A passing

Garm is a town by Tajik standards, with a population of about 7,000 people.  Yet in many ways it is still a village.  Weddings and circumcisions are big events attended by many.  So are funerals.  Yesterday we arrived from a week in Tavildara to learn that the daughter of one of our drivers had died after a month-long illness.  It was particularly sad as she was only 17, and soon to be married.  The staff of our office joined many from the community at the family’s home.  The men gathered in one part of the compound, the women in another.  For over an hour we waited on a long bench near the entrance to the compound.  At intervals other men would arrive and greet those already present.  As we sat in silence, I thought about the passing of this girl.  Is it more of a tragedy if it might have been prevented?  Or was it just her time?  The bearded mullahs of the local mosque oversaw the preparations, and we could here the crying of the women from the lower part of the compound.  Then most of the women gathered outside one of the buildings, and I learned later that the body was placed in their midst and washed to prepare for the burial (in Islam the burial should happen on the same day that someone dies).  The mother began a wailing chant that went on for some time.  Prayers were said by one of the mullahs.  Eventually the body was wrapped in cloth and placed on a wooden carrier covered by a canopy of colorful cloths.  This carrier was then picked up by about eight men and carried out of the house to the mosque, with all the men following behind (the women remain at the home).  At the mosque brief prayers were said, then the carrier was again lifted and carried up the hill to the cemetery, located on one of the highest hills in Garm.  Close to 200 men gathered in the cemetery as the lights of Garm came on below.  As the light faded, more prayers were said as the body was lowered into the earth.  At a word from the mullah, the men around the gravesite began shoveling the soil back into the grave.  They worked quickly and within fifteen minutes the grave was filled and covered by a 3 foot high mound of soil, as is the tradition here.  The only marker was a single pole tied with a white cloth.  One more prayer completed the burial, and we walked back to the family home.  There the men bowed their heads as the mullah led one final chanting prayer.  My colleagues and I walked home under a half-moon that lit the path.  In accordance with Islamic tradition, family and friends will again gather at the family’s home (women) and the mosque (men) 3 days, 9 days, 40 days, and one year after the funeral in remembrance.  A reminder to make the most of the time we have here.

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