Question: Would you sign-up for a green burial?

Death is a universal experience that we can only delay but can’t stop. I always avoid commenting on this cold subject not to alert death’s deadly claws of my humble presence; the last time I did was yesteryear when it struck a workmate in a brutal attack. Last week, it struck again!

On Wednesday afternoon, I was both fortunate and unfortunateto drive back to Rusororo. Fortunate because there is a lovely part of Rusororo in which I wish I could afford to own a property; that new middle-class neighborhood blossoming around the iconic RPF headquarters.

Driving through it, I am always inspired by the ultra-modernist, gardened houses along the baby-skin smooth newly build streets with a great view that gives the lucky residents there a beautifully dizzying sight of the Kigali megalopolis at night, ablaze with neon, atop several hills.

But this paradise neighborhood of Rusororo is also a reflection of the oxymoron in life; beyond it is the unpleasant side where we reluctantly go to entomb our dear ones and forever never see them again. Wednesday was the second time I was there, since January.

After about ten minutes of smooth driving, one turns into a dusty and bumpy road that leads to the infamous Rusororo graveyard. While the lovely section of Rusororo depicts life as a nibbana, the burial site is a rude reminder that it all comes to an end at some point.

The life of Emmanuel Dedeki, a young man in his twenties, hit the end point in a fatal motorcycle accident last Saturday. Damn those motorcycles!They are so deadly yet so useful, helping hundreds of thousands of people move from one end of the city to the other, with nimbleness.

But someone needs to talk to these taxi-motor chaps and convince them that unlike their bikes, there are no shops that sell spare-lives. Part of the problem is that, they are largely young men in their late teens and twenties, high on speed adrenaline in total negation of the fatal risks.

The other day, a biker ran into a truck, smashing the passenger to death and the rider rushed to hospital in an eleventh-hour condition, right at the front gate of Nobleza Hotel, Kicukiro.

Traffic police incident reports are dominated by motorbikes with their causalities filling up space at infirmaries across the country.  Damn those motorbikes. Bless the careful ones!

We finally got to the graveyard; after carefully navigating through the heavily potholed ‘road to the end.’ The sight of the white tombs quite arresting from afar. As our party of mourners arrived, just after 4pm, another group was leaving. Clearly, the undertaker business is booming.

I didn’t know the deceased. But his elder brother is a friend and I was there to sojourn with the family in their hour of pain. Yet from the eulogies, I learned a lot about the deceased and actually made up my mind we would have been friends had we met during his lifetime. He was well-liked.

Then it occurred to me that it was a matter of time before each of us gathered there, joined the thousands that already lay there, entombed. Depending on when that happens, the question of whether there shall be space for new tombs is one that city planners need to take seriously.

Managing Kigali’s land economics especially as the city fast expands to keep up with the population growth, is going to require urgently finding an innovative and sustainable way of burying our dear dead.

I couldn’t spot where my former workmate was buried in October last year nor could I, that of another young man we entombed in June. For Emmanuel’s catacomb, the undertaker had to look at the far end of the graveyard, a few meters from a villager’s house whom I presume will soon relocate.

Looking at the land use management at the cemetery, it is hard to imagine the contractors have a long-term plan to manage future deaths and allocating tomb space. Unlike normal houses, the idea of storied tombs is dead on arrival hence no chance of building above existing tombs.

Our best shot therefore, is to start creating awareness and encouraging people to sign-up in advance for eco-friendly green-burials that allow for the organic decomposition and recycling of the body into the soil. In life, we are already encouraging green building, why not green funerals?

For a culture-centric Africa, this is a tough subject to introduce for we fear people more when they are dead than alive; but if one lived an eco-friendly life,why not an eco-friendly after-life? Before dying, we could leave permission to be given a green funeral.

Otherwise looking at all those white-designer cement tombs at Rusororo, one wonders whether they will be cleared to give way for new tombs or a new site appointed? Now, is a good time to begin exploring solutions including legislating laws for eco-friendly green burial options.

And if Rwanda ever chooses to explore eco-friendly burials, it won’t be short of case studies to learn from;in the UK, USA, many parts of Europe, Austria and lately, China, people have caught on the idea of green tombs and there’s supporting legislation, making them less expensive than traditional catacombs.

So,buddy, would you sign-up for a green burial?

kenagutamba@gmail.com

The views expressed in this article are of the author.