As Christopher mentioned in an earlier blog, the husband of one of our compound workers died last Sunday. During the week, we and the Okkens went to visit the widow, Lucy, and bring her a small gift of rice and a chicken. As is often the case, it all seemed so surreal.
Earlier that day we had inquired of our local staff how Lucy was faring. They informed us that the official grieving period ended that morning and that Lucy would be returning to her own home as we spoke. Apparently, the village where we had visited the grieving family and burial grounds was the home of the husband’s parents. Lucy lives in another village across the main road behind the mission clinic. I learned that since Lucy had not been paid for in cows, she was not bound by the strict grieving rituals and was now free to move on with life. The dowry system here is deep rooted and yet gradually rotting away as the people have fewer and fewer cows. Only one generation ago, husbands would pay a dowry of cows (sometimes up to 100) for a wife. The wife would then become officially part of the husband’s family. Should the husband die before the wife, she would shave her head, wear his clothing and not be able to leave her home for some time. Since the population of cows has decreased and guns have been removed diminishing the number of successful raids, most dowries are only partially paid upon marriage. Until the husband pays all the cows for his wife, she remains living with her family and retains some independence. In many cases, the wife who is not fully paid for is treated better since her father can always choose to take her back. Lucy is no exception to these stratified expectations.
We were guided to Lucy’s home by one of Caleb’s friends who proudly clutched the white chicken to his chest. As we ducked under the acacia laced entryway, I took in the scene. There were three or four mud and thatch structures for sleeping, livestock and storing grain. A handful of women were sitting in the shade while a plethora of children were wondering about. When we found Lucy we were offered a bench and chair. At first no one said anything. Chris and I were both conscious of our limited Karimajong. All of us were silenced by the gravity of the situation. Sometimes no words are best.
As we were sitting down, a local community leader, Teacher Mark, joined the group. He was the first to break the silence. I didn’t catch everything he was saying, but he was obviously offering advise and encouragement with some references to Akuj (God). Throughout Teacher Mark’s speech and the following pleads by Lucy’s neighbors on her behalf, Lucy was silent and downcast. It was only as we rose to leave, did she speak up and then only about arrangements for returning to work.
It is a common admonition here to “put a stone in your heart” when you lose a child or spouse. Grief is not acknowledged as something to be felt, embraced and then healed. It simply cannot be beyond the confines of their cultural rituals. Death visits their doorsteps so frequently that they’ve learned to cope by shutting off emotion.
Lucy is young, beautiful and well employed. She has three children and a large supportive family. By all cultural accounts, she is well-off. I’m sure that was all included in Teacher Mark’s admonitions. However, I do pray that she will mourn and heal.