Sunday, November 9, 2008

Funerals, Harambees and Seaweed

Last week one of the teachers I work very closely with sadly lost his mother. He was absent from school for the week. One of the other teachers came up to me and explained what happens when someone in the school has a death in their family. He told me they have a funeral type of ceremony which you can attend, but before that all of the staff in your office are given an envelope in which you write your name on it and put money inside. I asked if I could include a sympathy card, but they said I shouldn't. They told me to just put money in the envelope, write my name and then write down how much you donated. Then they collect all of the envelopes and give them to the family at the funeral.

This process reminded me a lot of the "harambee" spirit in Kenya. "Harambee" is the official motto of Kenya and appears on their coat of arms. Harambee in Swahili can loosely translate to: "working together for a common purpose."

In Kenya, if there is a death in the family, or they need to raise school fees or pay for a hospital bill, then they arrange a harambee. For the harambee they usually have a piece of paper explaining the dilemma and then they walk door to door to their neighbors, friends and family's houses asking for money. Hopefully with the help of their community and friends they can get enough money to cover whatever expenses they have.

But then in Japan I noticed something quite different... A week or so after I gave the envelope I noticed a really nicely wrapped present in my desk drawer. I thought it belonged to another teacher who uses my desk. A week or 2 went by and the present was still there... so I decided to open it to see what was inside. On the outside it said Callie Sorensen, 3,000 yen. HUH!??!?! Was I given a present and then expected to pay for it??? what WAS it??? I opened the beautiful packaging only to find crispy dried seaweed sheets!!!!!! HUH!?!??! $30 for a bit of dried fancy seaweed?!?! I went over to an English teacher and asked him why I was supposed to pay 3,000 yen for seaweed that I didn't even ask for.

He was startled and then quickly explained to me that the seaweed was a present for me. It was to say thank you for giving money at the funeral. ooooooooh.... whoops... hrmmmm... interesting.....

Maybe Kenya should add seaweed gifts to their harambees!!!!

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