The preschool is near the end of a looooong dirt road past the fifth bairro of town. The only thing past the school is the cemetery. We get a surprising amount of traffic on that road.
The funeral processions start with the one hearse from the one funeral agency in town, a black one with untinted windows so you can see the coffin inside. Behind the hearse, mourners process through whatever means possible – large work trucks with people standing like sardines in the open back, several chapas full, pick-up trucks, motorcycles, bikes, usually lagging behind by the time they reach the school. The immediate family of the deceased is dressed in black, and will continue to dress that way until the end of the mourning period - six months. The funerals are always eerily silent. Mozambicans don't usually show sadness as we might in the states. I've never seen anyone here cry. From the time they climb into the car to the time they reach the burial site, it's quiet. At the sight of the hearse coming down the dirt road, the teachers at the school order the kids to be quiet and close the doors that otherwise remain open all day. I usually see about one funeral procession a week. I’m at the school three days a week.
By far the saddest funeral procession I have ever seen, I didn’t even realize was one at first. The teachers and I were on the veranda, waiting for the kids to arrive. I was leaning against the wall reading and one of the teachers, Mana Gloria, was stretched out on the esteira mat beside me, when she nudged me and pointed. Coming down the road was a woman in a capulana. Several feet behind her were three other women, and some feet behind them, another few women, two with hoes and one with a shovel.
When an infant dies, only women go to bury it, Mana Gloria explained. She pointed again, and I realized the woman at the head of the procession had a capulana draped over the front of her shoulders and chest so it hung down over her folded arms to to her waist. Here, with the life expectancy of a child being what it is, they don't use hearses and coffins for children. It seemed like it took forever for the silent, tiny procession to march it's way past the school.
This is perhaps the most terrifying because shortly afterwards, the kids arrived - the three-to-five years olds universally known as Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Principally orphaned, of course, by AIDS. We know of at least a few of the kids who are HIV positive. This is the kind of stuff you try very hard not to think about during the school day.