I am sorry to have to tell you that No-no Mkhonta passed away early Sunday morning. Sipho called me about 4:15am to tell me the news. Once again I found myself in a place where words just weren’t adequate to express the emotions. On Monday morning Sipho came by my place to thank me for my involvement and to ask me for an advance on his salary so he could pay for the funeral expenses. He was so grateful and kept thanking me for all I had done for he and No-no but I felt that I did very little and felt so bad that I couldn’t do more. He shared some beautiful stories about No-no. From the little time I knew her and from what her father shared with me, she was a very special little girl with a great faith and trust in God. Maybe the purpose of her short, innocent life was to teach others what it really means to love someone, and to teach us how to worship God tirelessly and to pray unceasingly. It sounds like she had insight and wisdom well beyond her short 11 years.
Sipho also shared some of their conversations during the last few hours of her life. It was heart breaking. In Sipho’s words, “No-no asked about things that were painful to explain to her.” She only wanted her daddy to hold her all the time and cried if he left her for even a few minutes. Sipho and I both think she knew that her time was near. She got to the point where she told Sipho that she was tired of being in pain and being sick and wanted to die. What a painful thing for a father to have to hear. Towards the end, the nurses tried to put oxygen on her but she refused. She said she had seen too many children in the hospital be put on oxygen and then die shortly thereafter. That such a young child should have to see those things just isn’t right. It breaks my heart. So many children in this country have no choice but to know things and experience things that children just shouldn’t have to know about. They know about many things that we as adults in American don’t have a clue about. Life for many is hard here. There’s no doubt about that.
Today I took Thoko, Thini and Gladys to visit Sipho and his wife at their home near St. Paul’s. Like so many Swazi’s, they have a traditional family homestead out in the rural area that is too far from where the work and schools are. And like many Swazi’s even those with jobs and who work in the city, they don’t have a vehicle. So I drove them to their homestead. It took about an hour to get there, even though it was only about 30 km from Manzini (about 18.6 miles.)
Before we left Manzini, we stopped by a grocery store so they could get some things in preparation for all of the relatives, neighbors and friends that will be stopping by to pay their respects or to attend the funeral. There were four of us inside the truck (it’s a double cab) and two sitting in the back of the truck. While we waited in the truck for Sipho and his wife to do their shopping several people stopped by to chat with Thoko, Gladys and Thini. It was like old home week! This happens all of the time. A person goes to town and runs into many people they know from somewhere. It’s not the African way to say “hi” and keep walking. The African way is to stop and chat for 5 or 10 minutes. At times it can be very frustrating for an American, but most of the time I think it is really pretty cool.
After we got to the homestead we all sat on mats and sponges (foam mattresses) on the floor, which is the traditional way of receiving guests. Even if a family has furniture, they will take it out of the room where visitors will be received. As I was watching and listening for the few words I know in siSwati, I was struck at how similar this tradition is to what we have read about in the Bible. We hear of Jesus and others “reclining” after a meal. When there are no chairs, after a while, you just kind of recline a bit because it is more comfortable than sitting up straight on the hard floor.
In both locations, they sang hymns, someone gave a little “sermon” and all spoke of their condolences for the family and prayer that God will comfort them. Then we were served some biscuits (cookies) and juice and we sat and talked for a little while. When it was time to leave, Make (ma-geh) Mkhonta brought us each a large plastic bag full of huge avocados from their tree. She walked out with me, thanking me again for all I did and thanked us for not only bringing them out to the homestead but for staying and talking with them for a bit, getting their minds off of everything for a few minutes and even making them laugh a few times at what was being said. Gladys and I praised God for bringing me my new truck (bakkie) when he did because we never would have made it all of the way to the homestead in my Honda.
The funeral will be early Sunday morning at the homestead. People will travel there Saturday evening. There will be a wake and possibly a revival all night long, ending with the burial just as the sun is coming up.
On our way back to Manzini, we saw one of the former circuit stewards walking down the dirt road. Of course we stopped to say hi and gave him a ride to the nearest (very small) store. It is so amazing. Here I am, in Africa, in the middle of nowhere, and I know someone walking down the dirt road. What are the odds? It never ceases to amaze me when that happens. But such is the way of African life.