2016 – #6 We Bury Magdalene

I’ve shared enough of my sadness, so I will write about the customs surrounding death. Even as I cried, I loved seeing how the people step up to ensure the deceased is properly honored, celebrated and sent on her way.

The morning began with viewing the body outside the mortuary. Joseph, our youngest, was nearby. I grabbed his hand, asking him to keep me from stumbling, but mostly because he looked so lost and forelorn. I thought I was taking care of him, but as we exited the gates, he pulled me back just in time to avoid walking right into the path of a runaway donkey cart!!! So who was taking care of whom? Naturally I thanked him—made him feel like a big man, and I meant it. He really saved me.

We headed down the hill towards town, maybe a 10-minute walk to a gate where others were gathered. We had to wait for another funeral to finish and leave, which happened shortly. Inside, people milled around until the priest arrived. There were some prayers and then 8 women lifted the coffin, singing beautifully as they and placed it on a large cement block. All coffins here have a small sliding door, which, when opened reveals the face behind a glass window. Those who wished, lined up, walking slowly by. I happened to be near Esther, the former matron of SFG, who knew Magdalene very well. We grabbed hands and joined the line. I needed that view for closure, but having seen, I wanted to go back up and sit in the church until the funeral mass began.

Some of you may remember way back, maybe 9 or 10 years ago, when Fr. Kiriti was the parish priest in NVA. One of his many accomplishments was to complete the new church, which had stood, incomplete for perhaps 15 years. Of course they needed pews, so he invited parishioners to dedicate a pew to a loved one. I gave a pew in memory of my husband, Jim. It has a small brass name plate noting it is in his memory. I sit in it every Sunday and every Sunday I think of his little joke about the skunk in church, sitting in his own pew. It makes me smile in memory of his funny ways. I often have a little chat with him while I sit there.

So, of course I wanted to sit in Jim’s pew. I sat for quite some time, alone with my thoughts, while the people gathered outside. Then the coffin was carried in by men of the parish, followed by the singing women. It sat in the aisle at the front, covered with gorgeous wreaths of roses and the picture that I showed you yesterday. The pews filled quickly. Julia and some of the kids joined me, but then we were all ushered to the front—except I could see there wasn’t really space for me, so I sat alone in Jim’s pew—just him and me.

Five priests were on the alter—the 3 who are assigned here, another named Fr Michael and of course, Fr. Kiriti, who had been “Dad” to Magdalene and all the kids for 9 years. It was quite an impressive send-off, with each priest performing part of the ritual. One thing that I noted was the parish priest (the boss) was not the main celebrant. He assigned his assistant, Fr. Stephen and took a back seat himself. He’s a very humble man in many ways, with seemingly no need to assert his authority when it’s not necessary. Fr. Kiriti gave the homily. It was in Kiswahili, so I could only observe how passionately he spoke. I’m told it was a wonderful talk.

Antony and Theresia, the 2 main founders of Mji Wa Neema, spoke, as did the president of the parish council and others. The last was Patrick, one of the residents of MWN, who had been a classmate of Magdalene and a very close friend. He was impressive! He must be about 21 and always seemed rather shy to me, but today he spoke with confidence, never losing his composure. He ended by singing a wonderful song to her and did it beautifully. I never realized he sang so well and later I had a chance to tell him how impressed I was.

Finally it was over. This time boys from MWN carried the body of their sister to the hearse. I ran back to my car and drove it to the front of the church where 5 of the kids piled in, including “Big Esther” (meaning she is the older of the 2 Esthers) and her 2 ½ year old son—who screamed his head off yesterday whenever I came into view. I had asked Tabitha to sit in front with me b/c I wasn’t quite sure how to get to the cemetery, which is perhaps ½ hour away. On her lap sat Johnson, the small boy. He looked and looked, but didn’t cry this time, possibly because Tabitha was feeding him yogurt, which he seemed to enjoy a lot.

It was a lovely day when we left Naivasha, possibly 68 to 70 degrees. I had bought 2 umbrellas yesterday, but left them at home, so when we were approaching Mt. Longenot, where the cemetery is, I was dismayed to see a heavy mist with its accompanying cold. ARGH!

As we were driving along, I was trying to remember which mountain was Longenot. When I pointed at one they said no, it was the other. “What’s the name of this one?” “Margaret, I think.” “My mountain? Who knew?” It is appropriately unimpressive, smaller by far than Longenot, but I will remember we are namesakes.

It was a short drive into the cemetery from the main road, but another of those muddy, rutted, roads that threatens the axels every few feet. I was busily dodging matatus, people, piki-pikis (moterbikes), but no donkey carts this time. I parked the car, only to discover that one of the girls didn’t know how to open a car door. Imagine, she’s in her 2nd year in high school! I had to carefully explain how to unlock it (she’d pushed the lock) and how to open it without tearing off the handle.

We walked across the uneven field to the freshly dug grave. We gathered around while the singing women again carried the coffin to sit on a gurney beside the open grave. Six feet is really deep and I often wonder how they dig them so precisely, with straight sides and square corners. It must take some training to get them so perfect. As we stood there, the mist dropped lower so that while it wasn’t raining, it was wet and cold. I remember registering it was cold, but not feeling the cold. After more prayers and more wonderful African singing, the coffin was lowered into the grave. One of the wreaths of roses was presented to the grandparents, the other stayed on top of the grave after it was filled in. Each person walked by adding either a shovel-full or a hand-full of dirt. When all had done this, several men, including Fr. Kiriti shoveled in the rest of the dirt, mounding it up carefully, smoothing the top for the wreath. Lastly we each were handed a rose, which we planted on top. Three hundred roses were donated for this. If her spirit was there, she surely felt very loved and honored. Then everyone walked back to the cars and matatus, leaving her there, alone.

As I returned to my car I thought of Our Town. Here was a newcomer to be oriented by all the others who preceded her. Go well, Maggy. We love you.

1 thought on “2016 – #6 We Bury Magdalene”

  1. Very touching indeed Margo. I did not have a chance to interact with the Late Magdalene. All that people have talked about her makes me wish to have met her, but then who am I to question the authority of the ‘Creator’ (so they say). I remember on this fateful Tuesday at around 9:30 in the morning, Margo, Julia and myself set on a journey to Kenyatta National Hospital to pay a visit to Magdalene……anyway, it happened for a good cause, so i believe!


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