Family and friends were already gathering at Manassé and Kavira’s home as dusk slid into dark on Wednesday. Manassé had suffered increasingly debilitating back and neck problems that slowly weakened his body and stole his smile. Ever a man of deep faith, Manassé held fast to the certainty of God’s love and mercy, even as his body tempted him to despair.
Kavira, weary and grief-stricken, lay on a mattress in a small bedroom. I sat with her, empty of words but full of sorrow. Women made up a bed in the living room where Manassé’s body was laid and covered, as if he was sleeping. His head was wrapped, chin to crown, with a cloth, in the old style of someone suffering a toothache. That must have been how he went to the hospital just hours earlier.
We were eight or nine women seated on the floor around the bed. A small chorus began to sing hymns in French and Swahili. More people arrived. Soon more than 30 women sat together on the floor. Men came to stand, pay their respects, and turn quietly to go outside. Another hour passed, and more than 60 people filled the living room. Voices young and old continued singing. On occasion we would stop the harmonies as a single resonant voice offered up a prayer.
A cool breeze blew in from the open door. Outside the mystery of community was in action. Scores of chairs appeared and were unloaded. Tarps were hung from exterior balcony to the compound wall. White party tents appeared and settled, ghostlike against the night sky. Shelter for the vigilant. Electricity slithered out via extension cords and powered up a sound system, microphones, a keyboard, and guitars.
Inside, some of the women lay down to sleep on the tile floor.
The few men who sat inside with us lent their deep bass and baritone voices to the singing, occasionally wiping silent tears from their faces.
Clusters of friends, family, students, and colleagues gathered outside. Someone had built a small bonfire. Motos and cars crowded the roadside. Two hundred, three hundred people? It was hard to tell in the dark.
At 11:30 I walked up the road to my house for a few hours of sleep in my own bed. I felt a bit the traitor, one of the disciples unable to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane. After a few fitful hours, I returned in the morning dark to the stirring of the faithful. Quiet voices described the program of the day: a service at UCBC followed by a service at Manassé and Kavira’s church.
People dispersed, heading home to wash up and dress for the day. The night of mourning together opened to a day of shared grief with a larger community.