Location: A South African graveyard (taken in August 2007)
Background: When you live in Africa death becomes all too familiar; children are acclimated early and you can hear the sounds of mourning week in and week out. My community had two graveyards; one inside of Location, which was filled to capacity, and one on the outskirts of the community that was quickly filling up. I attended two funerals during my two years in Namibia; one was for a friend who was “sick” and wasted away until one day she was no longer with us and the second was for a healthy young mother that entered the clinic too far along in her labor for the nurses to stop the unexpected blood loss. While the burial process varies from family to family and tribe to tribe, the funeral serves as an opportunity for pastors to proselytize, families to grieve, and neighbors to eat. Often women will weep, shout, and lament, in what I refer to as “active mourning”. These traditions may seem distasteful to Americans who live in a society that grieves behind closed doors but, in Namibia, mourning is a community ritual.
Mortality in Africa: HIV/AIDS, maternal health, and road traffic accidents claim the top causes of death in Namibia. Many of these deaths can be prevented but indirect factors come into play such as proximity to a clinic or hospital, alcohol intake, and preventative healthcare education.
The first modern case of HIV/AIDS in Africa was reported in 1982 and since that time the disease has reached epidemic proportions with more than 22.5 million Africans currently infected. Graveyards, such as the one above, are becoming more prevalent as AIDS takes its toll on human life. South Africa and Namibia have prevalence rates of ~17%. The tragedy is that this crisis is preventable but the spread of HIV still continues to claim mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, neighbors, and friends. With one in five adults living with the virus no one has been left untouched by HIV’s pervasive effect.