Today I went to my first Lesotho funeral. M'e Nthabiseng's brother-in-law died, and she said it would be a great honor to her if I would attend the funeral. M'e Nthabiseng works for M'e Mamoabi and Ntate Joseph...she's an all round helper...cooks, watches the grandson, does the laundry, shopping, etc. Now M'e Nthabiseng is really very sweet, but she speaks hardly any English; when I politely ask her (in Sesotho) to repeat and slow down, she just talks louder!!! I knew I couldn't disrespect her by not showing up, and I also knew that she'd be showing me off to everyone...talking in Sesotho!! So I asked M'e Amelia, Ntate's daughter-in-law...who speaks quite a bit of English and who lives on the compound...to go with me. BACKGROUND: M'e Amelia was married to Ntate and M'es second oldest son. He divorced her, but she is still the mother of his two girls and still the property of Ntate and M'e. The children., two adorable young ladies, live with the father and his new mistress in Johannesburg, S.A. M'e Amelia agreed to all this because the children were going to an international school in J'burg at the time of the divorce; she felt it would be best for them to stay in J'burg so that they could finish their educations at the international school. So, here's this fairly well educated divorced woman living in rural Tabola with the in-laws and seeing her children only a few times a year! Harsh life, but M'e Amelia seems to be content. On with the story. M'e Amelia agreed to go to the funeral with me (she was going anyway). She told me to be ready at 11 A.M., wear a skirt, cover my head from the sun and be prepared to wait, wait, wait.
I put on my Basotho seshweshwe, lots of sun lotion and my straw hat, and off we went at 11 A.M. We walked down a little path and through some windings, and found ourselves some of the first to arrive. M'e said, “Let's find some shade; I think it's going to be a while.” When I asked how long the service would be, she said, “There's really no service; family members run the show. They each get up and talk about the deceased, along with lots of singing of hymns. When the family has had its say, the friends get up and talk. The funeral usually lasts 3 to 5 hours.” I took a deep breath and wished I had brought my insect repellent along!! We sat down beneath a peach tree and waited. Others slowly began to arrive, family members heading toward the compound, others finding spots in the shade like us. At 1:15 P.M. the first person began to speak (yea Basotho time). It was the deceased's brother. It is the job of a family member to explain about the person's death to everyone at the funeral.
Actually, the talking and singing only took about an hour...thank goodness because I kept trying to move my burning feet, shoulders, etc. from the hot sun. Finally, we all stood up and made a procession behind the casket; we followed it out of the compound and around a few hills, turns, etc. until we came to the spot where the casket would be buried. The body was laid to rest, we sang some more and then went back to the compound for a feast of stempo (similar to hominy), chicken and gravy.
M'e Nthabiseng was serving the food, and when she saw me she was so proud and happy! I'm truly glad I went (even if my nose is peeling again!).