Saturday, August 22, 2015

...experienced life.

Grace: We expected to experience tragedy throughout our service here. We expected to see sadness, have pain, and feel helpless. I know I focused on the possibilities pre-departure, preparing myself for that moment or those times. I experienced it all today. Arriving at Babe Shabangu's funeral at dusk I saw the family that we have grown to love grieving over the loss of a great man. I have never felt pain as deeply as today when trying to console a 19 year old girl who was burying her father. Helplessness overwhelmed me as I listened to the sobs of those I loved first here in Swaziland. It was horrible. It was hard. However, I failed myself and I failed others. I focused on the tragedy awaiting me, unable to see the beauty that would find me. You see, arriving at Babe Shabangu's funeral at dusk I saw the family that we have grown to love surrounded by 250+ people who showed up to love and love well.  I have never felt pain as deeply as today until I listened to a 19 year old grieving for her father remind me that God is good all the time. Helplessness overwhelmed me as I listened to the sobs of those I loved first here in Swaziland, but hope flooded in when songs of praise and worship echoed across the valley. It was horribly beautiful. There was so much awe in today that I still am unable to decide if I have been crying for grief or crying for glory. I guess there is tragedy and beauty in trying to find the answer. I hated today and I loved today, and I find peace in knowing that it is okay.
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Sean: Well I don't think I can say it any better than Grace just did but I'll try to give a brief recap of the funeral process to show how this culture turns death into love, connectedness, and beauty. Grace and I arrived at the Shabangu homestead at 5:15am, at 5:25am we heard one of our bosisi give a short speech, and by 5:30am, our sisi had found us to share a big hug and find comfort in Grace's continual embrace. The homestead was the site of the night vigil, where members of the family and community stay up all night commemorating the deceased and celebrating life, all while praising the Lord. At 6:00am, the vigil was over, and it was time for the burial procession because Swazi's are usually buried at first light according to custom. The casket was taken from the homestead and placed in a van, as Make followed with the help of other bomake. Make was still in mourning attire, meaning her entire body was covered with no one being able to see her. Our sisi led Grace and I up the hill to the Shabangu graveyard all the while clutching Grace's hand. The graveyard is at what we assume is Babe's brother's homestead, and there we found a gravesite and tent already set up. We moved close to the graveside with our sisi and Grace wrapped her in another heartfelt hug as Babe's casket was removed from the van and lowered into the ground. The cries from the family blended with the songs of the 250+ community members who had also come to the graveyard creating the horrible beauty that Grace mentioned earlier. The Swazi hymns are almost angelic when sung by a loving yet grieving community, and it is very hard not to be overcome by all the emotion in the air. The pain of a mother and children burying their father balanced with the love and overwhelming respect of the entire community makes you think that Swazi's don't need us PCVs at all. Everything about this culture is beautifully communal and it all just felt right today. Painful, sorrowful, but right.
The bomake were called forward and Grace and I were both surprised I think when our sisi urged Grace to come with her. The casket is not allowed to touch the dirt in Swazi culture so the bomake brought forth blankets and grassmats to cover the casket. Then our sisi, Grace, and all the other bomake and bosisi took a handful of dirt and threw it in, a sign of respect and love for the deceased. After the bomake, the bobabe were called forward and Babe Musa with the Peace Corps took me forward to pay our respects. The men standing around the graveside parted to let us through and Babe Musa and I each  threw a few shovels of dirt to the side of the hole. It is the men's job at the burial to actually bury the body. Like with the bomake, when the men move the dirt it is a sign of love and respect for the deceased, and it is put just beside the grave to allow two men standing in the grave to distribute it and pack it down. Once Babe was buried, around 7:00am, everyone took a seat in the field and a representative from the family, babe's church, and the Umphakatsi each gave a short speech and prayer. Once they finished the men then stood for a final prayer before the service was ended. As everyone started to depart, I made my way over to the side of the grave where make was seated under the tent, and our sisi was still wrapped in the arms of Grace. I gave more bosisi hugs before I got the chance to talk to Make. Grace had already spoken to her following the procession of bomake earlier. By 7:30am we were back at the homestead, our sisi joining us the entire time. The family had prepared food for all the 250+ visitors and some of them walked away with a small takeaway headed back home. We stood with our sisi until it was time to go and we gave final hugs before promising to see them all in church tomorrow.
As Grace said it was all a horrible yet beautiful event, as we buried Babe Shabangu. We feel beyond blessed to have known him and learned from him these past several weeks, and we hurt because we have lost the man who first welcomed us, not only to his country, but also to his indescribably wonderful family. We will not ever forget the surprise and elation when he called home to Make telling her "we are two", nor the smile on his face when he told us we were family. It all comes back to what we have learned while staying with the Shabangu's though, and it is what Make and I talked about when I had the chance to see her today. We don't always know or understand God's plan, but we know that with Babe's death on Earth there is life in Heaven because our God is good...all the time.

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