Friday, July 17, 2009
VIII. ANOTHER SLICE
By Kathryn Taubert
Funerals are REALLY big here. I’ve been to three; two on the same day. Seems like the entire region turns out. It’s not merely a memorial, it’s a real celebration.
When I die I want a memorial like the Ewe’s. A prominent Christian denomination hosted one ceremony in the sanctuary. Another denomination hosted theirs outside.
While both had music and dancing, the former was more subdued, with dancing somewhat restrained, if you can call a singing Conga line up the center aisle restrained. Drums played all night and day. If the drummers don’t play in shifts, they must be just short of Herculean, if not all the way over the top. We’re talking double-time, two handed, non-stop congas. In the middle of the night I could hear them in the distance. I wondered if that’s what the “lost” Livingstone heard, and if so, did it put as much fear into his heart as they did delight in mine? I felt as though I were in his Africa, before life got so complicated.
People dress up, ministers preach long, energetic sermons, dancing is spontaneous, singing joyful, and everybody participates. There are the usual, heartfelt eulogies and prayers. Meanwhile there’s a street party in town, feasting and vendors with beads and food and more. I pooped out pretty quickly and it’s still going on after 24 hours. Word has it, there’s another ceremony for the one of the deceased during the week.
Anything is an excuse for kids to make music. Sitting on the porch with my notebook computer, I’m soon surrounded by a flock of smiling little kids.
My computer and digital camera are kid-magnets. We draw on the computer, take photos and movies, and watch them laugh and point at themselves and each other. This afternoon, I did a few “bongo moves” on a wooden bench to see what would happen. Without hesitation, one little guy ran to retrieve two small buckets, upended them and the party started. Singing, dancing, drumming: it’s fundamental.
Kids here grow up with music instead of TV. I think they have the better end of the deal, frankly. I’ve heard some kids I’d hire for a gig in a minute.
And when was the last time you didn’t have to tell your kids to do chores?
These are the most well-disciplined kids I’ve ever seen. Every day, like clockwork, they are sweeping the overnight goat residue off the front stoop, carrying water and wood, starting the cooking fire, ironing (with an old FLAT IRON heated on cooking stones). There’s a key to the outhouse hanging inside the house. Returning it, I handed it to a five year old on his way out the door whom I assumed wanted it. Without a word, he took it, turning obediently around and putting it back in its rightful place. Adults rule around Kloe, and the kids don’t seem to mind at all!
Three-year-olds squatting next to buckets of cold water and covered with soap are a frequent sight. Alone they perform their ablutions, without wheedling or help. Little tiny people covered in suds next to buckets almost as big as they are, I’d love a photograph, but that would be a little too invasive. They squat because they’re too little to lift the bucket. They end up spotless anyway.
Road signs. I have just got to get the tro-tro to stop long enough (or at least slow down) to take photos. My favorite so far: “Machetes: Crocodile Tested!”
And speaking of “tro-tros”: any small vehicle with an engine that mostly works and can be routinely stuffed with as many passengers as possible qualifies. Imagine seven people in a Datsun the size of a shoebox, or a “TaTa” (a small car whose origins I don’t yet know, but the name of which is altogether too reminiscent of American slang for a prominent body part). I get the connection with “Yo“, (“Ok” in Ewe), but the other eludes me.
Out of deference, my companions initially put me in the front seat. Now we know each other well enough so I qualify as just another sardine. For one cedi (about 70 cents), I ride 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) to the Ho office. I had to give up seat belts. They either don’t work, or are covered with so much red dirt that the driver can’t clean them. In the backseat, I haven’t found belts because it would be most indelicate to look with that many laps back there alongside mine. So, I say a silent prayer that it’s not my time yet, and try to avoid the very large road signs admonishing drivers to SLOW DOWN AND LIVE!
Slowing down isn’t part of the driving culture. Beeping is. Some drivers beep for the sake of beeping, methinks. They beep at everyone and everything warning we’re coming (fast). Sometimes they beep when nobody is there.
I guess after a while not beeping causes withdrawal. Some of these guys would put a New York cabbie to shame.
I met the Queen Mother, Chief Ayipe’s wife, the other day, at the Ho apartment where she sometimes stays. She’s a joyful person of humor and wit, and a down-to-earth attitude one wouldn’t expect from a Queen. We hit it off immediately. You know how it is when you meet someone you “just know”? Well, Mama Ayipe and I could be good friends in another life. The fact that she said she might come see me in Florida delighted me. I gave her my card. I hope she keeps it. We took photos. She’s much prettier than I am, dressed in traditional Ewe finery and me in baggy cotton “safari” clothes. It was OK by her. It’s good to be Queen.
I don’t know when I’ll run out of things to write about. Naples Daily News editors are, by now, tearing their hair out at the length of these things. I was pretty good at keeping ‘em to 400 or so words, BEFORE I got here. Now my head is so full of images and words. I feel like a brakeless, overloaded tro-tro careering down the slippery slopes of synonym and simile, straight off the metaphorical cliff into bottomless verbosity. In a culture medium like this, it’s a given.