Friday evening the entire family gathered in Utwe to prepare for the funeral at my uncle Patterson’s house. Patterrson is good company. He lived in Michigan for a period of time and we talk about college football. Being part of the family, it is important that I come to Utwe with everyone else. However, being asit, it is important that the family members repetitively tell me to sit and rest while everyone else does the chores. For a period I let them have their way, and entertained all the kids with markers and coloring pages. As honestly as I enjoy being Queen of the Kids Table, I eventually resolved to make an actual contribution, and stole the broom away from ninac.
From Friday afternoon on, people would show up with bags of rice and boxes of frozen chicken to donate to the family. Rather than this food being donated to the family directly, it was moreso donated to the cause of the family. All of the donated food was to be cooked over the span of the weekend and served to those in attendance of the funeral. According to my ninac, it was important that our family recorded the type and amount of food donated from each person, “so that we know what we must give them in their time of need.” By Sunday afternoon, I had counted more than 150 10-kilogram boxes of frozen chicken. OVER 3,000 LBS OF CHICKEN. Literally more than a TON of chicken.
Saturday morning Alyssa (the PCV in Utwe) and her family came to show their support as we made our final preparations. Family friends and members of the community started showing up around 10. Alyssa and I took on the role of young female family member and served Kosraean soup and Kool-Aid. [Sidenote: growing up, our house was a kool-aid-free zone. I had no clue what I was missing, because that stuff is delicious. I can safely look ahead and say that any cavities I may or may not develop over the next 2 years can be blamed on Kool-Aid.] After soup we served a round of chicken curry with white rice, followed by a round of chicken and white rice with tomato paste.
Around 1pm the body arrived via ambulance. The coffin arrived and was maneuvered into the main room of the house. (Most Kosraean homes have a fairly large, open front room that remains almost entirely empty. I’m not completely certain, but I think it’s for this exact procedure). Within minutes, the prominent female family members gathered around the open casket and begin to wail. I’ve been told a few times that there are some theatrics involved, as the ladies literally wail. From what I understand, the prolonged high-pitched crying has as much to do with tradition as it does with actual mourning. Most of the other people in attendance sat outside the windows and looked in on the women. The women stayed there, and continued to wail throughout the rest of the afternoon, night, and up until the next morning. It was rare for them to move, so Alyssa and I hesitated as we made our way around the mourning women offering food and drink. “Kom luhngse kool-aid?” seemed like a trivial thing to say when they were so clearly mourning the death of a loved one, but I guess that’s just how things work here.
Sunday around 2pm ninac’s father was transported to the other house our family owns in Utwe for burial. This was the house where he had lived, and the front of it had been cut out for those attending the funeral to observe the mourning women in the living room. Alyssa and I continued to extend kool-aid and chicken with rice as a couple different pastors spoke to the crowd. After the burial, my parents had further family obligations to attend to, so I went home with Alyssa’s family.
In late September, Kosrae experienced its first Killed In Action death of a soldier in Afghanistan. Monday Oct. 8th was deemed a statewide holiday so all could attend his memorial service at the high school gym. Kosrae’s governor, the Vice President of FSM, and the American ambassador to Micronesia all extended their condolences to family members and the people of Kosrae. This ceremony was especially emotional for myself and the other PCVs because it was a unique blend of Kosraean and American cultures coming together. Kosraean because of this soldier’s heritage and family, American because of his choice to serve in the US military. The old “2 pairs of footsteps” adage was told, amazing grace was sung, and a powerpoint slideshow of photos was shown. And of course, a substantial amount of food and kool-aid were offered afterward.