Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Good One's Gone Away

--September 20, 2009--

She wears a broad, beaming smile as a near-permanent fixture upon her face, and exudes such a genuine sense of warmth and kindness that even a culturally awkward chap like myself cannot help but feel comfortable around her. She understands the thoughts and frustrations of a Bemba student even better than our professionally-trained Bemba teachers. And her motivation and perseverence are unsurpassed. Even these past couple of weeks, when she was visibly sick, she managed to show off her pearly whites every now-and-then. Oh and by the way she cooks the best pot of nshima in Chongwe district.

But yesterday the Lord decided he couldn't wait any longer to get his paws on such prodigious talent.

I came home from class yesterday to find that my host Auntie, Ba Justina, had died somewhat unexpectedly from a tumor in her abdomen. I had known that she was ill - after all, that was the only reason she was living here in Chongwe with my host family. But I was still surprised at how fast her condition must have deteriorated. She's been to Lusaka several times for treatment, but for some reason her surgery kept getting delayed (I could speculate why, but that would only lead me on a useless rant about the Zambian [lack of a] healthcare system). Suffice it to say I think her condition was treatable, which makes this mourning all the more frustrating.

But what's also been surprising is the Zambian way of mourning their dead. The whole community has responded - there must have been 40 people there yesterday - but no one seems to be overly sad or concerned. All the women sit inside, laughing and chatting. All the men sit around the fire and talk politics and football like they're at a tailgate. I can tell that deep down inside, many of them are grieving, especially my host father. He smiles a little more faintly and stops laughing a little more quickly than usual, but it seems that Zambian culture does not permit him to express this grief.

Per Peace Corps policy, I have been pulled from my home to ease the burden on my host family, so I'm now staying at our school, in the dorms where our trainers live. I'm expecting to go back tomorrow, but we're going to be moving out pretty soon anyways. I certainly didn't expected my homestay to end on such a somber note.


  1. :-( My condolences.

    Africa suffers from a terrible "brain drain" with regards to science and medicine. I can't say I necessarily blame them though.

  2. Sorry for your loss Mike.
    The way death (and life) is recognized is certainly different from culture to culture but also personal. Any tears that you shed or sorrow that you feel is certainly appropriate.
    Best of luck, Mark Loehrke