Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ugandan Funeral

A week ago my Ugandan friend died in a motorcycle accident in Kampala. As he was driving back to his house he entered an intersection a couple hundred yards from his house and was hit by a boda-boda mototaxi. He was thrown into a ditch and fractured his skull. He died a short time later next to his bike.

One of my American friends and his coworker got the unfortunate call at three in the morning that he had died and went to the morgue to identify the body. They described it as being straight out of a horror movie with a man squeegeeing blood down the hallway under dim green flickering lights and bodies stacked inside the door.

The death of my Ugandan friend was a huge loss but completely devastating to his wife and three daughters as he had no male heir. As soon as his family heard of his death they visited his widow and tore the house apart looking for the deed to the house and other items of value. In the local culture the widow without a son has few property rights so she moved the fridge, tv, deed, and other important documents to a friends house so they wouldn't be stolen.

My friend's employer provided a death gratuity of $600 or 1.5million Ugandan Shillings, which his extended family immediately demanded to pay for the funeral and expenses. The family then called his former supervisor and asked for more money for other expenses and the funeral, in the end collecting another 2million shillings, but giving none to the grieving widow left with 3 kids and no income.

Two days later the funeral was held in a small village near the DRC border. The former employer chartered a bus that brought 30 former coworkers, including myself and three other muzungos, down the red dirt roads to the remote village in the mountains. My friend was buried next to his father in a corn field next to the house after a two-hour ceremony. His uncle preached a sermon on the shortness of life and family and friends shared a few words about their friend. The most heart-breaking part of the funeral was when the widow and her children stood and a lawyer read her statement that declared that they were married and the kids were theirs biologically and pleaded with family and friends not to abandon them. At the start of the ceremony about 100 people were seated in the shade under the guava trees, but by the end it seemed that most of the village had gathered as there were over 500 people in the crowd. After the funeral a table was set up with piles of local foods like rice and posho and the line began to queue.

We ended up driving as far as Fort Portal before it got too dark to drive back to Kampala. It's not safe to drive on the roads outside of Kampala after dark as none of the roads are lit, people and animals stray all over the roads, and often vehicles are left on the road with no reflectors or warning. We sheltered at the Mountains of the Moon resort. The food was alright, service was poor, and there were no bednets to protect from the mosquitos but the scenery was beautiful. The next day we made it back to town just as the vehicle broke down. The temperature gauge was fluctuating widely and overheating and we had to fill the radiator with water 50km from town. The hills in Kampala finally overheated the vehicle down the street from the office, locking the engine and blocking traffic. 20 mins later we were able to start the vehicle again and got it off the road and into a parking lot where it finally gave up the ghost.

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