Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Making an Orphan/Going to Burial

Going to burial is quite normal for us out in the bush. When someone dies and is well known, typically everything- and I mean EVERYTHING- shuts down. It’s not abnormal to go into Kiwoko town expecting to buy something, only to find the owner has gone to a burial and the store is locked up. But no worries, he’ll be back within a few hours because though nothing starts on time in Africa, burials are the one thing that do. The normal burying time is 2 or 4 in the afternoon, and you have to be careful to keep time. Even if you are ten minutes late you could miss the entire burial!
I was surprised to find Kazungu at the Institute that morning. He was there to see Rukundo (the family father of Pacific) to tell him that his father had died. When I saw him he told me the news. I was a bit shocked and felt sad for him. When I put my arm around him to offer a hug, he seemed stiff and almost uncaring. What is he feeling and thinking? His dad has died! Why does he seem emotionless?
Kazungu’s story is a sad one. I first met him back in 2002 when I first came to New Hope. Over the years I had coached him in football (soccer) and spent time with him mentoring him on a one on one basis. Last year he suddenly wasn’t around anymore. I randomly saw him in Kiwoko one day and asked him what had happened. I was stunned by the story. Let me give you a bit of background first, though.
When Kazungu was only four years old he was brought to New Hope by his Auntie. It was told that his father had been very old when he was born and his parents had now died leaving him in a very needy situation. She had children of her own to care for and could no longer care for the small boy. She requested that New Hope take the child, and after doing some investigating in the community New Hope agreed and Kazungu was moved into Pacific family.
Now an 18 year old young man, Kazungu was in essence raised by New Hope. His “father” had become Rukundo, the family father of Pacific since 2002 (though Rukundo had also grown up at New Hope and is the same tribe as Kazungu). But Kazungu’s life had been lived as a lie.
For fourteen years he was made to keep the secret that his father was still alive. When holidays came and he went to be with relatives in the community, Kazungu often stayed with his father. On occasion Kazungu’s father even came to visit him at New Hope, though he introduced himself as the boy’s uncle. Though at times Kazungu wanted to come out and tell the truth, fear held him paralyzed and kept his mouth closed. He knew that if he told the truth and was found to have two living parents, he would lose everything, his “free” education would be forfeit and his “family” would be lost. Living among orphans, though his father was still alive, he himself had became an orphan at heart.
When the truth came out it was as Kazungu feared. He could no longer live at New Hope and he was taken to his father who was rebuked and charged to take responsibility for his son. But his father did not pick up the challenge and left his son as an orphan to find his own way. Kazungu moved into Kiwoko town and without any help from his father he was somehow able to come up with school fees to study in Kiwoko. He spent a lot of time hungry, finally discovering that he could eat if he would only sell marijuana. As he watched those he sold the drugs to deteriorate in mind and body, he gave up selling, looking to his football skills to get him through school.
That was where I met Kazungu that day his “father” had died. He asked if I was coming to the burial, and I answered that I would be there. I picked up Rukundo at a quarter to two and we set off to Katoke, where Kazungu’s father had lived. Along the way Rukundo explained how recently Kazungu had started coming back around. He said that Kazungu had finally realized that New Hope really IS his family, and even if he’s not living at New Hope, he is still welcome as a “son”.
Rukundo also explained to me that it was not Kazungu’s father who had died but his uncle. Shocked, I was reminded that in the local culture there is no distinction between a father and an uncle. The uncles are still “fathers” to their nephews and share responsibility for various needs while carrying the same name of “father”.
Katoke is only about a 10 minute drive from New Hope, and I expected the burial to take place somewhere near to the trading center. We arrived and veered off on what looked like a foot path that winded around the houses in the center of town (when I say around, I’m talking three feet from the houses!), winded around trees, children playing and coffee drying in the sun. As we drove deeper and deeper into the bush I was wondering where we would come out.
Finally, we came to a place where I was told to park the vehicle; we would walk the rest of the way. I could hear singing off in the distance, so I knew that we were not far from where the burial was taking place. I was wearing a nice button up collared shirt, brown khaki pants (trousers if you’re British : ), and my new black leather sandals. We were out in bush bush, cow grazing land, with trees and high grass all around us. It was quite a beautiful scene, one I often think to when I think of “village” in Uganda. Off to the side an old man was grazing his cattle. He came towards us speaking Luganda. I saw him pointing to both sides of us, speaking sharply. I looked at Rukundo who told me there was marsh all around us. We were in the valley and it had been raining, so it was not strange to find wet ground. The question was how could we get through it? The answer was that there was no way around; we just had to walk through.
I began walking with hopes that I could step on patches of grass without getting my feet wet, but one slosh and I could feel the cool muddy water between my toes. I took off my sandals as quickly as I could, rolled up my pants and plowed ahead. The music was becoming louder and we all felt the pressure to get there before the body was in the ground. I made it through the “mud walk” without getting too dirty beyond my feet, which I wiped off with grass once we made it through the marsh. We arrived just in time to see the body placed into the grave. A sheet of iron roofing was laid over the casket followed by rocks. The sound of the rocks on the iron sheet is always a shock to my senses, loud and sharp, a reminder of how “raw” death and burial is in this culture.
A quick history was read about the man’s life- where he had gone to school, how far he made it in terms of class, how many children he had and other various achievements of his life. We prayed and then various men took turns pulling the dirt back into the hole using hoes. I stood with Rukundo as Kazungu came up and stood with us. We hugged him and spoke our regrets to him for the loss of his uncle. It was then that Rukundo pointed out Kazungu’s father. I was filled with emotion, anger mixed with pity for the old man. He had caused his son to become an orphan and was still refusing to truly care for him. Kazungu told me that his father had never gone to school and was happy to see him just take care of cattle for the rest of his life. Kazungu wanted to study and make a life outside of simply caring for cows. It was a battle of the ages, one that Kazungu was left to fight alone.
Once the burial was over, I was surprised to find that there was another ceremony taking place. The uncle who had died and left no sons to inherit the estate. He had a wife and four daughters. Kazungu’s older brother was put in charge of the estate which consisted of caring for the wife and daughters (until they married), the house, the land and the cows.
I was also surprised to find that they had buried the man within the circular cow pen, the place right in front of the house where the cattle are put in at night. It was a strange placement of a grave. When I asked Rukundo about it, he told me that the body was buried there so that at night it would be protected from the “night dancers”. Night dancers are demonically possessed men who wander at night and cause much fear in the hearts of most Ugandans. It is said that if you are out at night and meet a night dancer, they will kill you instantly. The burying of the body within the circle was to ensure that the night dancers did not come in the night, dig up the body and eat the flesh! I was again reminded of the great fear that drives the practices of most Ugandans on a daily basis, especially those who are not Christians.
As I walked back through the marsh with my sandals in hand, I wasn’t as fortunate as I had been on the previous pass. Mud splashed up onto my legs and trousers as I walking thinking more about Kazungu then where I was stepping. I rode back home thinking about education and its effect on families in Uganda. Though education tends to be an “idol” in Uganda, what some call “the god of education”, it is still an important part of the growth and development of the country, yet it often comes at the expense of families working and being together. For Kazungu, it has come at the cost of his heart. Yet even as Kazungu was made an orphan, the Father of the fatherless yet has purposes and plans for this young man. It is my privilege to work with New Hope and to count Kazungu as one of my “sons”, and you know what, he’s just beginning to realize the true family that God has given him in place of his own.
Please pray for Kazungu and the other orphans that we work with on a day to day basis. Pray that the Father of the fatherless would break in on their hearts, bringing true and genuine healing of heart. Physical needs can be met, education can be provided, but unless the heart is healed, then the life will not be made whole.