How To Detect A Good Man At A Botswana Funeral

November 23, Day 480

I get no sleep. Okay, maybe 2 hours.

Goaba’s alarm clock goes off in the tent at 4:00, 4:30 and 5:00 am but I keep sleeping because I know the ladies are up because they want to bathe in those showers at the church and I’m having none of it.

Finally, I get Up at 5:30.

My foot is absolutely killing me. It has its own heartbeat and I fear it’s getting invested from all the sand sticking inside of an open wound.

I get up and limp across the yard in my pajamas because I have to go to the bathroom like nobody’s business and I don’t want to go right here in front of everyone in the yard. Maybe there’s a toilet at the church, so I go to find the gals.

As I limp in my pajamas looking like Frankenstein, I notice that many people are already dressed up to their fullest and at the house ready to view the body. They’re all staring at me. Oh well.

Just as I get far away from our tent I turn around and see that Goaba and Mma Bimbo are at the tent. They didn’t leave the yard after all. Oye!

Limp back to the tent.

I ask Goaba for her car keys so I can get my clothes out of the car and get dressed. She gives them to me and says they decided to have a bucket bath inside the owner of the yard’s house but that we are supposed to go to the bathroom in the yard.

Cool. We open the car doors and I squeeze between both doors, pop a squat and do my business.

Get dressed in the tent. Brush my teeth in the yard. Mma Bimbo is still getting ready and it’s 5:50 am and we have to see the body before 6.

I rush and take down the tent and pack up the car. Mma Bimbo says I’m supposed to cover my head at funerals here, so I take out my scarf to wear on my head.

No, no, Goaba informs me. The scarf is supposed to cover my arms. I have to cover my arms and my head. So, I wear Mma Bimbo’s hat and wrap my scarf around my arms.

We make a run for it and make it to the viewing just in time. The coffin is laying in the yard under the big white tent at the front of several chairs set up.

I guess here when they do an open casket viewing the body isn’t just in the open. There’s a glass window pane above her face and the rest of her body is covered by a wood plate. I look through the glass bubble and pay my respects.

She looks so beautiful. It’s just so strange. I saw Catherine’s mother alive just last week and she was energetic and healthy looking. This is still so shocking.

We sit down and sing and pray. And sing and pray. And sing and pray. This time everything isn’t just in Afrikaans. There is one pastor who is speaking in Afrikaans and another who is translating in Setswana. Sometimes English works its way in there, too.

Isn’t that incredible? How amazing is this community that they can fluently switch between three languages at one event. Sometimes I am really taken aback by how special this place is that I live.

Sing, pray, sing, pray.

The way singing works here is that it seems there are a set of about 15 religious songs that people sing at all events and everyone knows the words. Someone in the crowd starts singing loudly and then the rest of the crowd validates that person and starts to sing along. There are no rules of who can sing when.

We just all sing a few songs and when the moment feels right, the pastor jumps in and says a prayer for a while. Then we all sing.

I also finally figure out that no one knows all the words in Afrikaans. The pastor is saying a prayer line, and then we are all supposed to sing what he says. Cool, I can do that.

I recognize the Kgosis (village chiefs) from Struizendam and Bokspits here.

The songs in Afrikaans seem to be slow and sad. The songs in Setswana seem to be upbeat and optimistic. I wonder if that is the colonist influence of having a more formal and serious church service?

Honestly I don’t know and I don’t care right now because OH MY GOSH I AM SO HUNGRY.

It occurs to me that we forgot to eat and have coffee this morning! Suddenly my body is shutting down on me. I can’t do this! My eyes are closing and I’m falling asleep and I am absolutely starving.

KEEP IT TOGETHER, ABBIE!!! This is not the time to fall asleep!!

I start to pray for more prayers because at least then I can close my eyes for a second and it feels good.

Okay, game over. I am not going to make it through this funeral without coffee. I must eat something!!

I lean over and whisper to Goaba “I forgot to drink coffee. I’m dying!”

“Me, too!” She says. Mma Bimbo agrees she is also dying.

After the next song I take Goaba’s keys, get up and turn around and work my way through the hundreds of people gathered and limp into the yard where we slept so I can go into Goaba’s car.

I sit in the car and mix instant coffee powder into some cold water. I know, it’s gross, but it has caffeine. Then I sit in the backseat and eat bread. Goaba arrives and eats something, too.

Suddenly we hear the funeral procession. They are carrying the coffin to the nearby graveyard and singing.

“Quick, let’s join the procession!” Goaba says.

I shove two yogurt cups in my dress for Mma Bimbo and we walk and join the crowd.

March to the graveyard, pray and sing, pray and sing as they lower the body into the ground.

I see all of the men lining up next to the body. They are supposed to take a shovel and shovel the sand to cover the coffin. There is A LOT of sand, but then again there are a lot of men here.

“See, this is how you can tell a good man in Botswana, at funerals!” She says.

“Why is that?” I ask.

“If the man steps forward and really gets in there and does a lot of work shoveling while wearing a nice suit, that means he is a good man,” she explains.

We stand on the side and assess the male shoveling skills. Turns out she’s right! Some men just sort of fake it and lazily shovel a few piles of dirt into the ground, and some men really go for it and do hard work.

Once the shoveling is over, it’s time for the meal. The family is supposed to cook a big meal and feed everyone back at the house.

“Hurry! Let’s get to the front of the line so we get the good food!” Goaba says.

This is what I admire about Goaba and one of the reasons I love her dearly; she never apologizes for the space she takes up.

Sometimes I find that I am embarrassed to be the confident person I am. I regret talking too much later on or tell myself that I’m not entitled to things. In my head, it wasn’t my family member who passed away, so really I’m not entitled to be here at the funeral and shouldn’t be one of the first people in line for food.

But that’s nonsense, and I love that Goaba reminds me of that everywhere we go. She walks in and is 100% herself in every room she is in with no apology. And she’s right! We should be ourselves and be proud of it.

So, we haul our butts to the front of the line and get a seat under the tent. We pray and sing and pray and sing some more. Finally, they come around and hand out food.

I swap my meat with the ladies and they give me their vegetables.

This funeral is so well organized. I have no idea how a family is supposed to deal with the grief of a passing family member, organize a funeral and stay up all night slaughtering a cow to cook a meal for hundreds of people the next morning. Only catherine could coordinate a well organized event like this.

The ladies tell me that it’s a sign of respect to stay after a funeral and wash dishes.

So, we go in the backyard and find a table, big water basins and some soap and get to work.

Bontle comes over and says hello, and I see Catherine and her cousin as well and we chat for a minute.

“Abbie, you know Afrikaans! I saw you singing in Afrikaans last night and I was so impressed,” Catherine’s cousin says.

“Oh no, I have no idea what I was saying! I was just saying whatever the pastor told us to say,” I reply.

“Well, that’s Abbie for you!” Catherine says, and we all laugh.

Finish washing dishes and put them all inside the house on the floor. Usually family members donate their plates to these events and then they return them.

We decide it’s time to leave. I thank everyone in Afrikaans and then go to greet and thank Catherine’s aunt.

She holds my hand and whispers into my ear.

“Abbie, you just promise to take care of Catherine for me. She is not eating and she’s pregnant. I know the look of a woman in distress, and she is in distress. By the way, I like your dress,” she says.

I promise to look after her and make sure she eats.

Phew, we made it! We all climb in the car. On the way out of town we stop at the town borehole. It’s Botswana’s first borehole and you can literally lean over the giant hole in the ground and look miles down.

We stop at the nurse’s house and thank her for her hospitality yesterday.

As soon as we hit the highway Mma Bimbo passes out.

Goaba and I chat the entire way. We stop and take a few pictures of the beautiful landscape as we drive.

Finally, I make it home.

Poor Dawgie, I have to go feed him! I put my things down and get changed and walk over to Catherine’s house.

Dawgie is fine and happy to see me. I feed him and play for a little while.

Limp home.

Oh my gosh I MUST fix my foot. It’s boiling hot outside, so I take a cold shower and clean my foot and bandage it.

The only food in my refrigerator is potatoes and lentils. So, I guess I’m having potatoes and lentils for dinner.

Talk to Colden for a while.

Nap and watch a movie.

It’s all a blur after that. I’m officially delirious from this long weekend.

Go to bed.

Boroko 🌙

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