Believe it or not, I have adjusted pretty well to the slower pace of village life. While I miss showers and Chipotle (especially Chipotle) dearly, the routine I’ve established in the village is comforting. I fetch my water from a tap, bathe in a bucket, and wash my clothes by hand. If I’m not going into town for groceries or to see fellow volunteers, I spend my weekends washing and studying for the LSAT (without Starbucks, I’m barely getting by).
Sometimes I’ll also go with my host family to church, a party, or a funeral. The funerals here are extremely different from home, to say the least. If someone dies on a weekday, there will be nightly services until Saturday, the traditional day for a funeral. In America, the grieving family usually lets the funeral home do the work. Here, it seems the burden is on the family to cook, slaughter an animal for food, and serve the guests. And by guests, I don’t mean close family and friends. The whole village flocks to these services, for it is considered rude not to go to a funeral, even if you did not know the deceased. (There are also those that go just for the free food, which still disturbs me.) The word “ubuntu” perfectly captures this sense of community, which literally means “I am because you are.”
The ceremony is also very different from that in the States. While funerals are tearful events back home, I rarely see people crying at funerals here. Perhaps this is because death is such a pervasive part of life in the villages. There has been a funeral nearly every Saturday since I’ve been here, from a variety of causes, but mostly from AIDS. There is singing and praying and dancing which on certain nights can last way past midnight, and I can clearly hear the haunting hymns through my window.
Back in January, my grandfather passed away. Needless to say, I was devastated. Maybe to prove that death really comes in threes, two other volunteers in the village (not Peace Corps) also lost their grandparents. Going to the services for them helped bring me some closure, and I remember as they were lowering one of the coffins into the ground just as the sun was setting, I began crying uncontrollably, as if I were saying goodbye to my own grandpa. (Since no one else was crying, the other guests probably thought I was just being a strange white girl.) It showed me that different cultures grieve in different ways, and I was grateful for the chance to mourn in my own way.
No matter how much the Peace Corps wants us to live at the level of those in our community, I think it will be impossible to ever fully fathom the level of poverty that affects this village. I fetch water from the same unreliable tap that they do, I wash in a tiny bucket just like they do, but I also have a Blackberry and the ability to escape to my shopping town if I ever need to. I live about 50 kilometers from my shopping town, but there are learners who have never been there, and those who treat it as Disney World. (Trust me, it’s anything but.) It makes me so grateful for the little things, and more eager than ever to teach these learners that there is more out there than they could ever imagine, while learning more from their culture than I ever thought possible.