Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Through Paul's eyes - a child dies

(A blog by Paul)

Well hello there to all you in readers land, my Wife has been bugging me for some time to do a blog for our blog page. I don’t know why exactly but I think it has something to do with the fact that she is strong on communication. So now for those of you, who don’t believe in miracles, start believing because here comes a blog post from an anti-blogist. (is that a word?) Why a blog post. Well today I went to my first funeral here in Niger; which is quite amazing in it-self seeing as I have been here just about a year. Why is this amazing you ask? Well if any of you have been following my wife’s blog for any amount of time you have likely read the statistics on infant mortality, life expectancy and so on in Niger. It seems I have lived a rather sheltered life when it comes to death. But let me elaborate. When I was in my mid teens my father managed a funeral home, so death was just part of life for me, as a matter of fact it was what put food on the table. Growing up I never had a fear of death or dead bodies, even now as long as it’s not fall off the bone rotten a dead body does not bother me. In my life I have never really lost someone close to me. Yes I have had grandparents die and not to say they where not close to me but one expects the elderly to die that is part of life. One is usually prepared for the death of an older grandparent at least that has been my experience. Now we will see how that looks when I have to say goodbye to my parents. I expect that will be a whole other experience all together. So where am I going with this? Well I don’t really know. Let me relate my story of today.

This morning started like any other morning here in Niger, wake up and it’s already way too hot. Get the kids ready and drive them to school. I had no idea this morning that I would be going to a funeral. Things work a little different here in Niger. For the most part, you’re dead and buried the same day and you can understand why when it is 45C in the shade. I got a call from my director that one of our guard’s wives had given birth but the baby was dead. We don’t know what happened. It could have been stillborn, it could have been born breach and they have no capacity to deal with that here, it very well could have been a botched delivery, we will never know. Anyhow, he was on his way to go pick up the body and family to take them to the cemetery and would I like to come? Would I like to come, does anybody really like going to funerals, they are not exactly high on our list of fun things to do, but who goes to a funeral for personal enjoyment, one goes for the people who have lost, n’est pas? So yah I’ll go I’m his patron. (the guard) I will have to explain the patron client relationship in another blog post, but don’t hold your breath. When we arrived at the house (and I use that word loosely) they had just sent someone out to find a woman to wash the body. Because I have been here for a while and I know a bit of the culture it was not strange to me but if you had been with me today you would have noticed one thing right away when we walked into the yard, there was not a single woman present. Nor would you have seen a woman for the duration of the proceedings. Well no woman was to be found so a few of the men present proceeded to wash and prepare the little body. The body is wrapped in white cloth and then in a straw mat. Niger is a predominantly Muslim country so at 4pm everyone stopped for 4 o’clock prayer. Then they said a prayer for the baby, and we all piled into our director’s truck to head to the cemetery. In Canada our funeral processions usually have a bunch of cars with two or three people in each car but here in Niger it is a bunch of people in 1or 2 cars. When we arrived at the cemetery we drove to the place the father of the dead child directed us to. En-route we passed row upon row of little mounds of dirt. The hole for the body was just being finished as we arrived, the father unwrapped the body from the straw mat and placed it in the hole then the men cut sticks and placed them over the body, finally the straw mat was placed on the sticks and the sand pushed back over the hole. Sticks were then stuck in the ground at the head and the feet. The head of course is pointed towards Mecca. Then we all got back in the truck and went back to the father’s house for tea. The men said one final benediction for the baby and then that was it, back to life as normal. Not a single tear shed, no sign of mourning, and this struck me as odd. I remembered back to when we lost our first two pregnancies at three months, I cried with my wife for hours, we mourned the loss for months and I know that even now my wife has a place in her heart that hurts for the two we lost. But for these people, this is normal, 1in 4 children will not see their 5th birthday. This is the second baby this family has lost. For these people death is part of life, everyday life. If you were to sit across from the cemetery you would see a coming and going that would blow your mind and all those little mounds of dirt, each one represents a little life cut short by any number of sicknesses. All preventable or curable for the most part, in the first world.

So what was the point, why chose a funeral for my first blog, I don’t know yet. I may never know. Maybe I just needed to express the grief that I never saw expressed today, maybe I’m just trying to make sense of it all, who knows. Death never makes a whole lot of sense. I was struck by something my director said to me today, he was making a comparison between “us” and “them”, back home we can spend days planning a funeral after someone dies or even pre-arrange one, heck we can even pre-arrange our death with certain doctors. Here they dig the hole when you get there and cut the sticks to cover it as you wait, nothing pre-planned about it. Everyone just stopped what they where doing and came to hang out with their friend who had lost a child.

Serving Him out of my weakness

Paul McIver

Niger , West Africa


Anonymous said...

I think you probably did this for your first blog because it would be extra hard for Chantelle, I know as a mother and a woman I wept for their loss. Bless your heart Paul. heather

Follow the Yellow Brick Road said...

It's disturbing and sad to think that they don't see death the way we do. I would DIE if anything happened to my kids or nieces and nephews. Thanks for sharing even though as a mother, this tears me apart.

AnitaWester said... a nurse, I've seen people take their dying breaths at various ages, and very few things stand out so vividly in my mind as a stillborn child. There's something that feels very wrong about witnessing death where there was supposed to be a new life. It breaks my heart that this is such a common experience for these people. Thank you for sharing your experience, even though it couldn't have been easy. Maybe at some point you can blog again under happy circumstances. :)

Carrien said...

I'm glad to hear from Paul on this.

I owe Chantelle a long reply.

I tagged you at my place.

This is an inappropriate post to comment about it on sorry.

andrea said...

Paul... kuddos to you, not only for putting yourself out there by blogging (I'm with you on not being able to bring myself to blog), but really for being so honest and real in your post. It is hard to imagine a wolrd where people don't name their babies for months or even a full year so that they don't get too attached (I don't know if that's also the case in Niger but certainly is in many of the places we have been). We have an almost unacknowledged luxury (I know not so by all) of presumption of life and health in our first world. I don't believe you were the only grieving that day... the women certainly were (wherever they were) and I suspect the men were too in their own way. The world would cease to function if they acknowledged all death in the way that we do. Ok, now I feel like I am rambling when all I really started out to say was thank you for sharing. Thinking og you guys lots... A