Posted tagged ‘traditional’

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”

December 21, 2013

Bedtime was around 1:30, and now I’m up, and it’s still dark. My newspapers aren’t even here yet, but I’ve had my first cup of coffee, always the best way to start a day. My trees are lit in the living room. That was the first thing I did.

Nothing is on my agenda for today except maybe laundry, kind of makes me look forward to the day. As if…

The house was warm when I woke up, 66˚, even though the thermostat was set at 62˚for nighttime. When I let Gracie out, I found outside also unexpectedly warm, especially for a dark morning in December. Yesterday the high was 54˚ so I did a couple of errands so I could enjoy the day. I bought dinner, and it was delicious: steak kabobs with peppers and onions and roasted rosemary potato wedges. For dessert I had a couple of peanut butter balls my sister had made from my mother’s recipe. They are a Christmas tradition. My mother would make a huge batch and freeze some of them so in February she’d surprise us by bringing them out for dessert. They never lasted too long at Christmas or in February.

When I was in elementary school, the church fair was always a week or two before Christmas. It was in the auditorium at the town hall, a short walk from school. Fair day was always a half-day. At dismissal we’d walk in twos, class by class, with the nuns accompanying us. Once at the town hall we were free. The Christmas fair was a huge occasion, and my mother always gave us money to shop and to buy lunch, usually hot dogs. I remember the best table in the fair was the kids’ table. It was the place to Christmas shop as it was filled with inexpensive gifts for us to buy for our families. I’d walk round and round the table picking up and putting down gifts always trying to find just the right presents. After I did, I’d hand them to the woman behind the counter, somebody’s mother as the fair was run by the mother’s club. She’d bag them, collect my money then hand the precious bags to me. That usually signaled the end of the fair for me. I’d walk home with my gifts and hide them in my room, usually under the bed or in the closet. I’d take them out of their secret hiding place several times to check on them until finally I’d wrap them. I made sure to use lots of paper and tape. I was always so proud of those gifts.

“To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.”

February 18, 2012

I screamed and ran but tripped on something. I knew I couldn’t save myself so I covered my head with my hands and waited for the end. Luckily it didn’t come. Whatever was in the sky was harmless; it even felt warm, almost welcoming. After a while, I removed my hands, shaded my eyes and looked upward. There was a round, bright ball in the sky. I was awed.

Today is sunny and warm and beautiful.

When I was in Ghana, I went to two funerals. One was for my student, Margaret Atiah, who was a FraFra, a member of the local tribe. The other funeral was for my principal’s husband. They were Ashanti and lived in a huge house near Kumasi. He had died in Rome, and we sat on the porch of her house, Mrs. Intsiful and I, waiting for the casket.

The funerals were so very different. Margaret’s was tribal, traditional. She was carried, wrapped in a grass funeral mat, by relatives, all men, up to her family’s compound in the hills. The men ran carrying her body over their heads. We, the mourners, followed. The body was brought into a compound where the women shaved the hair off Margaret’s body. They believed that because you came naked into the world, you also leave naked. Margaret was to be entombed with her parents. She was considered too young for her own tomb. After the women were finished, Margaret was wrapped in the grass funeral mat which covered her completely. She was then carried to her parents’ grave. It had already been opened. The pieces of pottery which had covered that opening were on the grass to the side and would be replaced over the cover when the funeral was finished. A naked man went into the tomb and waited. The grass mat was held over the opening and her body was dropped inside to the man. I was told he would place her beside her parents. There was no ceremony the way we know it. The tradition was the ceremony. Her daughter, who was about five, had had her head shaved in mourning for her mother. The family gave us a goat so we could eat together as a school family and remember Margaret.

The second funeral was far different. The casket had a porthole which showed the man’s face; it was placed on his bed in the middle of the room. The rest of the room was empty. We mourners circled the casket. Many people moaned and screamed as they walked by it. The sound of grief was constant. His son screamed Kwabena, Kwabena, his father’s name, over and over out a window. At one point, as I was standing to the side, a man came up to me and said he thought white people were amazing. He said there was sweat on the upper lip of the deceased making him look alive. I didn’t bother to explain.

When the time came, the casket was placed in the back of an open hearse, and we walked behind it to the cemetery. Prayers were said, and the body was lowered into the ground. We then walked back to the house. Food was served and people danced and sang. Death was celebrated.

Living in Ghana gave me experiences beyond measure.


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