After the first world cup game, I had to rush back to my site because a student at my school had passed away a few weeks earlier and the funeral was the next day. I taught this student in health class in a class of 70 kids, so I did not know him very well but it was still jarring to have a student pass away. He had been sick for some time and went to see the traditional healer. He did not get better so they said he was possessed by witches. One day at school, he was kicked hard in the chest while playing soccer. He came to school the next day and complained of chest pain. He did not get better so he was taken to the hospital where he died later that day.
The day of the funeral, the school arranged a bus to pick students and teachers up and drive to the site of the funeral. We were supposed to meet at 8. I was the first one at school at 815. Most students and teachers showed up around 9 (everything happens late here). We got a call around 915 that the bus that was to take us to the funeral had “broken down beyond repair” and was therefore not going to come. We scrambled to hire a few taxis to bring us. The cell network was down that day so that made it very difficult to contact anyone. After a few hours, we finally all arrived at the site.
The funeral was supposed to start at 10. We got there at approximately 1, so who knows when it actually started. My guess is 11. At a Basotho funeral, there are speeches by anyone who wants to give them about the deceased. We arrived during these speeches. I could not understand much as it was all in Sesotho. After the speeches, we were walked through a small building where the body was being held (similar to a wake). We paid our respects while students from the school sang hymns. When everyone had gone through, the coffin was carried up a hill to the grave site. The family members took turns shoveling dirt on the grave. When they were finished, all the men (including me) took turns filling in dirt until it was completely covered. During this whole time, members of the crowd sang hymns. It was very solemn. A priest said a prayer and the service concluded around 330. We then were given food (I ate and then helped serve) and waited for the taxis to return us to school.
It was similar to funerals in the US except that the wake, funeral, and reception were all in one. The night before there is a vigil held, where people can come and sing and pray throughout the night. We did not attend this, however. Also the ceremony is much longer than in the US. It can last 6 to 8 hours. Talking to people before the ceremony, I had gathered that people here viewed death much differently. People complained about having to go to so many funerals and talked of dead relatives almost off handedly. I had gathered that some here treated death as another part of life and it was not such an earth shattering event as it can be in the US. But after viewing this funeral, seeing tears on almost everyone’s faces, including males who are discouraged from showing emotion, my perception changed. I was under the impression that the human life was not valued highly. I see now that that is not the case. The high incidence of HIV here and the difficult living conditions make death pretty common and funerals regular events. This could desensitize people toward death. I thought that was the case. I see now that loss of life, especially a loved one, is not taken for granted and the sadness is real both here and in the US.