culture & community

A Gift of Loss

by Sara — January 5, 2014

The very first thing someone gave me when I arrived in Ethiopia (besides flowers from the then-boyfriend upon arrival) was a black scarf.  A black scarf is strictly meant for funerals in Ethiopia.  A woman must cover her head with either a black scarf or her naTella with the special pattern encircling her face.   Soon after arriving in Addis, an uncle passed away and I felt, wearing the black scarf, I became a member of a new family and new community.  Grief and death and sadness are consuming; at funerals, I have seen Ethiopia at her most beautiful.



I lost my very first gift just this week while on my way to support family members whose mum had passed.  We are returning to the now-husband’s old neighbourhood, something we don’t do very often.  He decides to drive in order to get his bearings.  I slide over to the passenger side while he gets out of the car to get in the driver’s side.  My black scarf must have slipped out of the door when he opened it.  When we arrive at the house, a black van is waiting outside.  Men mostly stand together on the cobblestone quietly holding their heads in the hands.  The casket is covered by a bright cloth of purples, blues, reds and golds, and is being carried out by men in ill-fitting suits.  The women follow, wailing and shouting and crying for their sister.  Some men begin to cry then too.   Two sons and a daughter are in the middle of the crying and people click their tongues in sympathy as they pass.  They look fatigued but the sadness that surrounds them holds them as the climb the hill towards the church.  It is beautiful.


I have covered my head with a fall coloured scarf I find in my car instead of the black one I am meant to wear.  I follow the sadness and breath deeply to take in all that beauty.  The circle is getting smaller.  I will buy my own black scarf now so I can keep showing up, keep being present for this family and this community.  One day I hope to be honoured by a bright coloured cloth admist a sea of black scarves and beautiful, beautiful sadness.

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