Shea and I were standing at the gate in the rain waiting for Martha before we headed to church when Paolo stepped through the door. He was dressed in a suit as always, even though he is grounds staff, and carrying a flowered umbrella. We greeted him warmly, exclaiming that we hadn’t seen him in a few days. Paolo, who is always soft spoken, smiled slightly. He politely asked us how we were and how our lessons were going, but his face remained grim. When we asked where he had been, assuming he had off days, he informed us that his grandfather had passed the night before. A man of 98, his grandfather was a well-respected Rhotia citizen and a highly esteemed member of the church. Paolo had spent the past few days in the hospital. While speaking his face exuded an immensely deep but extremely controlled grief. We gave our condolences, unsure of what to say. Shortly following Safari arrived with the boots Paolo had stopped by for and he headed on his way to make funeral arrangements. We grimly watched him go.
Throughout the day we all but forgot the grief of the morning. We attended a baptism, went to market and played a great soccer game. That evening staff and students alike were spraying each other with water bottles and racing each other up the hill back to camp from the soccer field, sweaty, tired and grinning. By the time we reached the gate the sun had almost set and the world was lit in an eery and colorful twilight.
Suddenly the ground started to shake and a rumble broke through the quiet evening silence. We all froze instinctively and glanced around, confused. Then, the sound breached the top of the hill and we were blinded by an instant flooding light. Our eyes adjusted and an amazing scene unfolded. Over 30 motorbikes were headed down the street, their inefficient mufflers growling in our ears, their lights illuminating the corn fields. There was an average three men per bike, all wrapped in bright Shukas and wearing their best shoes. It looked a bit like the clown motorcyclists in a parade – except no one was smiling. Adoring the front of every single motorbike was a bouquet of natural flowers.
“Wow,” Shea whispered, “They’re going to Paolo’s.” The men passed us, a few bowing their heads in salutation. We stood, amazed, as the bikes passed, followed by cars and walking people. A few moments later we stood in silence and complete darkness. The bikes had taken twilight with them, perhaps as a gift for the deceased.
The entire village of Rhotia must be attending this service, I thought.
The rest of the night and the night following we could hear the music from the celebrations pounding through the air. I couldn’t help but smile for Paolo.
What a show of community.