Friday, August 21, 2009

One last journey to his final resting place

Once the passage of the body and spirit had been greased with goat's blood, it was time to bring the casket carrying the remains of my father in law from the family compound and take it out into the world for one last journey to his final resting place.

My father in law, Kpakpo Mensah, served more than 18 years in the Ghana military, retiring as a Warrant Officer II. As such, he was entitled to a military burial. One soldier played Taps on a bugle as others shouldered the casket.

They carried the casket, shrouded in the Ghana flag, over the threshhold where the goat was bled for the dead man's spirit.

The soldiers carried the flag-draped casket down the dirt alley where, on the final morning of the Homegoing ceremony, we would release the dead man's spirit with libations.

Everyone wearing the white fabric with the black chief motif print is a close family member who got the memo that this was the pattern we all would be wearing throughout the Homegoing.

The hearse was waiting on the paved road that would lead us out of Nima, a shantytown in the city center of Accra, Ghana, where my wife's family is based.

The hearse was a Mercedes. You can live and die in very high style in Accra, even in Nima.

We filed past the hearse to the paved road to find our own transportation to the military cemetery.

Life in Nima continued on all around us, with street sellers plying their wares, which they carry stacked on the tops of their heads.

My wife Karley, our niece Vida and a close family friend waited on the street for my wife's sister, Mary Magdalene.

The soldier who had played Taps was the man with the plan.

Most conversations in Ghana are carried out in local languages, which I have not been able to learn, and the pace is usually too fast for me to stop anyone for translations, so I spend a lot of time reading body language.

Karley and the other immediate children of the old man were in mourning black and would wear their chief motif outfits the next day at the Sunday reception.

When I saw this picture as a thumbnail on the camera screen, I thought this woman was taking a picture of me. The sight of a Buronyi ("corn-colored person") in a shantytown like Nima is not common, and a Buronyi in mourning attire participating in a funeral while taking pictures of it is rare indeed. But when I saw the photograph in detail I recognized the person behind the camera as our dear family friend Christina, visiting from the U.S.

I was struck by the crazy beauty of the Nima landscape as the backdrop for the Jeep ferrying the soldiers to join the funeral train.

Though public sanitation is an issue in a shantytown like this, and my family always cautions me to watch my step in Nima, the place throbs with life and vitality. The streets of Nima offered quite a contrast to the somber ceremony.

My wife walked proudly down the streets of her birth to join her father's funeral train.

Much of the family rode in chartered busses that waited around the corner, but we piled into the taxi Christina had secured for the day. Taxis pester the streets of Accra like mosquitos, yet it's not unusual for a person of means to in effect hire a car for the day by also paying them to wait for you between rides you need.

Nima is rough - and beautiful.

The funeral train proceeded out of the shantytown and onto the better paved streets of the more commercial districts of downtown Accra, the nation's capital and one of West Africa's safest and most prosperous cities.

We turned the corner, toward the Osu Military Cemetery ...

* Pictures are by me. Click them and they get bigger. *

More in this series

Blood on the threshhold and on the butcher's shoes
"Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him"
A fine farewell to a father in law
Family and friends at Kpakpo Mensah's Homegoing

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