Sunday, 23 January 2011

The funeral

This week (10th Jan) has been quite mixed. I have been chatting a lot more with the young staff at the office since our workload has cooled down from the mayhem of December budget submissions. It has been great to see them relax a lot more around me, knowing I can speak a little Indonesian with them or that I am willing to help them with their English. They have been telling me that I should take time to chat more, and work less and we have laughed at each other discovering they don’t like to disturb me when I am working, and I they, resulting in a polite standoff! We have a better balance now, although I notice when the boss is around, they never chat, or at least, they leave the room to do it.

However, on the low side, my neighbour who is also my landlord died. He was an older gentleman who had already suffered a stroke, which meant his youngest (I think) daughter came back from Java to look after him. He was a very nice man, very considerate, quiet, calm and intelligent man, who kept an ear out around my house to know that I was fine, who got up at 4:30 am to wash before prayer, who offered to keep my motorbike in his living room so I didn’t have to put it in the neighbours garden.
I had some friends round at mine for on Tuesday, when we saw a lot of bikes and people going into the neighbours house. It seemed odd as I’d never seen that before, and the next thing I knew, I was told he had died. I got a real shock, and my friend Arie said he would join me to visit and pay our respects to the daughter.
So, we sat in their garden, on plastic seats which were laid out as if there was a garden wedding going on. Plastic canopies were raised for the imminent rain, and outdoor lighting put up, it was all so efficient, I was shocked. Everyone was chipping in to pass round water, or trays of tobacco and people sat outside to give strength to the family, respectfully chatting in whispers.
At about 11pm we left, and I went home to have a good sleep.
The next day we attended again, this time in the afternoon, for the departure of the body to the tomb at the mosque. We had to sit three hours because the man’s wife was delayed in the air from Java. The family had to beg the ministers (not sure what you call a muslim religious leader), to allow them to keep the tomb open long enough for her to be there, and it wasn’t very pleasant to see a proud adult man pushing back tears begging some angry sounding elders to respect his family wishes.
They had to rewash the body during this wait, and the smell blew out to the garden where we sat and startled me. I found it a bit stressful, I didn’t really know what was going on, I hadn’t seen Yanti, the daughter I knew from the house and was worrying about her as she has been looking skinny and ill lately anyway, I didn’t understand why some people were sitting and others hanging around smoking on the street. The time to contemplate made me think about people from home, and generally I felt sad and unable to talk. It was therefore a long three hours.
When the wife finally arrived, things turned frenzied. The crowd stood from the chairs, oohing and gasping, peering over each other trying to get a view of the old lady struggling to get out of the van. Then she yelled and cried loudly as she was aided to walk into the house, past all the staring faces, and then it set others off. It was the first time I had seen anyone in the crowd show sorrow, and it confused me, death is a different thing here.
So no sooner had she arrived then they had to get her husband to the tomb because the sun was starting to go down. I averted my eyes so as not to see the body being laid on the wooden bed, but looked back round in time to see that he was wrapped in white cloth, just as they covered him with the cradle and cloth cover. Then the men lifted him onto their shoulders and his grandchildren ran, crying, through the middle of them, underneath him. The crowd were really all over the place now, taking pictures, trying to get close, showing concern for the children and the body. One girl even fainted and collapsed on the floor. The neat lines of chairs were all squashed up or stacked to be out of the way of people who wanted to be up close and part of this tradition. Then they loaded him into a car and we all dispersed.
A lot of people were hanging out on my porch because the tradition is that people are there for three days. I tried to stay in my room with the curtains shut and no music on to be respectful, but it was an uneasy feeling because I wasn’t sure if I should be bringing them tea, chatting with them or what.
The next day, on my way home from a relaxing walk on the beach, to get some space, and give some space, I was invited to meet the wife. She was very proud to introduce me to all her children which was nice and I thought its probably the first time in years they have all been together and at least she could find comfort in that. I only met three of them before because the others live on Java island. Before I left, they invited me to join a service at their home the next night.

NOTE: if you are squeamish, stop reading here and scroll down a bit.
The family were given two goats and a chicken, who have been living in our shared back garden / drying green the last couple of days. However, as I made my peanut butter and jam sandwich this morning, I heard a very disturbing sound from a goat and wondered, did they just slit its throat? A lot of people were going back and fore past my kitchen window and I decided my instinct was right. I admit it crossed my mind to peep out of my toilet window to see, but then I decided I wouldn’t really like to see a bleeding animal so despite curiosity, I didn’t bother. When I left the house to head to work, I said morning to a few men sitting on the porch and saw behind them an almost fully skinned goat, hanging from the clothes pole with a bucket of blood below. I was glad to already be prepared for it by being aware of what was going on, and I was surprised at myself for not totally jumping or dropping the keys. I think I didn’t really look once I saw what it was, and just walked on, without chatting to the men. I’m not a vegetarian, and I eat meat, so I shouldn’t be upset by the scene. I’ve heard it’s a humane way to kill an animal, and I think if they are going to eat the animal then it’s just a fact of life....but I probably won’t hang my washing there for a while! 
**** Start reading again squeamish peeps!
After work I offered to help because about 20 people seemed to be busy with cooking duties in the garden, the drying green and in the house. One old lady decided to give me a tour and explain to me what all the food was, and asked me to try it all...which included the satayed goat, poor goat. It tasted like liver and was probably the freshest meat I’d ever eaten, but I couldn’t enjoy it. No-one would let me do anything though, so after the tour I just headed to the house.
I joined them later in the evening and was introduced to a grandchild of 14 who had very good English so passed some time talking to her, at first with an intrigued audience and much to the delight of her proud mother. She was a very bright kid with ambitions I am sure she will achieve to be a doctor. We ate the feast that had been prepared over the course of the day and then I went home. I wondered as I got ready to sleep where did they get all the plates from for all those people? And where did they get all the giant pots from? Did Yanti always have 3 ovens on that table in her kitchen? People in Indonesia are really self sufficient when it comes to food.
RIP old neighbour dude.
My neighbour Yanti, her mother and one of her brothers, Erwan.

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