I had the unfortunate obligation last week to attend a funeral. I’ve never met the man before or the family, so I might come across as little insensitive BUT I feel like I’ve turned around an experience for the better. The trip has taught me to set sights on the more enlightning things in life and shift focus from the morbidity of death.
The Trip to Ermelo (2 and a half hour drive)
The mood in the car is light. We’ve just stopped at the filling station to fill up on fuel and I’ve bought some treats for the road (best.apple-kiwi smoothy.ever.) and we’re all set to be on our way. It’s early in the morning and the air is as fresh as city air can be. As polluted as it is in the city, it kind of feels like one of those mornings that hold the promise of new beginning. This was really strange as we were on our way to something really unpleasant.
We’re listening to the radio, chatting about random things and generally smiling, I’m overwhelmed by the feeling. Taking the alternative route was actually more adventurous than I’d imagine it to be, dodging potholes and manoeuvring through road works have never been this fun or funny. These conditions that would normally get you in a bad mood instantly had just become satirical.
I could see a vast mass of thick clouds in the distance and I am intrigued. It’s just so beautiful and I can’t stop staring. After a while I realise that they aren’t clouds. They are spirals of thick condensed air, white as snow funnelling out of high round towers. I get to drive past the most magical thing I have seen in a very long time. This is Escom. How could an electricity providing factory look this incredible? It’s like a cloud factory. It’s the most marvellous, exciting and amazing thing I’ve witnessed recently.
We’re almost there and have reached the old “plaas dorp” of Bethal. The town is derelict in most parts; it’s small and the image of change. From one corner to the other you can see poverty, old school farmers and modern furniture stores with professional, quite artistic photography advertising their products. Red leather couches in the bos with a random cactus in the picture, a table set in the forest.
Janfrik Vulstasie on the one corner and just down the road the Bethal golf course which seems to have disappeared as all I can see is a small abandoned building on a patch of dry land. The streets are teaming with life. The town is bipolar at best.
Arriving at our destination in Ermelo makes me anxious; I’m not that fond of groups of mourning old people and women with mid life crises. Never the less, we’re received by hordes of Afrikaans small town people offering coffee in the searing heat and refreshments. I try to extend my arm for shaking hands to greet but according to tradition, that is a no-no. Every old man, old woman and middle aged woman with sticky pink lipstick kisses me right on the mouth. Some one PLEASE kill me now. I’m not really the kind of person that prefers greeting strangers with kisses so I’ve decided to flee! I run for a small corner in the garden on the stoep and enjoy the solitude. At least, for a while.
The Church Service
The church is beautiful, what a pity that it’s right across the road from the fabric factory and filthy streets. I think I saw a Chicken Licken in the vicinity too. Again with the old people kisses and then finally we enter the church. The silence is deafening. Every now and then it’s broken by whispers and children fiddling around. It’s time to start. Organ music starts to play and I’m reminded of the times I went to church as a teen. At first I thought that the music was played back from a CD since churches like to become all technological; these days, but as I looked up to the right over my shoulder I saw an elderly woman sitting at the organ playing her heart out. She’s looking over her shoulder too from up there down on the people in the church and kind of resembles the image of Dracula. It’s just a little bit scary. As my mind wanders into the tales of Dracula and movies I’d seen about him I get the biggest fright ever! *Suddenly a wild preacher appears* I have no idea where he came from but out of nowhere he was just there. He’s ready to begin. It was a short service, the preacher praised the existence of this man, saying how perfect he was an never had an impure thought. I guess that’s how it works, would have been weird if he stood there pointing out all the bad stuff eh.
We’re asked to stand and sing some verses from the Bible that had been converted into songs. I’m an atheist, so naturally I didn’t feel the need to partake. The screwed up part is that I actually know all of the songs off by heart. Anyway, every body is standing up, straightening out their clothes and the Dracula Lady starts to play the organ again. As people start singing I only had one thought come to mind: “These are the worst Idols auditions I have ever heard before!” For some reason people try to “outsing” each other in church O.o
Now a man is called forth to make his speech and thank every one, it’s short and sweet and I am happy. Only to have my bubble burst by the youngest son of the deceased. He now comes to the front of the church and gives a very charismatic speech about his father, I didn’t hear much but I recall the man calling himself a rock star and making lulz. He plays a slide show of pictures of his father. In almost every one of them, the deceased is wearing a Blue Bulls shirt, even in death, he’s a great rugby fan!
Finally it’s over and we all go to the back for those nasty triangle sammiches filled with either egg and mayo or jam but where probably made hours ago so it’s just really a gross pile of soggy but dry on the outside sammiches. As usual coffee and tea is served. I wander around a bit in the hopes of killing time, smoke a cigarette with a down to earth, say it like it is old tannie and then run for a corner again. Maybe I can just wait it out here. The kids are so busy, running and jumping around with the other kids, an epic wipe-out is on the way. And sure as hell, it happens. A tragic pile up of about 10 toddlers at the bottom of some steps. I couldn’t help but facepalm. Good news arrives that we are going to leave. What a relief.
The Trip Home
Driving back is satisfying and relaxed. Finally I get to go back to my comfort zone. It’s late afternoon and the air is orange. Drinking a coke and snacking on some assorted cookies we chat about the happenings of the day. The kids are sleeping in the back and the mood once again is light, relaxed. We’re taking the highway this time. The road is smooth and soothing. The best way to describe the sites aside the road is in the words of my other half : “A windows background”. I’ve never seen the sky so blue. Cows have never looked this poetic. Large lakes (or dams) are crystal clear. Diamonds shimmering in the sun, a sight of true beauty. Fields are golden, glistening as if it were covered in magic dust form a fairy tale and I am left breathless. After an exhausting day, I fall asleep for a while. I am awoken by the sudden snore I give and realize that I was sleeping with my mouth open. Must have been a charming thing to see. Laughing at myself, I realize that this trip, that seemed it would be incredibly dreadful, has fed my being with beauty and thought and a new appreciation for not living in Ermelo.
Image by Ben Skinner - Sunset Ermelo