I went to a learner's funeral over the weekend. This is now the second funeral I have been to since I have been here, which equals the number of funerals I have been to in my entire life thus far.
It was absolutely shocking when I came in to school last week to find out one of the grade 5 learner's had passed away that morning. It was like a smack in the face. I am unsure if death is more common here, which I have a feeling it is, but it is more in the open for which the evidence is abundant. It is obvious when a funeral is happening because people set up small circus tents outside of their homes for the services. One of the few thriving businesses in these small villages are funeral homes. When asking about someone's weekend plans, with few exceptions the answer is "attend funerals". And I have been startled on a couple of occasions to here people singing songs all night as part of the funeral ritual.
While the funeral is out in the open and the respect for the person is cherished. The cause of death is usual not talked about. "They were sick" is a common answer or "They just died" is given exhaustively. The mindset that perhaps some deaths can be delayed is not well ingrained.
I felt compelled to learn more about why this learner had died. It is ridiculous to think I was teaching her what the pieces of the chess board were like just a few days prior. Luckily her principal was less reserved than most others when I asked her about the details of the learner's death. She had TB. When probed further about illnesses in general she mentioned that few parents know of their children's ailments (or even their own) and furthermore would not divulge it if they did know. Apparently the people here attribute these ailments to witchcraft thus do not wish to discuss it lest they be accused of witchcraft themselves or to be further cursed. This is only from one source but I know there is an underlying belief in witchcraft among many people. Whether most extend it to TB and AIDS I do not know.
This recent turn of events motivated me to visit the local clinic. I was suppose to do this anyway but it had a much more urgent feel to it now. I asked about the common things people come in for which unsurprisingly were colds and minor aches and pains related to getting older. When asked about the rates of TB and AIDS in the community I was stunned. The clinic manager was unsure but put his best guess at 5O% and 5-10% respectively. It completely changes my view of this community. Half the people here have TB! My self-preservation instinct kicked in and caused me to become a temporary hypochondriac. "My lymph nodes do feel a little tender". Then this revelation put everyone's actions into a new light. "Of course they don't want to balance this reaction they are probably tired since they most likely have TB".
This reality has reminded me that I am a small force in this world. I think it is despicable that people are making irrational choices that have killed. Moreover they are making them for their children who have no choice in the matter. But what can be done to change a cultural belief formed against reason? They clearly are missing the signs that whatever anti witchcraft they are practicing is not working against TB. I will say what I need to say and teach where I need to but this will only be changed by generational conquest. Hopefully they won't be to tired to listen when I talk.