A death in the family
Over the last 2 months, our neighbour has deteriorated from being able to walk around in his garden to lying in his bed unable to speak. He has destroyed his liver through drinking alcohol. He is only about 50 years old. Last week it looked as though he would not recover. I spent some time with him in prayer and read, as best as I could in Tetun, Psalm 23. I talked with him about how he needed to prepare himself to meet God. Early this morning he died. Cynthia heard the mourning and woke me up. It was a sad time. He leaves behind a poor wife, two sons and four daughters. The three younger daughters are 15, 9 and 6. They are very upset. People started streaming in from the villages around and before the sun really had a chance to get up men were bringing in tarps, ropes and bamboo poles – a place had to be set up for people to mourn. Next came cartloads of timber, large buckets full of pots, pans, bowls and knives – to cook and prepare meals for all the people. Tables and chairs were carried in and set level. Without asking, money was given to by sacks of rice, sugar, betel-nut and other necessities. A pig squeals – there will be meat for lunch.
Over the next two days more pigs, goats and a cow are killed. The body is buried with wailing, prayers, flowers and candles. It’s a very hands on experience. A few of the young men dig out a previous grave. Out comes the old coffin, grave clothes etc and the cement lining is repaired. As the coffin is brought to the cemetery the men begin mixing cement to make the cover slab. They place the coffin beside the grave and have a bit of a discussion as to how to lower it down. Some argue for the “just sort of lower it down with your hands” approach while others argue that it might fall and it would be a good idea to let it down with rope. The rope idea wins and rope soon materialises through the crowd. They need to spin the coffin so the feet point to the east, loop the ropes and lower the coffin. There is a crowd of about 200 people. As men mix concrete and set crude formwork for a slab to cover the grave the women begin the prayers. Soon the concreting is completed, flowers are added and candles are burned. For the next 4-5 days the vigil continues. People go about their daily business and return in the evening to sit with the family through the night – until the sunrises. Night after night. Various explanations are given for this vigil: to look after the grave, to chase away evil spirits or to help the family not to think about their loss. You may start to think what a fascinating and wonderfully supportive culture. That is true, but there is a sinister side that starts to make me angry. You see, so many people come and they all want to eat meat (its usually vegetarian around here) that they start killing the poor widows pigs and goats. Not only is she poor, with three young girls to feed, she has lost her husband, and now they eat her animals. Money is collected for the widow and then gets passed on to an older brother (possibly to pay for a cow he bought to be killed an eaten by the crowd.) The night vigil turns into more or less a gambling party with multiple groups sitting around playing cards, bingo, gambling, smoking, shouting out their wins and generally having a great time. As the nights wear on the money gets bigger. The young girls in the family seem to be forgotten in the midst of the festivities. This is happening all around our house. I walk around in dismay and disbelief knowing that these people will eat her out of house and home and then leave. I am assured that they have no big intention of helping this widow in the future. They ask me if this is different to Australian culture.
We have quietly hatched a plan that will provide for this poor widow and her family. We want to offer an investement opportunity in a beach villa that will rent out to repay the loan and provide for her. If you are inspired to help this lady and have money to invest then please contact us.