Sunday, November 25, 2007


So this past weekend, I went another funeral, it’s my fourth in as many months, and no, I didn’t know any of the deceased. Funerals are written into the fabric of Batswanan life. (Quick language lesson one person from the Tswana tribe is a Motswana, the plural is Batswana). Anyway, Saturday mornings are funeral mornings, I have seen three funerals at once in the same graveyard. It was rather interesting to watch as the ministers would trade off and the songs would alternate.

Funerals begin with vigils at the house of the deceased. On Friday, the day before the funeral, there is much hub-bub as a cow is slaughtered, a tent set-up, massive amounts of food is prepared and an overnight vigil of singing begins. Sometime during the week the grave is dug by the younger men of the community.

In our training village, I was there as the vigil was beginning, which takes place when the coffin is brought back to the deceased house. The coffin must come in the front door, and as the front door hadn’t been used in years, we had to remove the lock in order for it to open. Then some prayers are said over the coffin, a kind of last goodbye and in this case, the coffin was then taken back to another house, because two brothers had died and the preparations were taking place in the other house.

The coffins were carried in. First, through the men who stood on the outside of the house and then through tent, where the women were all holding candles and singing.

Jackets are required of men and women’s heads are supposed to be covered throughout the entire funeral process as a sign of respect. It doesn’t matter what the jacket or covering looks like, but they must be there.

Friday nights you can hear if there is a funeral near you by the singing. The singing isn’t too mournful, but it’s not joyful either. At times, it is somewhat eerie, at other times almost comforting to realize the sense of community here.

The morning dawns and the services start. During winter, the services start at 7 am, during summer (now) the services start at 6 am. Funerals are one of the few events that actually start on time. The service usually takes place in a tent and consists of several speeches, prayers, and songs for the dead, outlined in a program. The service can last anywhere from an hour to two and then the coffin is brought to the waiting hearse, which can be a van, a modified truck, or a khumbi with seats removed.

The procession proceeds to the graveyard, with some people walking and others driving their cars.

At the graveyard there is a tent for the family and the rest of the people gather round, usually separating by gender. The minister/priest continues the service there. Singing and a few speeches are made. Depending on the funeral, some speeches actually make the people laugh.
As the casket is lowered, songs continue. The men of the community, as a sign of respect, share four to five shovels between them and take turns filling the grave. Singing persists thoughout this, however at one funeral, as the casket was being lowered about six people burst into tears and left the graveside to wail on the perimeter of the graveyard.

Sometimes many funerals are going on at the same graveyard, so there is cooperation between the ministers on who sings when, with the other congregation staying silent while the other sings.

After the grave has been filled and covered with rocks, it is time for the unveiling of the tombstone, if there is one. This literally involves taking cloth off of the tombstone and then putting it in place.

Then the crowd breaks and heads back to the house, where the feasting begins. Traditional food is served. Pap (Porridge from Corn meal, kind of like grits but more solid), meat, and some kind of vegetable salad thing. Drinks include fruit juice and in my new area Gemmer, a ginger drink that is quite sensational, literally. It kind of burns while going down, but leaves you feeling very refreshed.

In my training area, we had traditional beer after the funeral, which was really thick and seemed like a meal and a half in itself. It was brewed during the week of the funeral and tastes like a combination of sorghum an beer, but it's not bad. It seems some community brew this beer, called bojalwa, and others do not, as I haven't seen any at my site, but it was at the funeral in our training village.

Funerals on the whole are quite different from those in the states, being more a community event than a private affair. Rather that have the graveyards on the outskirts of town, the graveyards are small and part of it. It seems from every house, there is a cemetery within walking distance.
These graveyards dot the landscape making it very evident that death is just another part of life here.
I'd like to thank my friend Adam for the use of one of his pictures... it's the one at the top, when the grave was being dug. I wasn't around for that, hence I have no pictures of it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

All Saints Day

A couple days ago was all Saints Day, which meant I attempted to go to church. Actually not only did I attempt to go to church, I actually made it there while the service was still going on, however because there was no taxi (I’ll attach a picture sometime of what is loosely defined as a taxi) that I could take at that time, I arrived after having walked 45 minutes there. However, the service seemed to be rather nice from what I gathered. Afterwards there was a procession to the nearest graveyard (there are lots of small graveyards here) where I’m pretty sure we said a rosary and then (this I’m sure of) placed candles on graves. I placed mine on an unmarked grave that was probably that of a child, as it was smaller than most of the others. It was beautiful as we the sun was beginning to set and we could see the candles panning out over the graves. (The candle I placed is the one directly behind the priest.)

Funerals here are common, I’ve been to three so far, and despite the somber connotation that someone has died, it is a rather social event, something that nearly everyone attends on a Saturday morning, but funerals themselves are enough for an entire entry (with pictures).

Sundays are days when everyone goes to church. Services last anywhere from 2-4 hours and I still have yet to determine exactly what time the services start. I've been the only one there when I arrived at 9, so when I arrived at 10:30 the next week, thinking I'd be on time, they let me know that the service actually started at 9. Announcements can also be notoriously long, I attended about 1.5 hours of mass, and then 1.5 hours of announcements.... Again church will be another entry, this is just an intro.

The only problem with this weekend arrangement is that I need to do my shopping for groceries, and the best bet for groceries is the nearest town… 23 km away, so occasionally I take off right after the funeral, or wait to see if some day in the week my host family is taking their truck to town.

Picture is of the all Saints day blessing of the graveyard.

Bringing the internet to Rural South Africa

Today (actually about three weeks ago, now, but I just posting it now) both of my schools received a connection to the internet courtesy of the Department of Education. The idea is that my schools don't have regular efficient communication with the head office (one of them doesn't even have a phone). However, it’s one thing to have it, it’s another thing to use it or even know how to use it. The internet connection essentially consists of a modem/router that attaches to the computer via a network cable. The modem has an antenna kind of thing, looks like an older wireless router, and uses a SIM card, much like a phone does.

I was not aware that this was going to happen today, but when I arrived at my far school this morning, my principal said there was a computer workshop in a neighboring town and would I go with them so that if they didn’t understand something I could relay the information to them when we arrived back at school. So I was expecting an introduction to databases, word-processing, etc.

The session was supposed to start around 8 AM and we were told to bring the school’s CPU. We arrived at 9:20 or so bringing the entire computer (before I had arrived, they had thought the monitor was the CPU). We also picked up several people along the way, normal for my village in South Africa. If you have a car, it is a taxi. There are no paved roads in my town, so due to the recent rains, the road was rather bumpy. It great to go with a local, because they know pretty much where all the worst bumps are (I can compare it to driving on Kirby in Houston, except the road here is dustier and has more ridges that make you feel like you got a free massage with your ride.

The people from the department did not arrive until after 10. When they did arrive, there was little order as some teachers had wandered off. Very few of them knew how to connect a monitor, keyboard, etc, so some of the seminar was spent on that after rounding everyone up.

The instructions on how to connect the modem were clear to me, but not to my coworkers. There was a lot of miscommunication and disorder in the workshop, but in the end, at least some of the principals and teachers understood (or had written down) the instructions.

In the end, it was useful to see what kind of training the teacher’s were receiving, so I’ll be able to work from there. Unfortunately, there was a language barrier (not only English, but basic computer lingo, like CPU, mouse, etc.) between the presenter and the teachers, so I do feel that many teachers just jotted down the instructions without trying to understand them. Unfortunately, that is what many students do here as well. But, on the upside, it did make the question and answer session very short, which is quite unlike Peace Corps, where Q & A sessions are notoriously long (hours long at times).

Many educators (teachers) here have expressed feelings of frustration in regards to the computer and not knowing how to use it, which makes me a popular fellow and helps me to establish rapport.

Some of the teachers have also “taken” computer courses, but learned nothing. This is mostly due to them not reading the assignments, but copying the answers from another person who took the course years back. When my host mom asked me for help with the course, she was dismayed that I wouldn’t just give her the answers. After all, she could then get the certificate. I was, shall we say, diplomatic in my response.

Tomorrow, I’m headed toward the further school again, so I’ll begin to realize yet again, that it probably wasn’t such a great idea to teach the kids the High Five….

And we’ll see how the information superhighway affects the schools.

And the picture is me studying by oil lamp… during one of the power outages weeks ago. As the storms have dissipated, so have the disruptions in internet and electricity. I just thought it be a good idea to include a picture with each entry. Oh here’s a picture of a storm where I lost electricity as well..