Monday, December 10, 2007

Triste Dimas ("Too sad")

Myspace Mood: Sad

We've been here in Guinea-Bissau for long enough now that I don't expect to be surprised by too much anymore. The weather is normal, the garbage everwhere is just part of being here, we hardly notice the smells now, etc. Every once in a while though, you find examples that still make you say "you're kidding, right?"

Recently I was talking to the main computer guy here at the center, his name is Francisco. His grandma is sick and hasn't been getting better for a few months. I don't know what she has, but it's treatable. The hospital here in Bissau is fairly limited in what it can do, but they can fix a lot of problems that are common here. She hasn't been to the hospital though. Why, you ask? It's not because it's a long trip, she lives right here in Bissau. Here ethnic group? Nope, the hospital will treat anyone. Her kids are animist and are saving the money from taking her to the hospital to use for her upcoming funeral. Francisco's mom is a Christian and isn't happy about what they're doing, but the sons are the ones who make decisions, so the poor grandma keeps getting sicker.

If this were just a disfunctional family, it wouldn't be shocking or worth writing about. The reason that it's interesting is that most of the animists (half of the country) would agree that they're doing the right thing. The funeral celebration lasts for several days or a week and is pretty expensive, despite friends helping by bringing animals to eat. They beleive the spirit of the deceased relative stays at the house until this funeral celebration, which is a big (usually drunken) party thrown for the spirit so that it can leave on a good note. So in their mind, it's not that they're killing her by not taking her to the hospital - she's old enough to die, afterall - it's that they're taking care of the most important thing. Dieing, no big deal - but not having a party to release your spirit, that's a problem!

Of course I don't agree with their thinking, but I do understand from their perspective why (theoretically) this is a good idea. However, when the idea meets reality, it doesn't seem as lofty - there's something wrong with someone dancing drunk in the dirt street to a blown-out speaker blaring "Move b*tch, get out da way" as a way to honor their dead grandmother. (A scene I actually witnessed in our neighborhood at a different funeral a few weeks ago.)

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