Die Another Day, and Another…and Another

I’ve been at site now for almost a month and have been to four funerals – only a fraction of the number that have been held here in Eremon since my arrival.  While the occasion is obviously unfortunate, the customs associated with a funeral are an integral part of Ghanaian culture.

First of all, there are on average about two to three funerals a week and each last for at least two days (depending on how long it takes to dig the grave). Everyone tries to go to every funeral. It’s that “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” ideology. Honestly though, I don’t know how anyone gets anything done around here between all the funerals they are going to.

When you get to the funeral grounds, you can immediately spot the raised shrine that contains the dead body

That’s right, I’ve now seen a number of corpses. The worst is that if you decide to wait until day two or three of the funeral, you have to endure the awful smell of decomposition. People stand in front of the “stage” and throw money on the ground (meant for the family to assist in payment of the funeral arrangements) before circling the podium in honor of the deceased. Those close to the person who died wear red scarves tied around their wrists. The wife or mother may wear a rope around her waist, tethering her to another family member, dedicated to preventing her from committing suicide due to grief.  The women show their grief not by shedding tears, but by standing in front of the stage and wailing at the body in noises that I suspect sound similar to a dying cat. Excuse me if I don’t join in.

Once you’re done circling, which is dizzying in the hot sun, you sit by the band (and by band I mean two xylophones, a drum, and some bells) and drink pito. Pito is a beverage brewed locally from millet and can be fermented or unfermented.  Either way, people here refuse to take “no” as an answer from me and I always end up with a huge calabash of pito and an awful stomachache.  It’s an experience if nothing else, although I must say I prefer the Jewish way: put the body in the coffin, bury it, and bring lots of food.

I’ve been on a Florence kick recently, so here goes:

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Beans, Beans, They’re Good for Your Heart…

The first day at site was a series of ups and downs.  I had left my windows open a crack and, immediately upon opening my door, realized that I had made a huge mistake. It rained while I was away and then dust had blown in, leaving all of my belongings coated in a layer of dirt. My first few hours at site involved a lot of cleaning and a lot of cursing. I did, however, finally get my room clean and my bed net up.  Good thing too, because later that day I spotted a huge, hairy spider scurrying under my bed.  Even better, this style of net is called the “princess.” Now I get to feel like royalty as I hide from the monsters under my bed.

A real dream to sleep under, eh?

I had no food, as I had just arrived, so one of the nurses at the clinic took me to eat a local bean dish.  The clinic accountant made a joke, and when I asked for a translation of his snicker-producing comment, I found out he was simply concerned about my flatulence.  Now, one of three goals of Peace Corps is to share American culture with the people of the countries in which we serve.  I took this opportunity to give them a small window into childhood in the States. Clearing my throat for effect, I uttered that simple saying: Beans, beans they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you fart.  By the amount of laughter I got out of that one, you would have thought I was Jerry Seinfeld doing a stand-up bit during the intro of my own show. Good to know that the entertainment value of farts is universal.

My housemate gave me a tour of the clinic, and I got to hold some babies while I was at it.  One was particularly tiny, and I tried for about ten minutes to find out from the mother how old she was.  Finally, another woman who spoke English stepped in to inform me that this baby was born “yesterday, in the night.” Yes, I was holding a baby that was less than a day old. I didn’t even get to hold my own brother until he was at least a week old, and that was only because my seven year old self wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Yet, this woman handed over her NEWBORN baby to a complete stranger without the blink of an eye. Amazing.

Finally, I noticed that a volleyball net had been put up outside the clinic quarters.  In the evening, a group of men began to gather to split up into teams and play pick up games.  I threw on my spandex, laced up my sneakers (which turned out to be a little silly because I was the only one wearing shoes), and headed out. I was ready to be rejected but they allowed me to play, although it was reminiscent of middle school phys. ed. where I was picked last for being the new kid.  All I’m going to say is that my team won more games than not and I was invited back to play the next day. Thanks, Julia, for the crash course in volleyball junior year – I was able to avoid terrible embarrassment on the court in Ghana because of you, and for that I cannot thank you enough.

For all the good and bad of Day #1, I did share an experience with Stevie Wonder, and so I leave you with this song.

Side-note: I have been informed by Jared’s countdown clock that I have officially been in Ghana for 10% of the time that I plan to be.  It seems like a small amount, but 10 is also the:

1) Percentage of women who walk into a department store and turn left

2) Percentage of American households that dress their pets in Halloween costumes

3) Number of miles the average housewife walks doing chores around the house every day

4) Percentage of Americans who don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving

5) Number of major sub-communities in Eremon

6) Percentage of the world’s salt used to de-ice American roads

7) Percentage of lottery prizes that go unclaimed in the U.S.

8) Number of seconds until unconsciousness after loss of blood to the brain

9) Number of days the average tastebud lasts before it is replaced by a new one

10) Estimated percentage of U.S. national income accounted for by organized crime