The funeral

February 27, 2006

Note: Apart from the first one, all pictures in this post are made by Brian (In the first picture on the very right)

Emilia was 22 years old when she died from AIDS. Her daughter, aged 4, was infected with the virus during birth. She will never get the chance to protect herself from the disease; she was already born with it. Within two years, Emilia’s father lost his wife, his daughter and his sister in law, the first to breast cancer, the latter two to the virus.

Emilia was the sunshine of Mbare and everyone here loved her. She was a trusted friend to many and she was up for everything. Just four months ago, Emilia was well on her feet and roamed around with her friends, having a beer in that bar in Beatrice Cottages or a walk through the roads of Mbare. Then, all of a sudden, she started feeling sick. She kept telling her friends that she didn’t feel good. The virus had begun to take down her immune system. She had to go to the hospital and her condition grew rapidly worse. Just a few days ago, the doctors told her family that she would die if she didn’t get proper medication. But drugs are expensive. Where to get drugs when you can’t pay for them? After all, there are no license free imitations; the big Parma companies defend their patents like castles. Those who cannot pay simply have to bite the bullet.

But Emilia’s family managed to collect the money for her treatment. They flipped every penny and collected among the more distant relatives. A cousin sent 2000 Rand from South Africa. But it’s too late. On February, 22nd, the day the money is finally scratched together, the girl died. And once again the people of Mbare gathered for the obsequies.

Nokhutula and her brothers were close friends of Emilia, they grew up together and to them, Emilia was the kind of person you sleep together with in one bed and share the most intimate secrets with. They invite us to take part in both the obsequies and the burial one day later. We go to Mbare and meet at Siman’gliso’s house. Together with Shela and Nyaradzi we walk to the place, just about two hundred meters away. At that time I don’t know yet how close my friends from Mbare were to Emilia; I get to know all that I’ve written above in these two days. On our way to Emilia’s house, Shela teaches me some Shona. Trukfamba mu’Mbare, trukando conamo – We are walking through Mbare, on the way to a funeral. I had a different idea of my first sentence in Shona.

The obsequies have already begun when we arrive. Even before we turn into the road, we can hear the singing. It’s not somber or sad, nothing that you would expect for a funeral when you are European. In the first moments I relate it to a birthday party or something of that kind. We reach the house, where the men are all gathered in the shadow under a tree across the street, while the women stand in a semicircle in the garden, clapping and singing. They seem relaxed, they laugh and kid around and only a few, elder women sit aside and watch with somber faces. Shela grabs me on the sleeve, whispers that we should not go there now and drags me towards the men. Brian, another friend of the group, is there, too. We sit down, smoke, and listen to the singing. Brian, Shela and Siman’gliso tell me about Emilia.

Eventually, a pick-up truck comes, with the coffin on the load floor, and backs into the garden. The guys stand up and approach the car. Together, they lift the wooden coffin from the trunk and carry it over the small veranda into the house where the body is to be laid out. Now the men and the women mix again and I, too, go into the yard and join Saba and Andree. A small boy sits in the corner of the garden and cries his heart out. Emilia’s relatives and friends get in a line and, one after the other, go into the house, take a look at their dead girl and walk out through the back door. It is now, that – apart from the small boy – I can see and hear people crying for the first time. Siman’gliso and the others are in the row, too, and beckon me to join. They want me to pass the coffin with them. Inside the house it’s cool and dim, just a little light casts in through the open door. The front end of the coffin is uncovered and there lays Emilia, all but her face covered in white cloth. She looks peaceful.

After everyone has walked past the dead, Emilia’s friends carry the coffin back out onto the load floor of the pick-up truck. They cover it and the car leaves for Seke, the village of Emilia’s family. The obsequies is over and the people gradually leave for their way home. We walk back to Siman’gliso’s house and sit together in his living room with a glass of Sprite, gossiping.

The next morning, we raise early, drive to Mbare and gather in front of Emilia’s place. The day before, Nokhutula bought 60 liters of petrol to fuel enough cars. Emilia’s friends all wanted to go to the burial, but didn’t know how to get to the village. After everyone has arrived and yet another car is organized for all the people, we leave for Seke, the village where the burial will take place. Together with the guys, I take a seat on the back of Nokhutula’s pick-up truck. We’re about fifteen people on the small load floor, but neither of us is reserved and we hold on to each other harmoniously. We aren’t even around the first corner when the guys start singing. It sounds similar to what I heard yesterday at the obsequies. Happy, but sincere. One of them sings the verses, the others join in for the refrain and I don’t understand anything since it is all in Shona. But I clap, I wave back and forth and I stomp my foot on the ground along with them, and sometimes, when they repeat the refrain over and over again and when I can make out the words, I even sing with them. The guys now really gather momentum, every now and then one of them whistles or screams while clapping his hand onto his mouth, sounding somewhat like a loud Rididididi. I join in and start screaming, whistling and clapping together with them.

At some point we stop and Brian buys some rum. They cut open a plastic bottle, mix the rum with water and hand it around. After about two hours, we reach Seke. The farm consists of a house, not very big, and face to face of it a round hut made of clay with a roof of straw. On the top end of the courtyard there is a third building under construction, but obviously no one has worked on it for a long time. It sprawles green out of every door and window opening. Some trees cast welcome shadow and everywhere around the farm grows maize. We descend from the pick-up and go to every single person on the yard to greet them. Nyaradzi tells me to say nematambudzko every time I shake someone’s hand. That means I’m sorry. On the way here, I had a bad conscience because I neither knew Emilia nor anyone of her family and still I would come to her funeral. Nokhutula asked me to take the camera and so I felt like a vulture, like one of these yellow press photographers who get their stories out of others’ misery. But the way I was accepted by Emilia’s family quickly took away those feeling. They welcomed me like a brother and her aunty Messa told me that this farm is also my farm and that I should make myself at home. If I had any problem I should tell her. It was her, who later asked me to take pictures and she was next to me when I went into the round hut where Emilia’s body was laid out to photograph the wake. I never felt as an intruder.

After we had greeted everyone but the women who were singing in the hut, we went to the grave that was being prepared for the burial. The men who had dug it out were just laying the bricks of the side walls. Emilia’s father and grandfather were with us, and on the way, her father told me about how painful it was for him that his daughter was not around anymore. But life would go on, he said, and never have I heard this sentence spoken with so much conviction. This man radiated an admirable peace and hope. Then he thanked me for everything I had done for their family, and I felt embarrassed. I hadn’t done anything for this family; I just came for the funeral of their daughter. In the opposite, these people did so much for me by sharing this difficult moment with me and thus let me take part in their culture in such a unique way, and I told him that.

After we got back to the farm, Siman’gliso and his friend brought out two big drums and we began singing again. It was the same songs we had sung on the car and I understood now that it hadn’t been just for fun but to rehearse the songs before they performed them here. We grouped around the drummers and danced and clapped, and soon the women around began to dance the jiti. For this traditional dance they bend over and vigorously swing their hips and backside towards a person or the drum or whatever they dance at. Some pulled out some bank notes and threw them in the crowd and Kugi would pick them up and collect them. The dancers were rewarded for their performance. The singing went on for about two hours, with brakes, since the sun burnt down mercilessly and everyone was drenched in sweat. Eventually we went into the round hut and continued there, with the women dancing the jiti at Emilia’s coffin and everyone taking up her picture, holding it above the head while dancing and passing it on to the next person. Once more, Emilia celebrated with her friends.

Then it became silent. The people went outside and took their lunch. Only the closest relatives remained in the hut and silently sat on the floor in front of the coffin. Messa went inside with me and asked me to photograph. There was a sacral atmosphere in the room and I tried to move as silent as possible. I was in the hut for about half an hour when the coffin was opened and moved to the center of the room. Messa asked me to take a picture of her and her sister with their dead niece. Then, one after the other, the people came inside to say good bye. They circled Emilia’s coffin, some would stop briefly to touch or kiss her, and many cried. I pressed myself to the wall and I really felt being in the wrong place now. It was very, very intimate. But I didn’t want to disturb by just standing up and leaving, either. So I made myself as small as possible and huddled further to the wall. When Siman’gliso and his friends came in and I saw the pain in their eyes, when Brian bent down to kiss his dead friend, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I broke into tears and left the hut together with them. I was relieved to finally be outside since I really felt trapped between the urge not to disturb the intimacy and the fear to break it through the slightest motion.

After everyone was at Emilia’s body, the coffin was taken outside on the courtyard, and a priest spoke some words in Shona; probably a prayer, but I don’t know and I didn’t want to ask, either. Then Siman’gliso and his friends hauled the coffin to the load floor of a pick-up, the grandmothers and the aunties took a seat next to it and the whole crowd moved to the cemetery. Emilia was bedded on the pile of earth next to the grave and everyone sat down on the floor. The priest spoke again, this time passionately and vigorously, and he walked up and down on the open grave like a tiger in a cage so that I was afraid that he might fall into it any minute. After he had ended, single people stood up and held speeches of which unfortunately I didn’t understand anything. Every time when a person finished speaking and sat down again, the women cheered stridently and clapped. After the coffin was finally lowered into the grave, they put a heavy iron slab on it and fixed it with concrete. The concrete was prepared with water which had been in a jar under Emilia’s coffin all the time. Then some wooden sticks were put on the concrete and finally the earth was shoveled in the hole. The people at the grave grabbed the spade from each other and poured the soil in the opening as fast as possible. It almost looked like a contest and the people rooted for each other. I don’t know yet about the meaning of the water, the wood and the common shoveling, but Nokhutula promised to find it out and I will write it later in another post. Suddenly, a man came with a bucket full of water and spilled it over two of the women standing on the grave. Everyone laughed and cheered and then the three started a wild chase through the maize fields while the others started singing and dancing again. Two men were drumming, and the women danced the jiti at Emilia one last time. The last song was quiet and melancholic but still happy. I didn’t understand much, but the refrain was always the same: Bye bye, Emilia…

After the song had ended, the people spread out. Some went back to the farm, others started their way home. The sky was overcast now and the first raindrops started falling. Bolts flashed in the clouds and somewhere in the distance, the thunder growled. We hopped on the pick-up and left for Harare. It began to rain heavily now. We moved closer together on the load board, put our arms around each other and covered our heads with jackets and sweaters. It was nice, back there in the rain. And then we started singing again. Bye bye Emilia…

Filed under: Zimbabwe

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  • 1. Antonia Peters  |  March 11, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Hallo Jaki!

    Endlich schaff ich’s mal , mich zu melden! Ich freu mich immer sehr über Deine Berichte! Deine Schreibweise gibt mir das Gefühl, direkt am Geschehen teilzuhaben, da sie so persönlich und intim ist. Es ist eine Sache zu wissen, dass Tausende von Menschen in Afrika an Aids sterben, und doch eine ganz andere, wenn man auf so persönliche Art mit diesem Schicksal in Berührung kommt. Dein Bericht hat mich sehr berührt und umso mehr wünsche ich Saba und Dir ganz viel Erfolg mit Euerem AIDS-Projekt! Es würde mich sehr interessieren, wie und wo genau Ihr an diesem Projekt arbeitet, bzw. worin Euere Arbeit besteht und wie die Menschen dort darauf reagieren.
    Der Artikel von Deinem Geburtstag war hingegen äußerst unterhaltsam zu lesen und ich konnte mir Dein Unverständnis bzw. Deinen verhaltenen Unmut gegenüber Sabas Morgenaktion bildlich vorstellen (Grins!!) Aber ich bin schon gespannt auf die Fotos von dem Park, wenn Du dann die Kamera dabei hast 😉
    Bei uns ist soweit auch alles in Ordnung, bis auf das, dass ich mir eine fiese Erkältung eingeheimst habe und stockheiser bin (und das 1 Woche vor unserem Auftritt mit P.O.U.!!) Kann nur hoffen, dass ich das bis dahin in den Griff bekomme. Wenn’s geht, versuche ich den Auftritt für Dich aufzunehmen. Frank ist gerade in Teheran(!!) und kommt morgen früh zurück. Bin froh, wenn er wieder wohlbehalten zurück ist! Bei ihm ist im Moment unheimlich viel los. Es scheint gerade eine Zeit des Wechsels und Umbruchs zu sein…

    Also, an Dich und Saba ein ganz dickes Bussi und bis bald!
    Antonia mit Franky

    P.S.: Kannst Du eigentlich Deine e-Mail-Adresse dort abrufen? Frag nur, weil Du auf Deinem Kontaktdaten-Mail nur die e-Mail von Nokhutula und Nyasha angegeben hast, aber keine von Dir. Und um Dir mal länger zu schreiben, ist e-Mail vielleicht besser als der Comment im Blog…

    Hello Jaki!

    Finally I managed the time to contact you! I’m always so happy about your reports! Your writing style makes me feel being right there since it is so personal and intimate. It’s one thing to know that there are thousands of people dying from Aids in Africa, but it’s something completely different to get in touch with this fate in such a personal way. Your story touched me deeply and all the more I wish you and Saba success for your AIDS project. I would be very interested in how and where exactly you work on this project or rather what your work looks like and how the people there respond to it.
    But then again the article about your birthday was extraordinary amusing to read and I could easily visualise your incomprehension and your catious resentment towards Saba’s morning action respectively (Smile!!) But I’m already very curious about the pictures of the park when you will take the camera next time 😉
    We’re alright so far, except that I caught a nasty cold and that I’m hoarse like a crow (and that 1 week before our performance with P.O.U.!!) I just can hope to get the grip on it in time. I’ll try to record the performance for you if possible. Frank is currently in Teheran(!!) and will return by tomorrow morning. I’m happy when he’s back in one piece! There’s a lot going on with him at the moment. Seems to be a time of change and altertion currently…

    Anyways, a big kiss to you and Saba! So long,
    Antonia with Franky

    P.S.: By the way, can you access your yahoo email address there? I’m asking because in the email with the contact details you gave only the addresses of Nokhutula and Nyasha, but not yours. And for writing more detailed, an email may be better than the comment in the Blog…

  • 2. Florian Peljak  |  March 14, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Jakob…also ehrlich…wahnsinn!!! Ich sehe Du bist in Deinem Element bevor ich ein einziges Wort gelesen habe. Erster Eindruck: Bildschirm quillt über mit Text. Fazit: Jakob geht’s prächtig! Stimmts? Jedenfalls ist gehörig was los bei Dir und das nicht zum Zuckerschlecken. Hab ich was anderes erwartet? Nein. Trotzdem: Wahnsinn! Gerade deshalb. Weils halt keine Seifenblasen sind was Du schreibst sondern unter die Haut geht. Was lese ich da mittendrin, bzw. am Anfang? Bin noch nicht wirklich in Schreibstimmung? Tust mir ernsthaft Leid!!! Gut dass sich das so schnell gibt. Ich wünsch Dir alles alles Gute, mehr brauch ich nicht wünschen. Den Rest machst Du eh selbst, gell?
    Ich hab die Ferien unglaublich genossen, der Winter hier wird immer geiler, ich bin total im Rausch, von mir aus braucht er gar nicht aufzuhören. Vorgestern haben wir beschlossen, ab jetzt lassen wir das Schifahren für immer, denn wenn’s am schönsten ist soll man aufhören und noch geiler als letzten Sonntag mit nem halben Meter frischem Pulver über Nacht (genau so stell ich mir den Himmel vor, genau so…alles weich und weiß…alles! So weit das Auge reicht.) wird’s definitiv nie mehr, schließlich fahr ich inzwischen mit getapten Schi (die werden ganz zu Ende gefahren und nix geht über a g’scheids Gaffa) und die nächsten werden sowieso Marke Eigenbau, ein Schi für alles, dh. Carver auch zum Parallelschwingen (???) … kompliziert … oder zu trivial für ein niederbayerisches für Bangladesch fahrendes Flachlandrodelass in Simbabwe ( 🙂 die Watsche kommt zurück, ich spürs schon), nur dass Du siehst wie heiß der Winter bei uns ist! Ich komm aus dem Schwitzen nicht mehr raus…ehrlich!
    Zu allem Überfluss hab ich mir nach der Ausstellung einen A1-Drucker gekauft, der gar nicht mehr in mein Zimmer passt…vielleicht hänge ich diese Monsterbügelmaschine an die Decke, dann kann ich die Tapetenbahnen schon während dem plotten hängenderweise einkleistern…
    Meine Dipl.arbeit – so bescheuert sich das anhört find ich – Dipldesigner – Du hast da an Dippl am Hirn – dann wäre ich schon lieber Designwirt und mach a g’scheide Fotowirtschaft auf – werde ich in Bosnien machen, wo ich in zwei Wochen das erste Mal hinfahren werde. Herr Lüttge hat für mich ja was in Äthiopien arrangiert, dann wär ich jetzt auch schon in Afrika wie Du. Hab ne Zeit lang überlegt beides zu machen, aber das war mir dann zu krass. Bosnien interessiert mich grad mehr, hab nen sehr interessanten Kontakt und schon einige ziemlich genaue Vorstellungen was ich machen werde, da mich Krieg und gerade die Auswirkungen danach die letzte Zeit sehr beschäftigt haben.
    Sodala, „lass auch mal was hören“ klingt wie ein schlechter Scherz, ich weiß. Es ist toll, wie viel Energie Du nicht nur in bloße Bilder steckst, sondern wie Du jeden an Deiner persönlichen Aufarbeitung Deiner Erlebnisse teilhaben lässt und wie wichtig Dir das alleine schon ist. Da steckt was drin!!! Ich wünsch Dir eine kostbare Zeit, hol raus aus ihr was Du kannst, zeig den Leuten dort so viel von Dir wie uns und pass auf auf Dich, das gleiche und ganz liebe Grüße dazu an Saba

    …an Euch beide. Machts es guad


    PS: Kleiner Tipp: Vielleicht findet Dein bengalischer Kameramitbewohner ja einen neuen Nährboden in Simbabwe und er sieht ein dass es bei so prächtigem Klima was besseres als ein karges graues kaltes finsteres Leicagehäuse gibt. Musst ihm halt gut zu reden…oder genießt er inzwischen die Qualität von weltweit exquesit ausgewählten Bildimpressionen, die er in Sekundenbruchteilen beim Belichten genießen kann?
    Der intelligente Schimmelpilz: Meine Reise durch die Welt im Blick eines Fotografen…

    Noch was, welche email rufst Du ab?

    Hi Jakob…honestly…amazing!!! Before even reading the first word, I see you take to it like a duck to water. First impression: Screen brims over with text. Conclusion: Jakob feels gorgeous. Am I right? Anyway, there is quite something going on and it doesn’t seem to be a walk in the park. Did I expect something else? No. Still: Amazing! All the more since it’s not gibberish that you are writing but instead very touching. What am I reading there, right at the beginning? I am not really yet in writing mood? I feel truly sorry with you!!! What luck that you overcame it so quickly. I wish you all the best and I don’t have to wish anything else. You’ll do the rest yourself, anyway, won’t you?
    I enjoyed the holidays incredibly, the winter gets more and more wicked, I’m totally in a flush, if it’s for me, winter doesn’t have to end at all. The day before yesterday we decided to quit skiing forever, for you should quit when it is most beautiful and it definitely will never be as wicked as it was last sunday with half a metre of powder overnight (that’s exactly how I picture heaven, exactly like this…everything soft and white…everything! As far as you can see.), definitely not, after all I’m riding a sticky tape-wrapped ski (I will ride them until the cows come home and there’s nothing better than proper duct tape) and the next ones will be homemade, anyway, a ski for everything, i. e. carver for parallel drive (???) … complicated … or too trivial for a lower bavarian, for Bangladesh starting lowland sled riding champ in Zimbabwe ( 🙂 that slap comes around, I can feel it already), just that you can see what the winter here is like! I can’t stop sweating…seriously!
    Moreover I bought an A1-printer after the exhibition that doesn’t even fit into my room…maybe I’ll hang this monstrous ironing machine form the ceiling, then I can glue the hanging wallpapers already while printing them…
    I’m going to do my diploma thesis – [this is impssible to translate, I’m sorry] – in Bosnia, where i will go after two weeks for the first time. Mr Lüttge arranged something for me in Ethiopia, then I would be in Africa now, too. I thought for some time about doing both, but then this would have been too much. Currently, I’m more interested in Bosnia, I’ve got a very interesting contact and some clear ideas what I’m going to do there, since war and its impacts kept my mind busy a lot these days.
    Well, “stay in touch” sounds like a bad joke, I know. It’s great to see how much energy you put not only into mere pictures, but how you let everyone take part in your personal processing of the events and how important this alone is already to you. There is something in it!!! I wish you a precious time, make as much of it as possible, show the people there as much of yourself as you show us and take care of yourself, the same and best wishes along with it to Saba

    …to both of you. Best wishes


    PS: Little tip: Maybe your bengal camera inhabitant finds new agars in Zimbabwe and understands that in that marvellous climate there’s something better than a sparse, grey, cold, dim Leica body. You just need to talk nicely to him…or does he meanwhile enjoy the quality of worldwide exquisitley selected image impressions, which he can enjoy for split seconds during the exposure? The intelligent fungus: My journey through the world in the view (finder) of a photographer…

    Something else, which email address do you check?

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