Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Fitting Farewell To a Friend

Last Saturday my family and I went to church for a funeral service of a friend who passed away earlier in the week. I am not particularly fond of going to church, and funerals bring back painful memories, but my wife insisted that I go. When the boss says jump, it is imprudent to ask why you have too; simply jump or ask how high the boss wants you to jump.

Anyway, we used to see this woman who carried herself with great dignity as she walked to and from work. “She must be from Zimbabwe,” my wife said after noticing the lady’s hair pleated in a corn-row style.

“Perhaps you should say hello,” I said. “You and I have seen her for a little while now, we may as well get to know her.”

As a general rule, if I meet a person for the first time I do not say anything. The second time I meet the same person, I try to exchange greetings by either saying hello or nodding my head. If we meet for the third time, I stop and introduce myself. If you have met a person more than twice chances are quite high that you will meet the person many more times in the future. I believe in the adage that it is always rewarding to be good to the people you meet on your way up because you will meet the same people on your way down, as the late reggae artist Prince Fari, Michael Williams, famously said in one of his songs. I try to be good to people I meet whether I am on my way up or down. The reward of being nice to others is in the act.

My family finally got to know the affable lady, who turned out to be a fellow Zimbabwean as we had suspected. She was a devout member of one of the local churches. It was wonderful since my wife and I were looking for a church for my Bible-thumbing teenage son — the fruit that fell close to its maternal grandmother tree than its father three. My son found a good church right within the neighbourhood.

Needless to say my family got comfortably close to the affable lady. Whenever the pigeons did not ruin some of the vegetable in my garden, we would take some to the friend. Unfortunately, not long after that, she fell ill. Her parents came all the way from Zimbabwe. I enjoyed their company given that I am much more comfortable in the company of elderly folk than my contemporaries.

Watching an elderly parent tending an ailing child was very tough. It should be the other way round, an elderly parent tended by a child. Growing up, it was common for children to bury their elderly parents. It was the rule and the reverse was the exception. There is an inversion that I find deeply disturbing.

Watching the elderly parents of our newly found friend visit the hospital each and everyday really brought this painful phenomenon into focus. Something is terribly wrong but, unfortunately, I cannot put my finger on it. If I believed in astrology I would say the stars of the heavens are misaligned. As an advocate of traditional customs, the sensible aspects thereof and not the commercialized version, I think we owe God and our nation’s beneficent spirits a propitiatory debt.

Sadly, the friend lost her gallant battle against her illness and is now in the company of angels. Along with many of her relatives and friends, I went to church to bid her farewell on her journey to mankind’s eternal home. It is a journey that leaves a permanent scar on those left behind.

After the service, we gathered in a nearby hall and the sister-in-law of the deceased friend broke into a Shona traditional funeral song, Ino Yavenguva Yekuchema Gamba Redu – It Is Time to Mourn Our Heroine. The church-organ player and choir had done a wonderful and very commendable job during the gripping service. The spontaneous breaking into an African traditional funeral gathering in a church hall was only the addition of exclamation mark.

I went home to collect my drums. Along with my son and another gentleman who grew up in the Chivhu rural area, we played our drums as we mourned and celebrated the passage of one of Africa’s daughters. We did it the old-fashioned way. There was singing, dancing and ululating. The pain was somewhat assuaged. It was a fitting farewell to a friend who went home way too soon.