Saturday, June 14, 2014
#4 Three Days — A Mass, A Ceremony and a Celebration
It has been a whirlwind 3 days of sitting in large gatherings, understanding nothing so having lots of time to observe.
Thursday was the Catholic mass for Hiram Kiriti, held at the family compound, some ½ hour away. My car holds 5 people and there are always plenty of folks who would love to have a lift. Front seat deference was given to Ann, 7 months and quite large, with Judy, Julia, and Monica in back. The road is paved as far as Mai Mahu, but filled with the usual traffic of slow, over-loaded, smoke-belching lorries, piki piki bikes, walkers and cars going far too fast, overtaking at every opportunity. I do my share of overtaking, but the responsibility for 5 ½ people weighed on me and I was tense the whole way. At Mai Mahu, we turn off the highway to a rutted dirt road, too narrow for much overtaking, particularly because there are always many walkers, small children on the way to school, people scurrying about their lives, old people limping along. I’m very conscious of not wanting to spew them with dust, so I am pretty slow. Suddenly there is a huge sink-hole in the road, with a crew of workers, evidently installing a pipe to carry the flash flood waters under a new road that will eventually be constructed. In the meantime we have to circumvent it, bouncing over tree roots and hillocks in somebody’s field. Then we are paralleling the original road, but above it on a narrow track just wide enough for a car. I am gripping the wheel like it’s my hold on life. ARGH!!! This is hard driving.
We arrive at a bit before 11, and are directed to park up to the left. Since we had to stop to be directed, I had to start up, while turning on a surface that was just wet enough to be very slick. Of course the wheels spun! Everyone stopped to observe the old mzungu woman trying to maneuver up the hill. It didn’t occur to me to ask my passengers to get out, which might have helped a lot, but eventually we lurched into the parking field and I sighed, but not with relief, knowing I’d have to do all this again.
Walking down a long rocky driveway we arrived in the compound, where I’ve been severally (as they say) but found it completely transformed to accommodate some 350 people expected for today and even more tomorrow. Hedges had been removed or slashed of lower foliage, and tents erected, one for the priests and nuns, one for the family and another large one for the congregation.
Because of the distances and the lack of public transportation, people came on foot as they could, some arriving more than an hour late. I used to think they were just irresponsible regarding time, but I’ve come to see the hardship they experience to attend and the fact that people came in the numbers they did is testimony to the regard for the deceased and for Fr. Kiriti. Many, many folks came from Naivasha. Lacking a car, they would have come by matatu and ridden a piki piki from the highway up that unpaved road.
Priest and nun friends were many and I found I recognized most of them, by face but rarely by name. Judy and I were greeted and we had to pretend we knew who they were. I was surprised at how many folks I do know here after 10 years, but the names slip away over time.
The mass celebrant was Fr. Mbogo (probably not spelled right), Vicar General of the Diocese and good friend of Fr. Kiriti, and assisted by many. It was all in Swahili, or sometimes in Kikuyu (I can’t tell the difference) but it was a time for contemplation for Judy and me, as we observe the small children (who are observing us), the arrivals and the ritual itself.
Kenyans don’t gather without a feast to follow and today was no exception. This time the food, prepared by a caterer, was plentiful and delicious. As always we are astounded by the mounds of food each person consumed. As we went through the line, we had to say “small” to each server and even at that I couldn’t eat all I was given. In the meantime people looked at my plate and asked why I was eating so little. The priests and nuns are always given deferential treatment, having their own queue and Judy and I are always taken by the arm and guided to that line. It’s accepted practice here, but always makes me uncomfortable.
Rain had threatened all day and it did sprinkle a bit, but considering the sky and how hard it can rain here, we were most fortunate. After hundreds of hugs and handshakes, we made our way back up to the car, Judy and I both gasping for breath. If Naivasha is 4000+ feet in altitude, this mountainside area must be more than 5000. Since I live at sea level, it’s an adjustment my body hasn’t completed. Back down the unpaved road, around the sink hole, to the highway. As I pull onto the pavement Judy has to remind me, keep to the left! ACH! I know it will come naturally soon, but for now….
Finally back home I flop on my bed. Later we warm up the last of the stew and rice we found waiting for us that first night. Bless Julia and Agnes!
Friday is a repeat performance, but this time it is the African Inland Episcopal Pentecostal Church (AIEPC). The drive isn’t quite so harrowing, I know the drill now. We were told it was at 10, but on our prompt arrival, we found virtually no one there, including Fr. Kiriti. Oh, right, they were at the mortuary, bringing Hiram’s body back to be buried next to Sarah, his wife of more than 60 years, in the family compound. People drift in and I see they are mostly the neighbors, not so many Naivasha folks today. In time, the procession arrives, the casket is placed on a bier, and covered with a beautiful spray of roses.
This time the Catholic contingent sits in the tent to the left, while the front tent is for the presiding clergy. I go to greet Fr. Kiriti, who invites me to sit next. He tells me that the previous night 2 people, a cousin and wife were hit by a truck and killed as they alighted from a matatu at the road. So sad. He has a wonderful capacity to be fully present, so that he will deal with that sadness in a few days, but for now, he is burying his father.
We watch while the people continue to stream in. A large group of St. Francis girls arrive, accompanied by Ruth Kahiga (principal) and Sister Magdalene, (deputy). They sit in the same tent and I get a chance to hug some. All of the SFG girls from Mji Wa Neema are there, of course. Fr. Kiriti is “Dad” to them, as he brought them through their childhood for 9 years as Naivasha parish priest. The SFG girls sing beautifully, led by Sr. Magdalene and I am again aware of the unaccompanied songs here, full of harmony and perfectly in unison.
Suddenly in a big rush the bishop of Nakuru arrives along with many of the diocesan priests. Quickly I vacate my front row seat and by now my chair next to Judy is occupied. The girls, too have moved and are standing at the side, so I join them. But as always, someone takes me by the arm and guides me to a seat I had not seen. I’m sure someone was ousted in deference to my gray hair and obvious age. Elders are always cared for in this society.
The presiding priest of the AIEPC is a lively person, full of gestures and evidently very funny because he cracks up the crowd more than once. I so wish I could understand, but no matter had I studied Swahili for all these 10 years, I think it would be too fast for me. And so we sit and watch. He talked for a long time, and I heard “Hiram” and “96 years” many times, as that is quite an accomplishment in this society. Although the AIEPC pastor was leading the service, he called up all the priests, asked each to introduce himself and invited the bishop to speak. Then he called up the protestant ministers, each of whom introduced himself and herself—yes, there was one female!!! It was very touching to see the various groups interacting, respecting each other.
Then it is time for the burial. Seven of Hiram’s 8 sons carry the body to the gravesite. (Clement, the eldest, died some time ago). I am in back of a large crowd following, but some man takes me by the arm and maneuvers me to almost the front, so I am able to see a huge pile of dirt and a very deep hole. After more prayers, the coffin is lowered and members of the family and close friends begin to fill in the hole. In time I have my turn and slowly make my way back to the main area. Again there is food for the masses (no pun), delicious and plentiful.
Feeling the need to “make a short call” as the term here is, I see Fr. Kiriti nearby and request permission to use his house. Inside the bishop and a number of clergy are removing their vestments, but I know the way and slip through the side room to the back, Judy just behind me. Feeling much more comfortable, we wash our hands at the newly installed sink in the mud porch and proceed to the food.
After eating, I wander around, greeting old friends and taking pictures. I hold up my camera and mime “Is it OK to take your picture?” Most nod and smile, but one lady shakes her head no. OK. I move the camera so she is not included. Then I show the ladies the picture. The No lady wants to see and I grin, shaking my finger at her. She laughs uproariously. Wordlessly we have shared out little joke. She loves it and so do I.
Judy and I walk back to the gravesite, which is now all filled in and covered with the roses. Beautiful.
Back home, we have nothing to eat, so head for the new supermarket, opened since I was last here. It’s large and clean and has a deli where Judy picks out several pieces of roasted chicken and a huge cabbage. We purchase another big bottle of water for our dispenser and I note that we’ve almost used the first one in less than 1 week. Fortunately bottled water is not very expensive. A nice young man carries the water for us. It’s HEAVY. Again the deference to the gray hair. There are a few benefits to age—but not enough to offset the downside!
Finally we are home and I flop onto the bed again. This driving takes a lot out of me, even though I already feel myself getting more comfortable with the left side, the overtaking, the ever-present trucks.
I had thought to write about Saturday as well, but this is getting too long and it’s 7:30 on Sunday morning, almost time for mass. I’ve been awake since 5:30. I’ll write # 4 ½ separately.