FEATURE:Living near a cemetery and the myths around it

There is a famous joke of two boys who stole a bag of oranges from a village market.They decided to go to the nearest cemetery to share the loot, but they had to scale a big gate to enter the cemetery.
Not some miniature city but a resting place for the departed. (Photo / F. Goodman)
Not some miniature city but a resting place for the departed. (Photo / F. Goodman)

There is a famous joke of two boys who stole a bag of oranges from a village market.

They decided to go to the nearest cemetery to share the loot, but they had to scale a big gate to enter the cemetery.

As they were entering, two of the oranges dropped at the entrance.

As soon as they sat, the little boys started sharing the oranges aloud, ‘one for you and one for me’ they kept saying.

Meanwhile a farmer who was passing by rushed to the village pastor.

He told him that God and Satan were sharing bodies at the cemetery! They both headed to the cemetery to eavesdrop.

And then one of the boys remembered the oranges that had fallen outside the gate. He said aloud, “how about the two at the gate?”

The pastor and the farmer took off for their dear lives. They never wanted to die.

Much as this is a joke, it portrays death as a mystery and how people will never get used to it.

Between living and the dead, there seems to be a big bridge. Deceased people are feared and there are many superstitions related to the dead.

It doesn’t matter how good a person has been during their lifetime, the moment they die, they are feared.

Amidst all myths surrounding death, people have gone ahead to reside a few meters from the cemetery in Remera!

Is it that they are not scared of death or the deceased? Aren’t these people worried in one way or another?

It’s all quiet in Remera cemetery. Apart from the shops that are operating besides the cemetery, everything else is quiet and somehow weird.

Some beautifully built graves give the place a picturesque scenario.

“At night, the tiles appear shinny,” says Tomas Gakwavu a neighbour to the cemetery. He says that the glittering tiles appear so scary at night.

Deep inside the cemetery, voices are echoing. It’s the grave diggers and as they dig up a grave, they are in the middle of a conversation by a colleague who died recently.

Caring less about whoever was approaching, the dark skinned thick muscled men kept talking about how stressing their job was.

“Imagine working in such a sad environment where you can’t avoid seeing tears as people burry all the time,” one of them said. None of the seven undertakers resides nearby.

“Seeing the grave yard more often is a curse to me. I try to leave as soon as I am done with my work,” says Venuste Kairanga, one of the grave diggers, told me.

Spending their days in the graveyard has made the undertakers believe that more than ever, death is always close.

“These people earn a daily pay, they can never allow a monthly check,” says the head of the Cemetery. He prefers to keep his names out of the paper.

According to the undertakers, they are never certain on what will happen tomorrow or in the next few hours. This challenges them not to save.

“All I care for is daily food, otherwise I can’t save what I won’t be able to have after this life,” says Kairanga.

A queue of empty graves is visible. Over four graves are dug up in advance.

Since a decently built grave goes for Rwf180,000 to the cemetery neighbours, the scariest thing about the cemetery isn’t death itself; it’s the thought of their own burial.

The cemented cemetery is separated from the cheaper one by a road. Only wooden crosses show there are graves otherwise one could think it’s a mere piece of land.

According to Irene Uwitonze, a nearby resident, if people are not decently buried they can cause chaos. People fear moving at night just because they fear the un-cemented graves.

“There is a possibility that ghosts can attack you,” says Uwitonze. Though she has never seen a ghost personally she believes that they exist.

Many of the residents believe that their prayerfulness helps them not to meet the ghosts face to face. A small church nearby has attracted Christians just because of their fear of ghosts.

As they continue doing their daily work, many strange beliefs fill their hearts but they all corner around do’s and don’ts so that the dead don’t react!

“We regard midday as the time when the ghosts wakeup and they are at their fullest rage,” says Geraldine Uwamariya.
This explains why parents escort their children as they go back to school at noon.

Normally in life, people work towards a good future, one of wealth, prosperity and probably fame. Though death is compulsory, few people plan for it in advance.

Much as weddings, birthday parties and baptism ceremonies are planned for, it’s rare for humans to plan for their last funeral.

Surprisingly, most cemetery neighbours were planning the opposite for their lives. Their plans were more focused on death and life after death and they have sound reasons for it.

“I have stayed here my whole life and I’ve seen this grave yard expand, this is evidence that I will be part of it someday,” says Gaston Mukyezangabo, 33.

The grave yard’s expansion has brought it closer to people’s residences.

According to Uwitonze, the rate at which burials take place assures her of death. She always advises her little daughter on what to do in case she died.

“On average, 30 people are buried a month,” says the Cemetery caretaker. He adds that most neighbours to the cemetery don’t attend burrials.

“They try to run away from the sadness it brings though there is nothing they can do about it.”

According to the Cemetery caretaker the residences’ inheritance dictated on where they stay but if they got a better option, shifting would be welcome.

Most of the residents think it’s a poor environment to raise their kids. According to some, such kids grow up to lead sad lives and have sad childhood memories.

“Imagine remembering coffins and who was buried where while others don’t see even a single corpse in their lifetime,” says Uwitonze.

For those who have never been near a cemetery, it’s a nightmare to reside there. Even when land is offered at the lowest price, very few buyers turn up.

They probably imagine the scenes in the late King of Pop’s hit Thriller where Michael Jackson dances with the dead!
“I was offered a self-contained house at only Rwf1.5m in Remera but I never took it,” says Frank Rwema.

The house wasn’t very close to the cemetery but it was opposite.

Like others, all that filled Rwema’s mind were ghosts and the possibility of being sad every time a burial took place.
Houses neighbouring the cemetery are rented out at half the normal house rent in Kigali!

A house that goes for Rwf70,000 costs 35,000.
Real estates have deliberately not bought plots or constructed rental houses in any place near the cemetery.

“We haven’t considered having houses around, we don’t consider it a strategic area,” says Nathan Loyd of DN International Estates.

As people have mixed feelings about what happens after death and what the dead are capable of, others are staying inches from the dead and there is less they can do about it.