Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Suddenly gone away

No time for saying goodbye

Only memories

The neck of a fried chicken sits on a white plastic platter inches from my face. I sit on a brown, plushly upholstered chair with a lumpy seat on the cement porch my colleague’s house the day after his funeral. His family and friends fill every available seat- the men on the porch and in the women in the dirt yard cooking a meal for all the mourners. There’s no wailing or music as there was yesterday. Today all is quiet conversation and contemplation.

I and two other colleagues came to offer condolences and monetary assistance from our employer. We sip Cokes and wait to be served food- food that I don’t necessarily want to eat. My stomach has been doing flip-flops for the last day partly with the sudden and unexpected loss of an employee and partly with the stress of now trying to find someone to implement the project that is scheduled to start next Monday.

We had met with the family and wife a few minutes before gathered in a circle in plastic chairs at the back of the house. She was assisted to her seat by two women, apparently too aggrieved to walk on her own. The representative of the family had gathered us around, introduced the brothers of the deceased, the wife, her sister, step-mother and father. Everyone was quiet, staring into space or studying the cement floor.

Our office administrator said a few words of condolence then shared what we would be doing for the family, emphasizing that the wife was to be the main beneficiary. (It’s said that when a man dies in this tribe, the wife is often left to her own devices.) I felt somewhat like the executor of a will enforcing who would get what. I told the wife I would pay for her kids to go to school for the year.

That was met with a particular thank you from the sister, but when the administrator asked the children’s ages to verify the information we have at the office, the three oldest children actually live in another city with other mothers. The two children with this wife are 3 years and 9 months-- not exactly school age. So, when the wife comes to our office to pick up a check, we will ask her what she actually needs and if she is willing to pass school fees along to the other children.

Back at the office, another consultant sits at JP’s desk inputting data from a recent post-project survey. That’s the hardest part- knowing that he won’t be back at his desk with his smile, staring out the door into the parking lot when he had nothing to do. I won’t have to dream up ways to keep him busy in between field assessments, but he won’t be around to be my right hand and offer up ways to do something better.

Who knew Friday would be the last day he’d sit at his desk? He left early from the staff meeting where the new head of office was introduced. After the meeting another employee said JP was sick and he was taking him to the hospital. It wasn’t until hours later that we knew he had vomited blood and fainted. Five of us visited him in the hospital Friday night and all seemed well; JP was talking and said he was feeling better and would be back to work. There’d been a similar episode in December and all had turned out. But not this time. JP was gone by the next afternoon and buried by Monday.

No time for goodbye.

So, goodbye, JP. Goodbye.