Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why bar hop when you can funeral hop?

I made a comment on facebook about all the funerals that are taking up a lot of time around here and I felt I should clarify. Its true. It is sad. And there are A LOT of funerals every week. But funerals here are well, very different than in America. You celebrate for 2 days straight. And I mean 2 solid days of pito and alcohol and mourning and yelling and food and more yelling and more pito and greeting people and some dancing too. Tooooo much alcohol at funerals here. I would also like to say that I hope none of this comes off as insensitive. Just trying to add some light to a sad reality.

So recently I've been trying to organize this bicycle project but everyone is gone and I'm not getting much assistance so I always figure if you can't beat em join em! So I went to some funerals today instead of working. Community integration? Cultural exchange? We'll write it off into one of those categories. We hopped in the back of a truck and headed to the first one. My Ghanain friends were upset b/c I wasn't wearing the "correct" funeral attire- which in my defense I didn't know I'd be going to a funeral so ya they used some of their cloth to wrap around my head and volia! Ready for a funeral. The outfit is just to wrap cloth around you and cover your head. They tell me I need to be saying, "N sa wa, N sa wa" but I quickly realize this is more of a wail then something that's said. Let me try to describe for you...

We arrived to the house where the funeral was at and there is this wooden structure built up about 6ft with the body of the dead man sat in a chair. He's wearing his normal clothes, just hanging out looking very respectful and to me like he may just get up and jump right down from the stand and take part in the celebration. I think the people hope he might. He doesn't. Don't worry. We then move to various points around him and kind of make this noise...like a cry. Only the women do this. The men say something calmly. Then we move to another spot and do it again and this kind of goes on for awhile. Showing our respect. Next everyone throws a coin at the stand. An offering I suppose. Then we walk in a circle around the stand a few times and then go throw a coin at what I called the "musicians". This is not correct and all my friends thought it was hilarious that I would call them musicians. There is a group of men playing the xylophone and singing. Well apparently they are reenacting stories from the deceased's life. Remembering him.

Next, I'm takin to a tree in the back and we all sit around and they bring us pito and shake all our hands. It's strange because instead of the guests going around greeting the hosts the hosts greet you. They're the ones that lost a loved one but yet they serve you and welcome you to their home. We all work with one of the daughters of the man the funeral was for so we all gave her some money to help with the funeral and then we tied a piece of cloth around her waist or wrist. A tradition for the family. She was very composed. But I could tell it was difficult for her. She would hold my hand just a little bit longer than normal. Kind of savoring some human connection. Compassion. I wanted to reach out and hug her so bad but they don't do that so I had to hold back. A lot of the women almost look like they're forcing themselves to cry for 2 days b/c honestly it would be hard to cry constantly for 2 days but my friend was just quiet. I think her pain was very real and something I can't really understand. Thankfully.

Anyway we hit up another funeral after this one. You HAVE to stay and drink pito b/c it would be rude if you didn't...so we got back to the office at around 3. Another day at the office right? So hopefully I'll get some work done tomorrow. Bodies and my frustration buried. Respect given. Traditions done. Life goes on in Ghana.


  1. This is a very interesting blog. For your sake I hope people quit dying for a while. Just wondering what the correct funeral attire is. I mailed you a letter yesterday so hope you get it before Christmas. Stay well & we love you,.

  2. What a good blog! I have to agree with your friends about calling percussionists musicians, really ? :) I really like how you ended this one, very poetic. I'm sure you'll get some work done one of these days. Take care. Love you

  3. And life goes on. And as you grow older, you'll wonder how it is possible.

    Very nice blog, Elyse. I see that you've placed a lot of thought into thier mourning process and rituals. We all should have certain rituals. It is what keeps life - going on - for those who have found it difficult to - go on. Respect the rituals.

    Love you.

  4. This is sad saying a final goodbye. Tell the daughter/friend that my heart goes out to her and my prayers for comfort surround her. Your thoughts are filled with compassion and touch is so needed in any culture. Experiencing the culture and having friends bring you into their lives is all part of the Peace Corps. Thank you for sharing. We miss you and love you always and forever, Mom