Thursday, April 17, 2014

Death and funerals

In the last couple weeks we have talked about death at our house. We had a favourite street seller in town named Adan. He was confined to a wheelchair but he hung out on the street where he sold local postcards and made children's toys and crib mobiles out of twisted round wire to make it look like animals, trucks, etc. He was always happy and grinning from ear to ear. When we returned from home assignment in Canada this Fall we found out he had died. Details are sketchy but the story goes something like he fell over in his wheelchair and laid in a ditch for a few days before someone saw him but he was already dead, or at least almost dead but died in the hospital with very poor care, depends which version you listen to.  A very sad way to die.

Bennett wondered why he could not have gone to a good hospital, which led to a long discussion about healthcare and insurance and death among the poor. We also drive by funeral processions regularly and the kids were also asking questions. Death is so much a regular part of life here that it does not receive the same attention and scale of grief we see in North America. It is quieter. It is expected. They say it is “God’s Will" (Insh’Allah) and are resigned to it. They watch it happen and many of them feel they have very little they can do about it. The roads are dangerous, disease and sickness take awful tolls.
Niger has horrific mortality rates. They are among the worst in the world for Infant Mortality rates and Child aged 1-5 mortality rates. Their adult life expectancy is only 58 years , compared to 81 years for Canadian adults. We live close to the large Muslim cemetery and everyday if you drive by at the right time you will see convoys of people and vehicles heading to the cemetery.
In our community of the poor urban Tuaregs, they have a problem getting vehicles to carry the body and mourners to the cemetery. Our team has an older pickup truck and Paul and Tim have in the past become the drivers to help care for the community in this way. The men all go to the burial and the women all stay at home. Women do not go to the cemetery. So I had no idea really what happened there. My friend Scott Guptill attended a funeral out East in the country a few years ago and took these photos below, which explains what happens at burials here.
A little bit of cultural insight into death ritual in Niger. Photos all courtesy of Scott Guptill. Other info/insights courtesy of Paul.
*    *     *    *    *   *
First the body is washed by friends and family. Other friends go to the cemetery and dig the burial hole themselves. It is wrapped in white cloth, then wrapped blankets (sometimes) and then in new woven mats. It is laid in a truck, surrounded by as many people who can cram into the truck bed with it, and driven to the cemetery, followed by their friends in other vehicles or motos. Only men. You pull over to the side when you see the “body truck” coming. The body is then carried by friends into the cemetery. In most cases, this happens all on the same day the person died.
Funeral 8
The body is taken out of the woven mats and laid into a narrow hole. They are laid in there on their side with their faces pointing towards Mecca. It is the covered with sticks as shown. I believe this is partially to keep animals from getting easy access.
Funeral 31
The woven mats are laid over top of the sticks
Funeral 14
Straw is then laid out over top of the woven mats.
Funeral 16
All the men around will then help to fill in the hole with sand, making sure to well saturate the straw with sand as well.
Funeral 21
Funeral 24
Funeral 26
After the burial is complete there are certain sets of Muslim prayers that are said. You can see the big crowds of men who attend the whole process.
Funeral 25
Funeral 12
After the prayers the men all file out and visit with each other. An important opportunity to reconnect and see many contacts in the community. A small group will stay and wet down the sand (to help it settle) and but up branches over top sometimes to also help keep animals out of the grave. This is most common if they are not buried in a wall enclosed courtyard.
Funeral 29
In this culture, death is one of the important community occasions that people feel obligated to attend. Not attending a funeral without a really good reason is seen as very disrespectful to the community and family. Even if you were not in town, you will make sure to visit the families and pay your respects to anyone who died in your absence.
After the funeral, most of the family and close friends will go back to the family home of the deceased where the women have been waiting. They will have sacrificed an animal (goat or sheep usually) and will have prepared a big meal to feed everyone. They will go into debt and take loans to make sure this happens. People will come and go all day long. One thing you will very rarely see is tears. I have sat with the women when a child had died and outwardly I was more upset than the mother, although I am sure her heart was broken on the inside and I have no doubt it signalled dark days in their lives. I struggle to remain “calm and collected” sometimes when my own heart is broken for them. Outward signs of grief and tears and wailing are mostly discouraged in this culture.
Death is seen as so inevitable and to the outsider it seems almost like they don’t care. But I know that is not true. Many of the things they do in their religion is to try to make themselves “good enough” or the follow the rules enough, to gain entrance into their idea of heaven.
Please continue to pray for these people. God meets us all in times of grief and as we evaluate our own mortality. May He speak to their hearts and make His path clear to them.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Arielle turns 8

Please excuse the lateness of this post! We have had lots of power outages, and a shipping container arrive this week so our internet time has been limited!

But we did not want to forget to write about our sweet Arielle’s 8th birthday! Every year we like to look back at how our children have grown and I love to see their personalities emerge.

Arielle has grown up so much! Now that she is 8 I realize she has spent half of her life here in Niger, and it is reflected in how well she adapts here and how at ease she is in the homes of our African friends, out in huts, in the streets, in her school etc. This is just her life and she is content!

We have great friends here and on her 8th birthday we had a pool party and cake with our friends. While she misses her friends and cousins in Canada, we are blessed with good friends and teammates here as well.




Arielle, each year I am amazed at how much you grow as a person. I love how your eyes light up when you really smile (no more fake smiles!) and how you giggle and love to be hugged and snuggled. You are also pretty excited you lost your first tooth!



You are not afraid to try new things. You may be timid to speak up and you stay so quiet, but you will also climb onto the donkey, or try that new food you have never tasted before. You like to help out in the kitchen at home but also in the homes of our friends. You are a great helper.



More than anything, you love family. You don’t need to be with anyone else. Bennett has for years been your very best friend. Every single day you two play board games, card games, hall hockey, cards, etc. together. You come home, do your homework, and rush to do things together. I am sure when you are teens you will lose some of that, but I hope you remember these days when it was the best part of your day to play with your brother!



You are also a wonderful big sister to Ella. You calm her when she cries, you hold her in your lap, or hold her soother and rub her forehead if she is crying in her car seat while we drive. You love to help change diapers (eww!) and you can’t wait until she starts eating real food so you can feed her. I am thankful for how much you embrace your role as a big sister. There has never been a single day when you have shown anger, or jealousy or any negative emotion towards having this new little baby in our lives who can take up more of our time than you are used to before. You have embraced her and you wrap your heart around hers. She will be so lucky to have a big sister like you to look up to.




My wish this year for you is to continue to see you grow in confidence. You have so much to offer people with your great ideas, generous heart and desire to help. But you often stay quiet and watch from the background with other people. I pray you would realize how special you are and find your courage. I am so blessed to call you our daughter.


Happy Birthday Arielle!