Death. It is the only thing that is certain in life and it is interesting how death is viewed all around the world. Each culture has their own way of dealing with death. I was visiting Tenna when she told me that we had to go give our death blessing to a family not far from my house. As we started our walk, I could feel Tenna’s mood changing and I knew that I was in for an interesting day. As we entered the concession I was overwhelmed to find almost every single women from my village crowding in the shady spots. Tenna quickly grabs my arms and pulls me behind a woven straw wall before bursting into tears. I quickly noticed that all the women behind this wall were sobbing. In a culture where crying in public in not acceptable, I felt so awkward- like I was intruding on an intimate affair. As most funerals people come and give their death blessings to the family sit or a respectable amount of time before continuing on with the rest of their day, and they most certainly don’t talk about the dead. It became quite obvious that this was no regular funeral. I sat, shocked to be surrounded by sobbing women, looking to Tenna for answers to my unasked questions. Soon I learned that we were there to mourn the death of not one but two of the most respected women in my village. They were known as traditional midwives, and medicine women, and they were best friends
For the next few hours I sat and listened to stories between sobs from women from my village and surrounding villages. Stories of women who were brought here to marry older men when were only 15 and Djenaba came to them with calming teas and promises that they would be taken care of, and everything would be fine, stories of sick crying babies who suddenly found comfort in the arms of Djenaba or Sako. Stories of successful, and some not so successful births delivered into the hands of Djenaba then cleaned and cradled by Sako. One lady with a very swollen belly said she was delivered by the two women as were her 6 other children and she is sad that the one due any day now won’t get the chance. The next lady showed up with one of the tiniest babies I have seen, coming to give her blessings and thanks to Djenaba and Sako for even in their old age, crippled hands, fingers, and backs were able to coach her through a very difficult birth only four days before.
As I sat and listened to the stories of these most respected women of the village knowing I really missed out not spending time and getting to know them- knowing that our relationship never went further than a daily greeting. The longer I sat the more crowded the “crying area” got. When large bowls of rice and sauce came by for the husbands they were followed by a line of curses from the crying women. Out of respect for the ones who have passed loved ones are expected to fast the following day- in a culture where if a husband dies the wife cannot leave the house for 40 days of mourning. And for the two most respected females of the village their husbands show no respect by accepting food and filling their stomachs while the rest of the village mourns.
While the sun floated across the sky I sat and listened to more stories and more sobbing. Having never seen my best friend cry or so sad before, I had no idea what to do or how to comfort her. Before I knew it I had let the stories touch my heart and fill it with love for these two women who I did not even know—took Tenna’s hand and wept with her. The somber mood washed over the village into the evening. Even though the moon was big and bright over us, the night time yalaing had all but stopped so that together the village could mourn the loss of two of its Grandmothers.
To Djenaba, and Sako: May God bless your spirits and May your resting place be cool.