, but my eyes are too tired to allow me to continue. Thanks for keeping up with me and caring about the things that I say. It means so much to me that any of you take the time to listen to my thoughts and observations about my life here. Cheers.