Ha Sefako, Butha Buthe, Lesotho
I graduated from Penn State and currently live in Lesotho, Southern Africa as I serve in the Peace Corps!

My Lesotho Videos

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ntate Matobacco's Funeral

Lumela! So last time I wrote on here, I told you that my friend had passed away. He passed away about a month ago and his funeral was this past weekend. This is the second funeral I’ve attended in Lesotho and am still trying to figure out exactly how they work. I’ll start with Friday.

The principal of Sefako Primary School, my closest school, lives in two places. Her husband’s house is my “families” house. No one lives there for most of the year, but it was pretty full this weekend. ‘M’e Mapamolo, the principal, told me that the corps, as the deceased are referred to here, would be arriving around 10AM. Most of the kids from the primary school sat outside of my house to wait as I read a book inside. A little past 10 I heard sirens and thought nothing of it…then I realized that I haven’t heard sirens in one year and ran outside. The Hurst had arrived and was letting everyone know that it was time to go to Ntate Matobacco’s house to welcome him home. I walked with the students to his house and found a male teacher to stand with (male because there are such different roles for men and women here). I told him that I had no clue what to do and asked him not to leave my side. We stood there and watched the older men in the community take the casket out of the Hurst and set it on a table. Then a man walked past me leading a goat by the horns to the casket. Matobacco passed away in a hospital, so a goat was killed to welcome him home. After that, the casket was carried into the house and a prayer was said. People started leaving and my teacher friend told me that it was time to wash our hands. We wash our hands so we don’t bring death back into our homes.

At that point, many of the students had left and I started the exhausting process of making friends with some of the friends and family that had travelled from all over the country to attend the funeral. I can get by in Sesotho, but it is really hard for me to understand some people speak. They speak very fast and run their words together, which is probably very similar to my English. When I am listening to them talk, it probably looks like I have a horrible headache. It takes every ounce of concentration to understand! As we were talking, the process of killing and taking apart 2 goats and a massive cow began. I have seen this before and have even helped, but for some reason this time really got to me. Without going into too much detail, I think it was because they used very dull knives. I started feeling like I was going to hit the floor hard, so I sat down and tried to wait out the cold sweats and dizzy feeling. Once I decided I could walk, I went home and relaxed for an hour. I came back with my Leatherman, which has a really sharp knife. Bringing the knife was one of the best moves I have made in the past year. Men were coming up to me telling me how great it was…and that was before I showed them the other 20 something tools hidden inside! They were amazed.

After getting a little light headed over the cow, I decided that I needed to be a little more adventurous. I decided that I would try some of the parts that I am not used to eating. I learned to take every piece of meat off of a chicken, so why not a cow?? Well. Later in the night a bowl full of the cow’s boiled head and feet came over to where I was sitting with a few of the men. They all got so excited for me to try, but I couldn’t do it. The head started out bigger than a soccer ball and ended up much smaller than my head after they boiled it. I sat there and watch the men eat the skin, cheeks, eyes, brain, and then the bones. There were only teeth and a few other strong bones left after they were finished.

Men and women spent the whole day divided. A few of the men worked on taking apart the cow, while the women cut and peeled and cooked everything. A lot of the men drank a homemade beer most of the day. I was amazed at how well everyone worked together. Because we live so far away, new people were constantly arriving. As soon as they got to the house, they would put down their bags and start working. I’ve never seen a community come together like that. Every person, especially the girls and women, knew exactly what they needed to do. As a guest and a man, I wasn’t expected to do much, so I made my rounds and talked to as many people as possible. It was a great way to get to know more people in the community.

Around 8 a lot of people left to take naps and freshen up. The funeral goes from Friday morning until Saturday evening. Close friends and family spend the whole night Friday singing and speaking about the deceased. I made it until about midnight until I decided to head home. Matobacco was my closest neighbor, so I could hear the singing all night. It made me feel like I was still there even if I was in a semi-coma in my bed.

The second day of the funeral was more formal and a lot more people came. Everyone wore their best outfits, which ranged from sweat pants mixed with lab coats to suits. In Lesotho, Saturdays are reserved for funerals and many people attend two or three funerals each month. The funeral was similar to a funeral in the states. The service was held outside under a tent and I was asked to sit in the only chair in the whole area. Everyone else sat on a backless bench or in the grass. The whole service lasted about 4 hours while friends, family, and colleagues spoke. That was followed by all of his students, friends, and family walking about 10 minutes to the cemetery to bury him. The priest said a few words and then he was lowered into the grave that was dug by some of the men earlier in the day. I’m not exactly sure how it worked, but male relatives threw a few shovels of dirt on the casket in a very specific order. There were a few verbal arguments about the order and I noticed a few people cut in line to throw dirt while others were arguing. After about 10-15 family members, all male, shoveled dirt into the grave, the rest of the men in the community were allowed to shovel dirt. Grown men and his 4-6 grade students literally pulled shovels out of each others hands after each person got their two scoops. It one of the saddest, most interesting thing I’ve seen in a long time. Once he was buried, everyone walked back to his house and ate an amazing meal.

Other interesting things that happened during the funeral…
At one point during the cow butchering, all of the insides were taken out, which were HUGE. I was amazed at how big all of the insides were! I knew that everything, and I mean everything, was eaten, so I wasn’t surprised to see the women carefully cleaning out the stomach and intestines. But then. The men started washing their hand and cleaning their rain boots with the cow poop and the contents of the stomach! At first I thought I was missing something and they were playing a joke, but more people started doing it. Eventually, I think my Leatherman was “cleaned” in cow poop. They were all psyched about it.

I had tried eating the insides of a few animals and decided that it wasn’t for me. I was talking to a few people after dark on Friday night and someone walked by with a plate of food and asked me to take some. I was positive I was eating cow meat. It looked like a good piece, too. It was the heart. All I could do was smile and choke it down. Then I had to eat the other two bites…

So the boiled cow head ended up being a goat or sheep. I’m not sure if I just misunderstood the Sesotho or if they were joking with me. The real cow head made an appearance on Wednesday. I left school after lunch with two of the teachers to help soften the cowhide. When I got there a few men had already started scraping the rancid meat and fat from the hide. They used sticks with razors placed in the end to scrape off all of the nasty stuff. It smelled awful and more flies than you could possibly imagine covered the hide. Just when I thought I was comfortable with the situation, an old man came out with the real boiled cow head and other parts. THEN!! They dumped it right on the skin that had sitting out in the sun since Saturday. They smiled at me and I thought that maybe they wouldn’t eat it…I was wrong. Not only did they eat it, they put a pile of salt on the hide and rubbed each piece of meat on the hide and the salt…I didn’t eat it and they got a huge kick out of that.

In other news…
I cut my hand on a tin can the other day. Really not a big deal, but it was long and deep and started to bleed. For some reason I started to freak out. I started sweating and thought I was going to die. My “mom” was around that day and I ran in and showed her. I just stood there like it didn’t need an explanation and hoped that she would fix it. Like any mother, she looked at me and told me to go put a bandage on it. She looked at me like I was crazy and started laughing. It stopped bleeding in about 5 minutes and is almost healed now. Later that day I told her that I thought I was dying and she laughed even harder…I was a little embarrassed. If my family didn’t think I was a little crazy before, they definitely do now.

On Monday I visited a school and spent the entire day in the 6th grade classroom. I started by just hanging out with a teacher while the students were working on some math problems. We had been talking about different ways to manage his classroom that didn’t involve a stick, which is very popular in Lesotho. As we were talking, I tried to figure out how he was solving long division problems and realized that he wasn’t teaching it correctly. He’s an amazing teacher and is very open to suggestions, so I knew he wouldn’t be upset by me correcting him. I ended up teaching about long division for 2 hours, while modeling good classroom management. I taught it in a few different ways for the students to really understand and for him to learn a few new teaching methods. I checked the students work to see who understood, grouped a few students together and had them peer teach, and had students solve the problems on the chalkboard while explaining their work. It was nice to show him ways to teach that specific class. At the end of the lesson I asked one of his students for the stick that he used to discipline his students and threw it out the window. Without my prompting, he promised his students not to bring the stick back in the classroom for the remaining 3 weeks of the school year! All of his students smiled and a few of them clapped! Their enthusiasm proved that I wasn’t lying about the students not liking corporal punishment.

After that, he asked me if I could teach about HIV/AIDS for a little. We have talked about HIV before and he knew that I was comfortable talking about HIV, which many people are not. We discussed HIV, what it is, how it is transmitted, how students can protect themselves, and other diseases that are transmitted sexually. They were surprised to learn that Lesotho has the 3rd highest rate of HIV in the world. The kids were very knowledgeable, but believed in a lot of myths. When we were finished, I asked the students to write any questions that they were too embarrassed to ask in front of the class and I would answer them after lunch. The questions they had were great! Some of the students were not exactly sure how babies came into this world and why a woman’s stomach grew so much in 9 months, while others asked questions that made it clear that they were sexually active. It was a great mix of questions. Sex and puberty are not thoroughly covered in school and is not talked about at home, so I think it is really important to talk about it in school. I was so proud of the teacher I worked with for openly talking with the students and for being such a good role model for them. After the students left for the day, the teacher told me how excited he was. He told me that each student would go home and talk about what they learned. He had put a lot of thought into how far the information would go and was excited about it. All in all, it was a good day!

In one of the other schools, I am working with the grades 1-3 teachers to differentiate instruction. Some of the teachers are doing an amazing job and are not sure where to go next. Today we started giving students problems that varied in difficulty. I felt like the teacher wanted to give different problems to different groups of students, but wasn’t sure how. She is very excited to continue with this when school begins again in January. The teachers at this school also want help teaching kids how to read. I’m very excited about this!!

Sorry for writing a book! I spent a few minutes here and there typing this, so I hope it makes sense and isn’t too scattered! I won’t be at my schools again until the new school year starts in January. I will be attending a African Library Conference next week, which I’m pretty excited about. After that I will be in Maseru helping to train the new volunteers that are arriving soon!

Also, my mom will be shipping 2,000 books to Lesotho in the beginning of December. If you are interested in donating any books or helping with the cost of the shipping, which is $1,000, please e-mail her!! There is more info about the book drive on the right side of the blog. Thanks a lot!!

Shari Dissen - Dissen1@comcast.net

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