What if your whole town came to your funeral? That’s exactly what happened today. Two young men (both only in their 30’s) died in a car accident two days ago. One had been working with WorldVision for 12 years.
I am reminded that life is short. Death is so very real. Even though Senegal is 95% Muslim, the two men were Catholic so it was a Catholic ceremony. Funerals here lasted 3 days and everyday people mourned and there was a heaviness suspended in the air. Death literally impacts the whole village. On the second day of mourning, Fatou came to the poste de santé with eyes, so red from crying. I didn’t know what to say to her, a woman who I had been looking to in authority and a mother of 6. I didn’t know how to console her. There never seems to be any right thing to say to someone when something like this happens.
Since so many people from other villages and even Dakar came to the funeral, the ceremony was held under a giant tree. There were way too many people than chairs available, but that didn’t hinder anyone from standing behind the chairs in a huge crowds. It almost felt like we were all in an arena watching a spectacle. Even though the sun was beating down hard, everyone was dressed in their best. I stood on the outskirts of the big crowd, listening and observing. I may not have been able to understand every word spoken, but I could see the meaning on the faces of dignified women crying and wailing. One older woman beside me, suddenly toppled down while heaving huge cries. Unable to pick herself up, someone had to lift her and set her in a chair.
Photo taken in a different village, but the outfits the women are wearing were common at the funeral
What amazes me the most about death in Senegalese culture is how every village person acts as if the one who died was their closest friend. And they grieve as such. How can they all act like that? It seems impossible. But as I stood amidst the stampede of people, I realize this is believable in this culture. Greetings are a proof of this community kinship. Everyone greets each other everywhere they go. Family and community are deemed such a cultural value that even the fast paced movement of globalization doesn’t seem to interrupt it.
Our group during class at WARC !
At my school WARC, all my profs thought it was so strange that Americans only invite some people to a funeral. In their perspective, the more the merrier and it’s considered a great honor if the dead is surrounded by its community, young and old. I wish I could share the experience of the funeral with you all. It was truly a sight.