Cry-Die (Woah Woah.)
My landlord’s wife woke me up yesterday when she called me at 6:30 in the morning. She asked where Mami was. I told her that she had spent the night in Mbengwi town, working on her farm, that she would be back in the evening. We hung up and I went back to sleep. Fifteen minutes later, a motorcycle pulled up. Someone was yelling, wailing, woah-woah-ing. In my mid-waking stupor, I thought it was a madman. After 10 minutes, I got up and went outside. The compound was already lined with people sobbing, men on one side, women on the other, like a middle school dance. The motorcycle had carried Mami back from Mbengwi. In the small patch of grass at the center of my compound, she was on her hands and knees pounding on the ground, yelling in Meta. When she saw me, she crawled toward me, sobbing, “That my son. That my son for Mbingo. That my son doctor.” I bent down and put my hand on her shoulder and said, “Ashia, my mother. Way, ashia, ashia, I’m sorry.” She said, “Thank you,” and crawled away. Over the past day and a half, people have come and gone out of the compound, but the women didn’t just come up to give condolences, they came up screaming and wailing. When they arrived in the middle of the compound, they fell on the grass and pounded the ground. Everyone cried with them, and would finally pick the newcomer up. Then things would calm, people would sob quietly until the next person came in, crying and yelling. She would fall on the ground, everyone would cry and fall with her, then eventually pick her up. (Talk about a metaphor.) This will continue day and night, for about another five days, until they bury her son behind our compound.
Cry-dies are something that I usually just pass, or hear in the distance. But I can’t really avoid this one because it’s in my front yard. Mami’s son, a man who worked for the monastery in Mbengwi, has been sick for some time. He was in a hospital in Yaoundé for the past two months or so. They moved him to the hospital in Mbingo (a town in the Northwest Province) about two weeks ago. They said he was improving, then he died sometime during the night on Monday.
Times of grief here are interesting, at least for me, because for the majority of the time, people here remain stoic regardless of the circumstance. I have only seen a grown Cameroonian cry once outside of the context of death. When they lose someone, however, it’s no holds barred. They scream, they cry, they sing low, mournful “woah woah” refrains for hours on end. And they collapse in the dirt. I think that part of it is especially telling of their expression of grief because, for the most part, they’re such clean people. If I sit on a stone on the ground or on the church steps, everyone will say, “Aye! You will dirty yourself!” I don’t much care; it brushes off, but they think it’s crass. Even 3-year-old Wee-Mah will say, “Auntie Lindsay, Hope-Mah will dirty you, na!” if I pick her little sister up off the ground.
This being my first full-on cry-die, it’s interesting and also slightly trying. Yes, watching 50 people mourn in my front yard is moving, but it becomes less moving and more tiresome as the days wear on and I’m kept awake all night. Plus, I have no idea how to respond to everything and it seems like everything I do is wrong. If I were truly integrated, I would be weeping and crawling on the ground with them, but, one: I’m not moved to that level, and two: I think it might seem like I was just making fun if I gave up my composure like that. I don’t know if I can greet people when I come into the compound, whether they’re crying or not. They only respond quietly, and certainly don’t go out of their way to greet me when I come in like they usually do. Do you not greet during times of sorrow? I brought sugar cane and kola back with me after a hike yesterday for everyone. They accepted it quietly, and didn’t shake my hand and say, “Thank you!” like they usually do. Do you not give food in times of sorrow? So for the most part, I just stay in my house when I’m here and go about my life as usual. But that seems like I’m just ignoring everything and not giving due gravity to the situation. I don’t really know how to respond, and I’m afraid that I’m losing a few points with these people.
So like any normal 20-something, when confronted with a circumstance difficult and potentially daunting, I’m running. Yesterday I ran for four hours and took a 5-mile hike up into the mountains. This weekend, I’ll run again, before the body gets here. But in all fairness, I had these plans before the man died. So really, I’m not fleeing, but I’m not fighting the current pulling me away. Yes, I feel guilty about that. No, the guilt will not override my urge to avoid certain levels of discomfort. Ashia.
Some Fulani men I met on my hike yesterday.
...Nothing to do with the cry-die.
I just like the pictures.