There have been blue plastic lawn chairs in our street for the last three days, with groups of people milling around. Each day the people have become fewer but nevertheless some are still there.
Our guard informed us a couple of days ago that a neighbour had died and that the family had all gone off to the hospital. We noticed the chairs and the people the next day. I knew enough to realize that if I wanted to be a half decent neighbour I had to put in an appearance and greet the family. At the same time I also know that I need to learn the appropriate behaviours for such a setting. Funerals and funeral homes have never been my favourite things. (I know one preacher who told me funerals were his favourite because he was pretty much in control—at weddings everybody has an opinion about who should stand where and what they should say, etc.) I find funerals awkward because I know that generally there at least a few people who are grieving beyond words, and the people who attempt to use words end up putting their foot in their mouth. On the other hand there’s always a few people joking around in the background and the two together just don’t fit. I remember one funeral I led where a distant uncle of the deceased wanted to tell me (the preacher!) dirty jokes to see if I had a ‘sense of humour’.
We consulted with our language teacher as to what should be said at such moments. Here is the brief list of things that are to be said to the grieving:
Fonda tilas!—Greetings to the obligation!
Irikoy m’a yaafa a m’a suuji—May God (literally ‘Our Chief’) forgive him (the deceased) and be gracious to him
Irikoy m’a te alzanna ize- May God make him a child of paradise
The family responds by saying:
Irikoy m’aran no a sufuray—May God give you a reward. (That is for paying your respects to the dead)
To each blessing/wish is responded with an “Amin” (amen).
This morning we got up our courage and went to “greet our obligation”. We greeted the few who gathered in the street and then followed a young man who led us to the mother of the deceased sitting with two other women while the grieving widow was secluded from view nearby. They graciously welcomed us and the mother waved her little hand fan at Jennifer and I to make us comfortable in the heat. We shared our condolences and made some small talk and then took our leave. Back in the street another neighbour and her toddler chatted with us in the street for a few moments. “Tonton, Tanti,” the little one called us—“Uncle and Auntie”. We did our best with our Zarma, since her mother doesn’t speak French and then carried on with our day. Please pray for our neighbours, widows and orphans are all too common in Niger and life that is difficult at the best of times here can be come all the more difficult when you lose a loved one.