After attending a wedding and a funeral in the same week, I feel like I have been dunked head-first into Belizean culture and forgot to plug my nose…
Six hours after we visited Antonia’s uncle on Wednesday, he died!
So, on Thursday morning, instead of teaching, we went to the family’s house and helped clear out furniture for the wake. I moved two washing-machines off the porch, carried 3 couches out of the kitchen, moved two rusty beds (springs with cardboard on top) into an empty room, poured buckets of water onto the sidewalk to wash away the mud and clear a path, swept the yard, and then, just when I was feeling totally useless and white (or “clear” as they call me) curtains needed to be hung and I happened to be the tallest person in the room. So I hung curtain rods until lunch—not on windows, but along the walls in the room where the body would lay.
I taught one class in the afternoon, but spent the rest of the day helping to prepare for the wake. It is expected that everyone in the village attend the wake, which is held at the house, and the entire street is blocked off to allow room for chairs and huge tents. Each family is also expected to bring coffee, sugar, soft drinks or rice & beans, so each teacher pitched in $14 to provide 8 cases of soft drinks from the school.
The wake usually begins around 6 or 7 and goes all night until sunrise. The family of the deceased does not sleep until the body is buried, and it is the responsibility of the village to make sure the family is never alone during that time. It felt more like Carmel Fest than a wake. The streets were lined with lawn chairs and pick-up trucks and huge circus tents, and all the Standard 5 and 6 girls were serving food and drinks around the clock. There were four huge speakers broadcasting hymns loud enough that I could hear them a mile away at Ida’s house when I went home. Antonia’s mother and sister sang hymns and played the keyboard until about 2 in the morning with breaks in between when Antonia’s father gave messages.
People ate and talked through the whole thing, kids were running around, teenagers were sitting on tailgates listening to music—but the entire village was there. I think I understood what community meant for those few hours (I only lasted until 11pm, then David drove me home). During the time I was there, about 800 people were in attendance, and while I was shocked at first and uncomfortable with what seemed like a cultural disrespect for death and grieving, I understood when I left that the purpose was not to greet the family and offer condolences for an hour or two, but to actually give up your life for the entire 24 hours before the body is buried to physically be present for the grieving family should they decide to walk outside and need something. I wish I could say I’d had more stamina…
The next morning at school all the teachers collected evergreen branches and made wreaths to bring to the funeral.
I taught two classes in the morning, and then school was dismissed at 11:30 for everyone to attend the funeral at 2. Eight of the ten teachers were related to the man who died. David’s school in San Marcos closed for the funeral, and also two schools in San Ignacio.
Antonia took me to the church an hour early (in Belize they wear black, white and purple to funerals- purple symbolizing the color of hurt or pain) to help pass out hymnals and pour water. It was really weird being with the family during a time like this, considering I’m not in the family and have only been honorary family for one week, but I was really glad I could help with things.
The funeral service lasted about 2 hours, and when it was over, they loaded the casket onto the back of a pick-up truck, and everyone in the church walked behind the truck to the cemetery for the burial. Everyone brought homemade wreaths and crepe-paper flowers and sang hymns around the grave while the family said goodbye to the body. When the family was ready, the casket was lifted into the 6 foot above ground cement grave, and the cement was actually mixed right there while we sang, and men from the village poured bucket after bucket of cement onto the casket and buried the body as we watched. We waited for the cement to begin to firm and then placed all the wreaths on top of and around the grave. The entire thing from beginning to end lasted for about 4 hours.
When Antonia was walking me home later, we stopped at a little roadside stand and she bought me a coke and 2 choco-bananas to thank me for all the help. I gave her every bit of the 40 cents in my pocket and thanked her for including me.
I can’t believe it has only been one week, today, since I arrived. It feels like about three lifetimes already.
My classes yesterday and today did skits and role-play. They were really cute:
Tonight after the funeral, I played hide-and-go seek with the kids on my street. They also took me through the Iguana reserve to the river and showed me where the rope swing is in case I wanted to swim…
Praise: One week finished- good and bad, up and down, but finished!
Prayer: The 13 y/o boy in my house got really sick this morning and had to go to the hospital. They tested him for Malaria and are waiting for results.