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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mourning, singing

The rain weeps down today, cool and constant.  I have just returned from taking Jonah’s wife Melen and sister Sophia to the second family burial in three days.  First an 87-year-old patriarch died, a clan elder related through Jonah’s grandfather.  He had lived a long and full life and left 107 live descendents!  But last night, as the family was still recovering from the upheaval and grief, and burial of the elder’s death, a child died.  His ten-year-old granddaughter, the daughter of the woman who had been caring for the old man, got a fever yesterday morning.  It did not seems serious until evening when she began to have convulsions.  She was rushed to Bundibugyo hospital for a Quinine drip, but before the full dose of medicine could even be given she died.  

So this family gathered again, this time there was no sense of a life long and full, but a naked bereavement.  I learned that the mother had also lost her two-month-old child in February, something like SIDS, where the baby was put to sleep fine and found to be dead a few hours later.  Not surprisingly the gathering today began with accusation and fear, what kind of curse or neglect could produce three deaths in rapid succession?  I entered the mud and wattle house with Melen.  37 women sat hip to hip on mats on the floor in a room the size of a generous American walk-in closet.  The dead girl lay wrapped with her mother weeping hysterically over her.  Melen wiggled her way up close and bowed her head crying too.  I know we were both thinking:  we have 10 year old girls.  We think they are past the danger of high infant and early childhood death risks in Bundibugyo.  But then this, a normal child, in third grade, with a typical fever and then a few hours later, dead, no more.  Somber faces, bright head scarves against the chinked dirt wall, rustling of legs to make room for more women, wailing, while the men sat quietly outside.

Four teenage girls sat along the wall by the door of the room, singing.  Their pure quavering voices in harmony, mostly songs I did not know, then suddenly a chorus in English:  What a song we will sing, the day that Jesus comes.  Over and over they sang that, and I joined them.  They sang hope into the room of death, truth into the place of mourning.  

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