“As for us we really like funerals o! We go all out!” the elderly man said and laughed. That was on another day. But it made things clearer. I learned too that according to Konkomba tradition, when a man dies, his funeral runs for 3 days. But when a woman dies, it runs for 4. They’d slaughter cows and pigs and make enough food to feed the entire village.
The day we went back to Kofinyi (we had been there a month back, to list all households as part of our sampling procedure), it was much more humid. My list of women to interview was not as long as on other days and I was sure I was not going to be there till sundown.
Different things determined whether or not you were going to spend more hours on field. You could have a short list, but your women wouldn’t be available at the time so you’d have to wait. It was common to find the men at home and the women away on the farms, especially in the mornings. They’d return late morning, in time to prepare lunch for the men who usually were found stretched out under trees, napping.
You could find the woman at home but because the interviews involved you taking down their pregnancy history which includes children ever born (alive or dead) and pregnancies lost all in detail, you could spend close to two hours on one interview. There were women who had had up to 15 pregnancies and were still of childbearing ages. And then there were unique indicators for children under 5 years, and so the interview could go on longer if most of your respondent’s children were that young. Details were taken for each child.
But that day, not only were the women on my list home and willing to engage, all the other factors were in my favour. It was especially good for me that way because the humidity was killing me, and I thought I was going to pass out by the time I was halfway through. The houseflies also seemed livelier that day, buzzing relentlessly.
There was a familiar name on mine, as it usually happened. I knew I must have listed that household myself, and as I followed the directions attached to the name and neared the house, I remembered clearly. I remembered it was the last place I had listed because it was the very last house on that side of the village. I remembered the woman I had talked to that day; young and bashful and pregnant. I remembered how she had lit up when I told her how old she was (many didn’t know till you worked it out for them if they could provide a document [birth cert., for example] that showed their date of birth). 22, I think.
There were a handful of women seated to the side of the landcrete structure on straw mats, under a neem tree, talking excitedly; a heap of fresh groundnuts in front of them. The ‘crack, crack!’ I could hear as I approached them was from the pods splitting open when they pressed down expertly on them with their fingers. Right beneath the tree, her back resting on the trunk, was an old woman with a baby boy in her arms. In the front of the house two men were erecting what looked like a wall-less shed. I greeted the men, walked on to where the women were, and asked if they were members of the household.
“Yes,” they said. “We are all family.” I went on to ask if they all lived in that house, and they explained that they were only there to prepare for a funeral that was to start by the coming weekend. “That’s why they are making that shed,” another added. I then asked after the woman I was supposed to be interviewing, and they all fell silent.
“Wafiri,” one of the women said, and for a moment I was confused. I asked if they meant to say she had stepped out, or, as I had by then come to understand what they usually meant by “wafiri,” that she died. Their heavy sighs answered me and then I looked at the child again, and knew. It was her funeral they were there for.
They said she was down with a fever hours before she went into labour, and it never broke till she died, but not before she had the baby boy I was still looking at. I didn’t need to ask, to know that she had had the baby at home and had gone for zero antenatal checkups. I did not want details. I had heard too many stories, all of them similar, I knew the template. Some of the reasons the women gave for not delivering in the clinics or using the community health zones was because they had their babies soon after labour started and there was normally no time to go to the health facilities. Some said they had had their previous children at home and they had no trouble so they’d decided to have subsequent ones too at home. Yet I had recorded so many still births, under-5 mortality, and had heard stories of maternal deaths, including that one.
22. Young. Dead.
It was only one woman, my entire stay there with all the women I encountered, who told me what the real problem was. “They’d beat you!” She said. “The men will beat you because they will say you want to waste money. They will tell you their mothers had them at home, your mother had you at home. None of them went for antenatal visits and yet they and you turned out fine. So why would you want to go see a doctor? You just want to waste money! Even the older women at home will say you don’t trust them to deliver your babies. A lot of us don’t want to suffer so much and lose some of our babies. But we don’t have a choice. They won’t give us any money. Delivering at the health center costs up to a hundred cedis. They won’t give you the money!”
So, I didn’t ask them anything. I already knew. I simply thanked them and turned to leave;
the ‘crack, crack!’ following me like an inappropriate dirge.
I wondered how much the funeral will cost. Did they slaughter a cow or two? A pig or three? That shed under construction, those groundnuts…were they all worth more than a life? What is the extra day for, for when a woman dies? Is it to mourn longer to assuage our guilt? Do we feel any at all? I was grateful I had just one more woman to interview. My heart was heavy. I was upset and the weather that day, with the buzzing flies, all just made me miserable. I think I did not smile the rest of the day.
Her name was Belakorba. It sounds beautiful when they call it.
Weeks later, in another village, I asked what it means. I do not remember too well, but I think it is
“you will come and meet me there,” or is it “you will come and meet me gone”?