Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Burial

Leaving the kids sleeping for naptime, with Gladys to watch over them, Jess, Anna, Pastor K, neighbor B, Travis and I made our way to the home of Francis and Sarah. Every covered and shaded area was filled with family and friends. Singing had already begun. Travis sat in the elder katubi with Kisembo and other muzeis. Jess, Anna and I sat on my kitangi on the outskirts of the women. As the family is Catholic, the lay priests shared in Lebwisi. Later, B explained that they spoke both of Jesus Christ and that the death of the child was rumored to be a result of a curse that was place on the child by someone or some action. As we continued to both listen to the liturgy and sing responsive songs, students from Nyahuka Parental Care Primary School, Alpha Primary School, and Christ School Bundibugyo made the number of mourners swell from 200 to 400. Speeches were made by the local councilman and a clan leader. One man rose to speak, but the director of the burial quickly asked him to remain quiet and others escorted him away and sat with him. As Chairman of the Board of Governors for CSB, Travis was asked to give a speech. He shared of our appreciation for the families of Francis and Sarah and gratefulness for our friendship with the couple. He continued that we do not understand why some children are chosen to leave earth at a young age, but we do know that Jason is now in the arms of Jesus. It was the only part of the burial where the group said “amen”.

Following that were more speeches, a reading of the amounts of money that various people and groups contributed to the burial costs and more singing. It was then that one of the brothers on Sarah’s side accused the family of Francis for not doing enough to care for Jason and blamed them for his death. The family leader of Francis countered with yelling until there were 3 or 4 people for each family yelling at each other. The end result was that the wife’s family demanded a payment of several goats. Teacher Desmond came and said candidly to us “Here, there always has to be some confusion.” I could say that about most of my days in Bundibugyo! Apparently, the goat deal was made as the burial of the casket then proceeded.

As a mass group we all followed Francis and Sarah, holding them up as they were weeping and wailing, to the grave down behind the houses. The small casket that was draped in deep purple fabric was laid down and both metal rebarb and then cement was placed over it. Amidst singing was wailing and crying, the most vocal was the mother Sarah, until she passed out and was carried by her sisters. When Travis checked on Sarah, he found that the sisters had placed a plastic bag tightly over her mouth to help her breathe. He showed them how to make it looser and then found himself explaining why she needed more space in the bag for carbon dioxide and oxygen interchange before he remembered that they did not understand English and he did not know the Lebwisi word for carbon dioxide!

Last night when Travis met with the CSB teachers, he asked what ways they could support Francis and Sarah. The immediate need was to help provide for the burial. They also said that they needed to be patient friends as a person is not the same after losing a child. They explained that sometimes the person is angry, or quiet, or loses interest. Their marriage would also need to be supported as clans blaming each other can create a wedge between a husband and a wife. Additionally, they probably owe people a great deal of money for all the medicines and hospital trips they did in search of help for Jason, so financial sharing with them would be a support.

I have been reading “Bwamba: the Functional and Structural Analysis of the Patrilineal Society” and finding it totally interesting and it allows me to have a framework from which to understand this culture in which we live. Among the Bwamba people (which includes the Babwisi), there is a serious belief that there are spirits out who will try to grab your ankle as you are walking alone in places. Those spirits will intend to do you harm and are often sent by local witchdoctors or by angry ancestors who demand a blood sacrifice. So, if sickness, or worse, death occurs and there is no evident explanation, then there needs to be a place to put the blame. If someone dies from being hit by a motorcycle (a common occurrence), then the blame is placed on the driver and a serious penalty is paid. We once witnessed a gasoline tanker hit a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) at an intersection in Kampala. When the tanker driver had seen what he had done, he jumped out of his truck and quickly ran away, leaving his truck abandoned as he knew a mob mentality of justification for the accident he had just caused was imminent. However, if there is no visible reason for the death, such as in the case of a child’s death, then blame must rest somewhere. Thus, families blame each other for lack of care, for bringing a curse, for not appeasing the angry ancestoral spirits. And a blood sacrifice has to be paid. Yesterday, that was one of the reasons why the mother’s family was demanding a payment of goats.

For months now, I have been carrying around an article that appeared in the February 16th Daily Monitor entitled “Only 25% of children with cancer complete treatment.” At that time, I could barely read it as we were mourning the death of Baraba Paul, the boy whom we had tried and tried to provide medical care for by arranging free cancer treatment, through visits to the hospital, by following up in the village, by sending people with him to Kampala so they would not have to be alone, and through the efforts of the kind staff at the Hope Ward at International Hospital Kampala to keep him there, even without parental support. He was given the treatment. He was offered a free and safe place to stay. But it was still too much for his family to leave their village and stay in Kampala. And when they missed their treatments, was it fair to give the very, very limited chemotherapy resources to one in whom the disease had already progressed too far while others are desperate for medicines? The article states that “as many as 1,200 children are admitted to the Uganda Cancer Institute but less than 300 complete medication largely because of the high cost of drugs and other remedies.” And that statistic is just for those who are diagnosed and are able to be admitted to the UCI.

Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the needs here. By the statistics I read. By the number of requests for food, pens, school fees, and medical help. By the lack of resources in developing places like Uganda. By the hopelessness of those who blame each other for the unexplained death of a child. By the pressure on a young couple who has believed in the Amazing Love of God to renounce their faith and turn towards ancestral curses.

And then I am reminded by the most common phrase here, “buke buke” meaning slowly, slowly. For the power of the gospel to make an impact here, a place that is as hard as the sun-baked clay, it takes prayer, sacrifice, patience, love, perseverance, and a faith that God IS working. He promises He is.

Please continue to pray for the faith of Francis and Sarah to be strenghened and for the CSB teachers who surround them. Please pray for their families to understand the love of God through Jesus. Please pray for the students of CSB to have open and receptive hearts today as Master Peter and Travis speak at chapel about God’s power and love. And pray for faith for all of us to continue to bless the name of God even when it doesn’t make sense.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this all. We are praying. May the gospel go forth, may truth be seen, may God be glorified - even if it's "buke buke". Praying to for God to continue to sustain you in your work. So thankful for how your stories encourage me to walk closer to the Lord and to trust Him more with our topsy-turvy world. Love you guys!

  2. very moving Amy, and insightful. Glad you are getting some processing/reflection in the midst of the chaos of death. We are praying.