RIP Roderick

31 Aug

Howdy folks,

Having spent great eight days with Michael Linke (founder of BEN, Namibia) in Zambia meeting with potential partners for future bike workshops I arrived back to Katima around mid day. I spent the afternoon packing up Mandy’s bike and gear to send back to Windhoek with Michael. I had planned to go out to the workshop and see the guys but ran out of time so sent a text to the workshop manager Moses saying I would see them in the morning. The reply I got from Moses was not what I expected, it said:

Welcom back 2 namibia bt tomorrow we shal b at Kongola 4 buring rodrick and u a free to go take picture and see how we bury our fellow volunteer when he dies and it wil take place moning at Kongola 110km away

I knew Rodrick was sick, but was shocked at the news as I had been out of contact in Zambia.

Rodrick (pictured to my right in the above photo) was one of the 5 mechanic trainees, a softly spoken polite gentleman. Unfortunately the HIV/AIDS epidemic that ravages this part of Namibia doesn’t care if you are polite.

One of my motivations behind this blog post is to help portray the harsh reality of HIV in the lives of Africans. I can talk about the statistics of HIV all day long, but it is not until you have a personal story that the reality of it actually hits home. I realise attending a funeral, and then documenting it is a very delicate matter.

One of the other motivations behind this is because tomorrow I’m going to do some filming with one of the mechanics Movem who is a Catholic Aids Action (the local organisation that BEN, Namibia has teamed up with for the Katima bike shop) home based carer volunteer. Tomorrow we will visit his clients and I will film how the bike that was donated to him helps him visit more clients, and what his role as a home based carer involves. As you can imagine the stigma behind HIV it is a very fragile matter that needs to be treated with a great deal of consideration and decorum. But something Movem said to me made me feel comfortable writing this post, and documenting these highly sensitive and personal stories. He said that the reason he wants to do it, is because the documentary will help portray to the outside world what it is like here in Africa with HIV. Without further ado I would like to share the experience of Rodricks funeral with you.

The following morning I woke at 5.30am to a day I will never forget, a day that deeply touched me. I biked out to meet Moses at the morgue, a small concrete brick structure. At the morgue we piled into the back of a pick-up truck with 13 other funeral goers. Then in a 4 car convoy drove the hour out to Roderick’s village. As the sun rose the church choir that I shared the pickup canopy with started singing church hymns in that harmonious way that only Africans are able to pull off.

When we arrived at Roderick’s village the scene was set for the funeral ceremony. Colourful African ladies sitting on woven mats a top of the sand. The men were off to the side, with the elders sitting on chairs.

Being the only white face out of the 120 attendees was an honour, but I was also tense. Obviously I felt like an outsider, and plus I had my camera. Moses who was going to be leading the funeral wanted me to take some photos and footage of the funeral. Even though I had his permission I still felt like an intruder. I made sure that he went and got the permission of the elders and Roderick’s family before I took out my camera.

The grieving hysterical atmosphere, the loss of Roderick, the past couple of weeks after saying good bye to Mandy and the knowledge that I was capturing something on camera that few get to experience had a strange effect on me. Tears were welling up in my eyes as the families grieved and I thought of Roderick and other funerals of beloved ones that I had attended. My legs were shaking uncontrollably as the emotion of it all past through me.

I didn’t think I would be this affected. For some naive reason I had played down the effect of death here, this was Africa, I had desensitised it. I was in the Caprivi region where there is a 40% HIV/AIDS rate, I had arrogantly thought that death was just another part of everyday life here.

How stupid was I. How stupid do I feel writing the above. It doesn’t matter if you come from a neighbourhood in New Zealand with street lights and hand basins with running water or a small African village where the HIV rate is 40% and the chickens and dogs play on the sand floor of your hut, death is death.

I can only describe the funeral as a beautiful ceremony. The vibrant colours of the ladies fabrics and the bright flowers on the tomb contrasted to the dusty weathered earth. The singing was heartfelt and harmonious. The grieving was expressed with no reserve, women openly wailing, wailing like I have never heard wailing before. Wailing that will stay with me the rest of my life, wailing that I will remember every time I hear the mention of HIV/AIDS. It was also special for me to see Moses the bike shop manager who I am used to see fixing bikes dressed in his white robe as he led the funeral in a commanding way beyond his years.

Thank you to Roderick’s family and Moses for sharing with me this unforgettable and deeply moving experience. For showing me the grim reality of AIDS, and for teaching me that life is valuable no matter what continent you are from.

To Roderick, REST IN PEACE.

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4 Responses to “RIP Roderick”

  1. Pauline August 31, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    A touching story…God Bless

    • Hap September 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

      Thanks Pauline,
      I hope you are doing well.
      take care, Hap

  2. kiwijobloggs September 15, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    That was really moving Hap. I’m having a hapathon after my hiatus. Big Hugs from the Heart of the South, Gore. x

    • Hap September 16, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

      Chur love,
      send my love to aotearoa, I’ll be back there before christmas. currently in zimbabwe, loving it, great people.

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