Breakfast was brief. While I sat and finished, Job ran out to find someplace to print up Kevin's letter. We would later decide that Caleb will translate it for me. We picked him up on our way to Sammy's home. The rains last night made the roads rather difficult to navigate and we had to get out of the car before reaching our destination because we were stuck in the mud. Hakuna matata.
As we came upon the grounds, wit one exception, the tents were full of people. The main area contained nothing but empty chairs. Dan's wife (Sam's sister-in-law) insisted that we take a
seat in the second row on the right hand side, so that is exactly what we did. We would soon learn that this area was reserved for members of the Israel Church of Kenya. Members were coming from all over Kenya to pay homage to the man they called, "The Commander." Once again, men were on one side and women on the other with about 15 chairs facing the assembly. Those chairs were reserved for the area Bishops. Sam's wives and daughters sat in the front row of the women while his boys occupied the row in front of us. While we sat, smoke was rising in the distance from the blistering fires that were roaring, indicating the food was being prepared. That smoke continued well after the ceremony ended. There were over 500 people there - it takes awhile to cook for that many. I could see the butcher slaughtering a ram in the background. I'll be sticking with kuku (chicken). Not far from the kitchen was Sam's grave. Sammy and his open casket rested at the entrance to his home.
The ceremony began with singing and prayer and followed a similar flow to what transpired in the church yesterday.
I was the 5th one to be called up. I told them that I was honored to be among them and that my family held them all in their hearts, and that they would continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. I commented on Sam’s strength and how he carried himself. I also suggested that we pray for St. Peter, “When Sam greets St Peter with his legendary hug and “Hallow, hallow, hallow,” let’s pray that he doesn’t hug him so tightly that it causes him to drop the keys.” I got a chuckle from the crowd.
Before handing over the microphone to Caleb who stood off to the side with a copy of Kevin’s letter, I told the congregation that I would let Kevin’s letter speak for our family, adding that his testament would be more powerful than anything I might say. The truth was that no matter how many times I practice reading the letter myself, I was always brought to tears. Caleb approached and spoke to the crowd in their native tongue before he began reading. As I stood a few feet away, he picked up the letter and began reading the words…. IN ENGLISH! The letter was greeted with applause and this time the MC related the stories Kevin told in Doluo so that everyone heard them. As we walked away, I said, “Caleb! What happened? I could have done that?” “I’m sorry Adam, but I could not translate it quickly enough.” No worries, everyone heard it. John Aguso came to me once I was seated and said, “You did a good thing reading Kevin’s letter. His words were very strong. Thank you for that.” Kevin really loved Sam… we all did.
|Sam's first born, Alex|
|Sam's sister Ann - she was pretty|
The speakers continued to be called up and emerged from tents scattered in what was once Sam’s corn field (he called it his “office”). At one point, Sam’s eldest sister Ann was talking to his ex-wives. I leaned over to Job and said, “Is she as angry as she appears to be?” Oh yeah. She was casting aspersions on the ladies for leaving Sam. She continued to blame their mothers for not raising them right. Yikes! Clearly, this was not going to go unanswered, and sure enough, the ex-wives brothers came up to defend their sisters. I thought this would be the only time the train went off the tracks, but then the politicians came up. I’ll get to that later. The majority of speakers told of Sam’s character, his strength, his honesty and his love. Many also spoke of his prowess on the ceremonial drum used at all services (hence the name, “The Commander). One son from each wife spoke. Alex started and gave a wonderful speech about his father and how much he will miss him. Next came Antoni. Antoni struggled and Alex rose to his
|Sam's son Antoni|
feet and went to his side. He spoke of how they struggled as children after their mom left and how his father did the best he could. Sam’s other sons sat with tears in their eyes as Antoni fought through his own.
Others continued to come up; some in pairs, some alone to give testimony about Sam. The clouds were rolling in and sky was getting quite dark so the man leading the ceremony would cue them when it was time to wrap it up. They all followed his instruction quite well... then came the politicians. Local chiefs come to these events so it’s very common. I guess its akin to having a free audience, and this was a big one.
The highest ranking official spoke first, and he called every other politician out of the audience to speak… even the ones that were reluctant to come… even the guy that LOST the last election. They began to get the crowd fired up and had to be reminded that this was a church and the ceremony was for Sammy. John Oguso’s patience ran thin and eventually he stepped in to stop it all.
Once they left, we were told that it was time to bury Sam. We walked to his home and gathered around the casket. It was lifted so that his feet were at the door and his head was furthest from the house. This was an absolutely mandatory custom. “The deceased needs to know that he can walk back home if he needs to, so his feet face the door.”
Interestingly, between two trees there was what I can only describe as a picture display – dozens of headshots in varying sizes. I thought it was pictures of people who had recently passed. “No, sah, these are pictures of people hee-yah.” Wow. What a racket. Go to a funeral, have your picture taken, then buy the picture of you sitting at the funeral. I did tell you that Kenyans document everything, right? This was an interesting set up, too. It appeared to be adhesive tape stretched between two trees. The tape ran vertically and horizontally enabling the people printing the pictures to move them around on a pretty large grid. Sadly, I never saw mine… although I would have purchased it just to show you.
A procession wandered around the grounds singing and banging drums breaking intermittently so that prayers could be read. We eventually arrived at Sam’s grave. While the clergy prayed, the casket was lowered into the ground. I didn’t notice until afterwards that the crowed was divided as if they were still in the tents – men on one side, women on the other. Once lowered, each of the boys grabbed a fistful of dirt from shovel and tossed it on the casket. Tears were flowing pretty freely now. So was the rain. I was glad that I gave Alex a cloth that I had. I should have ripped it in half… I could have used it. The crowd in front of me started to part, calling me to the front where Sam’s sons were. A man held out a shovel that the boys used and I grabbed a handful. When I tossed it onto Sam it made a deafening thud; an exclamation point on the ending of Sam’s life. I really could have used that cloth.
After that, men from the crowd jumped onto the pile of dirt with two hoes and two shovels and began filling in the hole. When they grew weary, others would take over. Job jumped in to do his part as well. Once that task was complete, the clergy and members of the church continued back to the tents singing and dancing and praising God and Christ. I found myself standing alone over his grave. One final “kwaheri” before walking away. Job told me to be strong. I was trying.
As we made our way back to the tents through the wet reddish soil, people stopped me to shake my hand or give me a hug. Every one of them thanked me for being there. The rain continued so we made the decision to head back to the hotel. We stopped to see Dan one more time. He gave me a hug reminiscent of Sam’s. We’ll be back to see him and John on Monday. We got in the car and drove back in silence.
Tomorrow is a new day.