Invest In People

​It’s not everyday that you see a dead body. Last night, I did. His name is (or was?) Sibomana. He was crossing the road when a car hit him. Maybe, he was going to the shops to buy something for his wife and their baby. I don’t know. But he died on spot. His lifeless body, covered by a kitenge, lay by the roadside. His sandals arranged by his feet. His head had been crushed and you could see a stream blood running from under the kitenge covering his body, and onto the tarmac. The car was parked, just a few meters from where his body lay. His wife sat there, numb.
It is poignant to watch a vulnerable person like her in a such painful situation.

Sibomana died last night, and I realized how extremely fragile our lives are. I truly realized how transient life is. Every time we are potentially flirting with death. You could lead a healthy lifestyle – drinking 2l of water a day, exercising regularly, eating vegetables & fruits – just choke on your own saliva and die, leaving behind guys who smoke and eat fries daily. At any given moment, one’s life can end in any number of unexpected ways. You don’t even need to do anything risky to die. One minute you could be walking to the shops to buy groceries and next minute a car hits you and you die. Like Sibomana. Or you could be showering, slide on the slippery bathtub floor, snap your neck and die. Or you could be having lunch, choke on a bone and die. Or you could be shot to death. You just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a bullet hits you. Or you could be declared dead untimely. You be screaming but nobody hears or answers you. You can’t move. It’s dark, you’re running out of air and no one can save you. No one knows you’re there. Then your world becomes soft and foggy and everything fades to black. Nothingness. Long and empty. And you’re gone. Or even, you could think that you have superpowers, jump off a very tall building and die.

Though a common preferred way to die, is in bed (pure, perfect, uninterrupted sleep) we don’t get to choose how we die. At the very least we don’t think we will die in a gruesome, brutal way. Yet sometimes, someone is just unlucky and dies in a strange and terrifying way, like Richard. I remember vividly the night when Richard died. Earlier that day, he’d been complaining about having a headache and couldn’t see. That day he was taken to Ndera (the Psychiatric Hospital). He was admitted, was scheduled to undergo head scans the next day. Unfortunately, he died that night and shocked everyone. Death took his life, leaving behind his old grandma who was completely dependent on him. I didn’t make it to his burial but I imagined the profound sadness that enveloped his grandma during his burial. I wished I could restore his life, for his wailing grandmother.

Sibomana and Richard probably never thought they would die that day, just like you don’t think you’ll die any time before your unfinished business. But the truth is that you could. 

Richard’s and Sibomana’s deaths reset an already existing reflection in my head. Why do we fail to show love and care for the people we claim to love whilst they are still alive? Like, someone lays ill in a hospital bed for months, with no caregiver, nothing to eat. Though the person would so much enjoy a visit from relatives/friends, no one shows up. But the very moment the person draws their last breath, the relatives who had not seen him/her in decades show up out of the blue, crocodile tears flowing plenty. Makes one wonder where the so-called relatives and friends were when they were very much needed. The hypocrisy is mad sickening. 

I’ve witnessed where upon the death of an old man, the relatives quickly re-innovated his house, painted it, put electricity and everything, so that the funeral be held in a decent place. They be mourning and groaning inappropriately. The hypocrisy that the mourners display is shocking. One would say that maybe they were trying to make up for what they had failed to do before, but it was too late. The old man was gone. Nothing could make up for the hurt they’d caused him. Yes, we should show love and respect to the deceased, but how about we show the same love and respect whilst they are still alive? How about we come together to help before the person dies?

People matter more than anything, more than money. People matter more than the things we kill ourselves to get. People matter more than another plot you want to buy, or another house you want to purchase. We should place value on people, not on money. We should invest in people. Because when the curtains close, all these things we kill ourselves to get won’t matter if you are alone at your deathbed.

Nothing exposes the ugly face behind the mask of concern that people wear, like death and funerals. That’s why I have always hated the hypocrisy at funerals. Sometimes it feels like funerals are for displaying the mask of concern that people wear and for showing how much they’ve been able acquire in life. Well, people are entitled to honor their loved ones in ways they please… But, funerals ought to be about giving support to the relatives of the deceased and to comfort them while celebrating the life of the deceased. To acknowledge the pain that comes from the demise of a loved one and help begin the healing process.  

Wings clipped

The time: 11 AM. 

Mom gets a phone call. The kind of call that gives you some shivers even before you answer it. 

“She just passed on”

Death has never been a comfortable topic for me, but recently that discomfort has intensified. I’ve wanted to write about Agnes for quite some time. I wasn’t planning on doing it today, but last evening when I read a post about death, I knew I had to write about her today.

Agnes. Very beautiful. God must have been showing off when He created her. She indeed was a lovely woman. She was just 26 years old. She was a student at KIM, in the final year. She had recently got married, last August. She had vowed to have and to hold her husband, for better or worse. Agnes was ready for her happily ever after. But the worst was coming without warning and even so fast, just weeks later.

It’s hard to see someone finally happy in their life and it’s gone so fast. The week after her wedding, she became ill. It started with a complaint of headache. Then it got worse and worse till she fell into a coma. A coma that she never woke up from. Despite all the hard work of doctors, nothing could keep her alive. What pains me the most is that she never even got a chance to enjoy her honeymoon.

We are neighbors with her uncle. That’s how we know her. Mom attended her wedding. After she fell ill, the auntie informed her. Whenever she came from the hospital to visit her, she told Mom about her condition. So, I felt some kind of connection to her because they kept updating Mom on her condition. 

It might sound like cliché but I was devastated after learning of her untimely death. While the loss was not mine, I felt great heartache because I knew there are her loved ones out there whose lives had just been flipped upside down. Her friends who will never get to say that last thing. Her husband who now has an empty seat at the table. Her father who will never hug her again. I ached because I could relate to her as a daughter, a sister, a wife. I can imagine no greater pain than to lose a child. No greater pain than to lose your wife, even more unbearable just after getting married.

Her body lay in a coma on her hospital bed, for weeks. Death was lurking around her. It stayed behind the shadows. It was a matter of when and not if. They knew it was coming. But one can never be ready for it. It still was a surprise when she passed on. Like it had come without warning…

Her demise crushed my heart and made me reflect on life. It reminded me how much of a blessing it is to wake up in the morning and/or return to bed at night. While I have been to many funerals, I have never truly experienced the grief of loss through death. The funerals I have attended have been those of distant relatives or of relatives of close friends. I have so far been spared the loss of someone so close to my heart. But the fear of waking up one day to a gone loved one, still keeps me up. 

I have always felt grief and pain for the losses suffered by those I care about. Though it’s impossible to bear it all, I have felt sorrow for their families. I have felt that heaviness in my chest like someone laid a suitcase on it.

Even after she has been laid to rest, I’m still not over the fact that she’s gone. I deeply hoped that she would get better and they go on their honeymoon. I hoped she would finish her dissertation and defend it. Graduate and get a job. Have babies. Enjoy her married life. Cross that item off her bucket list. I hoped she would wake up to celebrate her 26th birthday, this November. 

But instead, death stole her. Like a thief in the night. It left pain and hopelessness. It brutally kicked her husband into a single life, again. Death robbed him of his love. Sad thing about losing a loved one, you are shaken to the core. He had known her for a not so long time. He loved her much. He wanted to marry her right after completing high school. But she asked him to let her go through college first. He agreed to wait and even paid her college tuition fees. Now that she was almost through, they got married. Then all of a sudden, death reared its ugly head. He had questions but no answers.

The only certain thing in this life is that it will end one day. Yes, it is a fact. No matter what precautions we may take, death happens. Sooner or later. And the best we can do is accept death as a fact of life. It happens. We can’t do anything to change that.

So, live for all the other days, for tomorrow we will all die. 

May God grant Agnes a peaceful rest and be with her family.

Aldo

It’s been almost a month since we last had access to tap water. We miss the sound of running tap water. Usually water would be gone for 2 or 3 days…then would be back and we fill every thing that can hold water before it goes again. But now, we’ve been waiting for the water like Christians are waiting for the second coming. 

Washing clothes, mopping the house, watering the flowers and vegetables are all luxuries we can’t even think of now. 

Dear Tap Water, 

We terribly miss you. Please come back soon.

Sincerely, 

Some desperate users.

To get clean water, we send a boda-boda guy to fetch for us. There’s always a queue of jerrycans waiting to be filled. And only the strongest get to fetch first (survival for the fittest). For others, unless they go at 2 AM (when the fittest are resting. Haha) they can’t even get a drop of water. 

So, some people (abadafite agatuza k’imigeri) opt to use swamp water. Just because they see that the water is clear (and not muddy), they think it’s clean and safe to use. 

Anyways, have you ever found yourself in a bus or taxi seated next to or standing in a line behind a woman with a very cute scented  baby that you can’t help staring at? And it’s not like she’s going to ask you to hold the baby as she looks for its feeding bottle in the bag. Rather, it’ll be the other way round. She’ll lift the bag and ask you to get the bottle for her. Hehe. And why is it that it’s those women with crying babies or babies stinking of urine who always ask you to hold their babies for them?

As she feeds her baby, you be there trying to resist looking at it. Because if you look at it, you’ll end up staring and that would be awkward. So, you look the other way and pretend not to have seen that angelic face. But you soon give in and turn to look at it. You notice the biggest smile and 2 tiny upper teeth which are coming out. 

Has that ever happened to you?

Now that is the precise feeling I got when I first saw Aldo. A cute boy with the most beautiful eyes.

Though I never held him in my arms or carried him on my back, but I ached to do so. The moment I saw him, he caught my heart.

What’s cruel is that he never had the chance to experience life. If he was meant to die so soon why did he even come into the world?

It all started with diarrhoea and throwing up. They took him to umujyanama w’ubuzima who gave him some pills. He didn’t improve and the next day they went back and umunyabuzima wrote them a transfer to the health center. No one thought of rehydrating him because he had diarrhoea and was vomiting. Instead, at the HC he was given the exact same pills and they went back home. But his condition got worse. By time they took him to the hospital, his condition had really worsened. He was put on oxygen. 

The poor baby had gastroenteritis. They may have used the swamp (untreated) water and he must have got it from there. But his life could have been saved if during those two days they spent going to and fro the HC, they’d given him an oral rehydration solution. His condition was treatable and the death preventable.

However, he had his last gasp last Thursday night. His death seems meaningless. It should never have happened. There were many moments where his life could have been saved.

Their lives, which had been so happy and so full of promises 11 months earlier now seemed bleak and grey. Where there once was joy and happiness, is now sadness and pain. They will never watch him sleeping soundly, all snuggled in his bed, again. They will never see him on his first day at school. They will never hear him recite his first poem. All they have are dreams of him. Dreams which will never come true. Because the Lord took him away so soon.

His mother will wake up every morning and think “my baby died”. She will weep and weep until she feels no more tears will come. But they will.

She’ll ache to hold him, to hear his voice, to see his face. She won’t look at a baby without her eyes filling with tears. Tears for the loss of her baby, Aldo. All she’ll feel will be emptiness and an ache that she has never felt before. 

Knowing that she won’t ever get the chance to watch her son grow is the most pain of all. No parent should ever have to lose their child, not this way or any other way.

Though he lived only 11 months, he was loved so very much.

Sleep in peace, Aldo.

Gone But Not Forgotten: Tribute To The Late Old Lady Who Didn’t Know Me

My memory of you is on your funeral. I saw a picture of you (well, Y has shown me many). The one they carried at your funeral. It sat proudly on the coffin. I remember you by that picture. And the stories that Y has told me about you. Lots of stories. You were the wisest woman Y told me. You were loving and very smart. You were strong and hardworking. You were kind and a woman of God. You were a mother figure to him. But you broke his heart by your passing. I can’t imagine any loss more crushing than yours.

The day you passed, I remember it vividly like it was yesterday. We were in Gisenyi (good old days) when P called Y and told him to come home. But Y being the stubborn guy he is, asked why he was being called home. Then P told him about your demise. And his world went dark. The hours that followed were filled with tears. Not knowing what to do (Do I hold him in my arms? Hug him? I gave him a tissue though), nor how to react to that (I’d never seen Y in such terrible pain) the one thing I could do was to make sure he got home safe as he might not have been thinking straight since he was grieving over your death.

Your home was filled with the anguish felt by your loved ones and whispers of your life and imminent death (because no matter how much preparation and how ready one thinks they are for the death of a loved one, it truly stings when they actually pass and you realize that you can never be ready for the blow). Your passing called attention to the fragility of life. It was another awakening that one could slip away in an instant. That the 3 minutes passed could be the last. That the next minute or hour or even tomorrow is not promised. That death could arrive this same morning which has every hour filled in advance. I may forget it on a regular basis but it slips into my mind at times, when I board a motorbike or while crossing a street or when someone passes away. I’m mindful of how quickly life can be taken away.

Your funeral services were heartbreaking but beautiful. The attendance spoke volumes about the impact you had on every one present. They all knew you in different ways and had their own special memories. Memories created that will last a lifetime. Several eulogies were given at your funeral. Beautifully written eulogies which gave us a wonderful image of a vibrant loving woman you were. A woman who fully lived her life. A lovely service it was.

I won’t say there is not a day that has passed without me thinking about you, that would be an overstatement. But there are times I find myself wondering what it would have been meeting you in-person. On those days, I see your picture. A picture of you that has stayed ingrained in my mind. That picture on which you’re smiling. A picture that portrays the happy woman you were. It feels like I’ve known you for ages. The people you never met (like me) know you through stories. Stories that your loved ones readily recount. So your legendary lives on. Whenever I think of you, it’s that picture that comes to my mind.

There were days I wished you were there, like when Y said he misses you. I thought about how unconditionally a grandma’s (read: your) love is and imagined how lucky he was to have you as his grandma. You’ve had a deep and lasting impact on his life. You’re such an integrated and ingrained part of his life. I can only hope that he’s reached an easier place now, one where he can smile as the memories of you arise in his mind. One where with each passing day he can carry your memory with a little more joy and a little less sorrow than the day before.

It’s been a year since your passing.
I am just a girl seated somewhere remembering you today. I’m just a girl who wished to have met you in person (had the circumstances allowed). I was not fortunate to know you before your passing, but I enjoyed the stories Y told me about you. And though you didn’t get to know me, know that we share something in common: we both love Y.

You’re deeply missed and always remembered.

Rest in peace.

image