Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Egyptian Mournings

Not long after I returned from my grandmother’s funeral I was back in the Synod of the Nile office, scanning pages from books when I heard this shrill wailing noise coming from the front door. It repeated over and over again and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

I walked out of my office to the front door to find out what was going on. I looked out the front window and saw a group of well-dressed people standing at the foot of the steps that lead up the front door. They were standing in the courtyard that is normally empty at that time of day. A few moments later they began walking towards the stairs and before long I realized what was going on.

Six men carried a lacquered wooden coffin with gold trim precariously up the stairs, passed the Synod office and up to a church that is in the building next door. A middle-aged woman wrapped from head to toe in a long black robe followed the men. The widow was more or less stumbling up the stairs as people on either side of her tried to hold her upright. She bore an anguished expression and wailed shrilly with each breath she expelled. The sound she made shook me to the core. Imagine an anxious dog that is separated from her puppies that are whining and whimpering. That’s what I felt like. I heard this woman tremendous grief and there was nothing to do about it. I think seeing her may have tapped into my own grief over losing my grandmother.

Venis, a coworker of mine, walked by with a smile on her face as I was standing there and said, “Don’t worry, she is greeting the dead.”

Only a few days later I was walking home from the seminary when I heard the same exact sound. As I made my way towards Dawson Hall I saw two Muslim women briskly walking towards me, arm in arm. The one on the right was dressed all in black from head to toe and was madly stumbling down the street. The other woman wasn’t so much supporting her as trying to keep up with her. The woman in mourning screeched as she steamrolled down the sidewalk. Perhaps she had just found out a relative had passed and was on her way to the scene.

I guess no matter who or how you worship in Egypt, you mourn the same way.

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