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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Business in Africa

Business as it’s done in Togo: 
  1. Yesterday I went to buy bread from a vendor on the side of the road. The loaf of bread cost about 25¢, I tried to pay with what is the equivalent of about $1.  The vendor informed me they didn’t have the change, so as usual I told them to go look for the change.  They asked about 3 people for the change, no one had it (at least that’s what they claimed) so the vendor comes back to me and tells me they can’t find the change.  So I tell them to give me my money back, take their bread, and then they tell me to try the vendor that is literally right next to them, selling the exact same bread about 2 feet away.  I ask them if they’re serious that they’re willing to not make a sell because they can’t find change and they tell me yes to go buy bread from the vendor next to them.  I’m pretty sure there’s no word for competition in any Togolese language....
  2. I went to a Bassar, a town in West Kara, for the yam festival.  Being a good little American, I called ahead by about 3 weeks and made reservations at a local hotel for two rooms.  I asked the owner if he needed my name and he said no that he took down my phone number and that was enough, that he’d reserve my rooms.  Friday myself, and at this point 7 other friends, arrive at the hotel to check in to our rooms and see if there are other rooms available for our other friends who decided at the last minute to come to the festival as well.  Upon speaking to the owner we discover that he has given our rooms away (it’s only 3 p.m.) and it’s my fault that he has given the rooms away that I called to reserve. I explain to him that I called him several times and text messaged him to reserve the rooms, his response “oh is that how a reservation works?”.  My response, yes, actually that is how one works, exactly how it works.  His response, “I can’t expect to keep a room available for you, what if you don’t show?” I ask him why he just didn’t call me to see if I was still on my way since he said he took down my number, his response “I’m too full of numbers”.  Yes, good job my friend, blame the client.  
  3. In doing a profit margin analysis with the weavers with which I work I discover and show them that they are making little to no profit on their product.  I tell them they have to increase their price in order to be profitable or find some way to cut down costs.  Their response, “we can’t increase our price, the clients complain already that it’s too expensive, no one will buy if we increase our prices”. My rebuttal, “but your not making any money, in fact you’re probably losing money as it is by selling to them, you’re going bankrupt by selling to them at this price, you either have to cut costs, increase price, or stop producing.” Their only response is that they can’t increase their price, no one will buy if they do...

The Loss of a friend

        I pulled up to the station and got out of the car, I immediately looked over to my right and saw the line of plastic chairs outside Pascaline’s house with the Chefs sitting out front.  The last time I had seen this sight was the day we buried Chouchou.  My stomach dropped and I immediately knew what had happened yet I held out hope that I was misinterpreting the situation.  I gathered up my bags, paid the driver, and headed toward the house.  By now Jeanne was standing outside and she didn’t look well, yet I still held out my hope.  I greeted her and she gave me the news I already knew but was hoping wasn’t true.  During the night Jean, Pascaline’s husband and Jeanne’s brother, had passed away, leaving behind his wife and 4 children. 
The week prior Jean had been complaining of headaches, as always I immediately suspected dehydration and asked how much water he had drank that day.  Of course it wasn’t much, if any, and I told him I don’t know what’s wrong with him, I’m not a doctor, but usually here when it’s so hot if I have headaches it’s because I’m dehydrated, drink more water, lots of water, and see how you feel the next day.  It didn’t seem to get better and soon he was complaining of a fever and went to the hospital.  I was glad to see he went to get medical attention, all too often here one avoids going to the hospital due to the fees and when they do finally go it’s too late.  He was able to walk himself to the hospital so I figured he was going early enough.  A week later he was still in the hospital with no one quite knowing what was wrong with him and his family was refusing visitors, for at this point in Togo one never knows who is good and who is bad and wants to put a curse on the ill.  
I dropped by the hospital one more time before my overnight trip to Kara for a meeting.  This time Jeanne and Pascaline let me in the room and I was able to view Jean in his bed.  He was the sickest person I have seen to date and while Jeanne and Pascaline held out hope that he would get better all I could think was that this man was going to die within hours, there was no way he could survive, he looked like a skeleton under the sheets, how could anyone recover from that? 
The next day as I was preparing to leave Kara my friend tried to convince me to stay one more night.  I was tempted, I had a lot more work I could do and with the rain threatening to arrive soon I had no desire to get in a taxi and head home, yet something was telling me I had to get home.  I got in the taxi and headed home, and upon my arrival was glad I was able to make it home when I did.  
After I had received the news of his death and immediate burial I informed the family I would head home to drop off my bags and would return immediately to the house for the funeral.  To this day, walking the road to my house in the opposite direction of my entire village coming from the burial has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do.  But in true Togolegese fashion, everyone greeted me, asked how my trip was and informed me of the bad news.  I accordingly greeted them and informed them I would be back at the house shortly for the funeral.  I eventually made it home, dropped my bags off, changed into some clean clothes, attempted to clean myself up and forced myself to return to the family’s house. 
Despite the fact that I have now been to a few funerals in village, I’m still not quite sure of the ritual for funerals.  It’s the one time that everyone seems to leave me on my own, as if I know what to do.  In most cultural situations here I have a friend with me who goes before me and either guides me in the traditions or at the very least provides me with the means to follow their actions.  In the case of funerals so far I get lead to the funeral and then am left on my own to figure out the traditions.  I have on occasion asked what I am supposed to do, but am only provided with a vague response that leaves me just as clueless as I was before.  So I stumble through the ritual, just hoping to not offend anyone or to at least be excused as a foreigner if I do happen to offend someone.  
This time, I walk into the family’s house, I come here everyday, it’s practically my house, it is my family, and yet I feel so uncomfortable I can’t even explain it.  The courtyard is filled with so many people sitting around, I have no idea who I should greet first or where I should go exactly.  I see some people that I know, I greet them and they inform me Pascaline is on the other side of the courtyard and point in that direction.  I take that to mean I can freely walk to that side without having to greet everyone on this side.  I walk in that direction, noticing several benches filled with either elderly or people I recognize, I begin greeting everyone on the benches as well.  I then am lead to the end of the bench where I find Pascaline sitting on a stool next to the empty spot at the end of the bench where I’m told to sit down. I have no idea what to say to the woman I spend everyday with in village, the woman who is like a best friend, like a mother to me, the woman who has just lost her husband and become a widow with 4 children to raise.  I tell her I’m so sorry, and to have courage, I want to hug her, I want to give her a giant hug, but knowing hugging isn’t a part of Togolese culture I resist.  So I sit there next to her not knowing exactly what else I’m supposed to do.  I now realize I’m a part of the receiving line, as more people come in to give their condolences they give them to me as well.  It makes me uncomfortable and I have no clue how I should react.  Yes I consider myself a part of the family, they are my family after all, however, I feel that I don’t deserve to be a part of this, I feel like I’m stealing something from those truly affected by Jean’s death.   
With time everyone starts leaving the house, and eventually I announce my departure.  I say my goodbyes and head back to my house desperate for things to just go back to the way they once were.  
Jean died of malaria, falciparum malaria, which is completely curable had it been caught within the first 72 hours and preventable had he been on malaria prophylactics. I know volunteers who have fallen ill with the same severe type of malaria (it is the most severe type), but because we have access to our medical unit 24/7, they have been treated and cured in a timely fashion with no problems.  However, the average Togolese don’t have this option and as a result lose their lives because, despite the fact that there is the science to cure or prevent this disease, it’s not readily accessible to those who need it if they can’t afford it.  It’s quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done, living and watching people die from diseases that I know are preventable and curable.  Watching mothers lose their children, husbands lose their wives, wives lose their husbands and become widows in a life that was hard enough before they became a widow.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

1 year in and still going!

      Well as always, it’s a been quite a while since I’ve last blogged.  I’m not sure why but I just never feel in the mood to blog.  It often feels that I have nothing to talk about even though I’m sure a lot of what does happen here could be considered interesting.  For me it just feels normal and not all that interesting anymore.  Also there’s just been a lot going on over the last few months.  Since my last blog my closest neighbor early terminated her service, I had my 30th birthday in Togo, I went on safari in Benin, assisted with a women’s conference in Kpalime, celebrated our one year in country mark and with that welcomed the newest arrival of volunteers (can’t believe that was me last year!), helped train the new volunteers for a week and a half, was a coordinator and counselor for Camp Espoir, went to Rabat, Morocco for 4 days, sent two apprentices and one student to camp UNITE, partook in the Evala (wrestling festival) festivities in Kara, and eventually made it back to village after an almost two month absence from my post.  And with my arrival back to Pagouda I feel as though I’ve hit my mid service crisis.  I have little to no desire to do any sort of Peace Corps work and feel that in the years time that I’ve been here I’m managed to accomplish nothing that would actually improve the life of anyone in my village.  So for the last week that I’ve been in village I’ve spent my time working on my house, installing a gutter, getting my gazebo cemented and planting flowers around it, working my field (yes, field! my host family gave me some land in front of my house that I’m planting stuff on), cleaning like crazy, or just sitting around drinking Tchouk with friends in village or reading at the house.  I keep telling myself that tomorrow I’ll start back up on some work, but it just isn’t happening. I’m hoping soon I can motivate myself to get back to work.  I’ve talked to other volunteers who arrived at the same time as me and it seems many of us are all going through the same thing.  So at least I’m not alone! 
We’re also now in rainy season, it’s not raining every day yet, but still raining pretty frequently.  Last year I couldn’t stop praising rainy season for how easy it was to get free water and how it cooled everything down.  This year I’m only seeing the negative sides to rainy season.  Yes, water is easy to come by which is great considering water is often a problem for people, and yes it is much cooler and even “cold” while it’s raining.  However, the roads are just giant mud pits and it makes it really hard to get anywhere, everyone is more concerned with their farms then they are with doing anything with the local peace corps volunteer, mosquitos are out of control, weeds  are everywhere and I have to spend so much time weeding in and around my yard for fear of snakes if I don’t weed my yard, and the electricity cuts off a lot more during rainy season.  And the hardest thing I’m finding with rainy season is that this is also the poor season.  Yes, my village is always poor, but this is truly poor during rainy season.  At this point most of the crops have all finished from the november/december harvest and since the rains only just now started again they’re only just now replanting.  Which means no one has food and the price of food has gone up a lot since there’s hardly anything left at this point (if you actually managed to stock pile well enough you’re doing good!).  Everyone is so concerned about their crops and buying fertilizer for their crops too but they don’t have any money for it.  So now we have the other downside of rainy/poor season, go ask your local white person for money so you can buy fertilizer.  In the last week I’ve had several people come up to me asking for money, where it’s only happened one time during my year here aside from now.  It really sucks having to tell your neighbors that no you can’t loan them money, especially when they make the plea to you saying they need to feed their family.  However, if I do it I’ll have the whole village knocking at my door asking for something.  It just makes even harder too when I’m running around village spending a lot of money right now on Tchouk, snacks, getting work done on my house, etc and I have to tell them I can’t loan them money.  I did tell one man he could weed around my house and his wife could do my laundry and I’d pay them for that work.  So that at least was helping him out some but making him work for it so it’s not just a hand out.  I guess in general it’s just been tough seeing for the first time people in my village struggling to get the basic necessities.  My village is poor but not so poor that they don’t have the basic necessities in life.  Right now though, everyone is struggling and it’s hard to sit by and watch it.  Also the rains started late this year so everyone is worried about how long it’ll be until they get the first harvest. I’m hoping it all works out ok and am just doing what I know best and spending my money in village trying to support our local economy.  
So from an outsiders perspective this probably sounds like a pretty negative blog, maybe you think I’m having a really rough time right now.  I want to assure you all that I’m fine and am still happy to be here.  I actually keep thinking about this time next year when I’ll be packing up to leave and realizing how hard it actually is going to be to leave my village.  I’ve made some good friends here and it is going to be really hard leaving them.  I feel almost guilty that I can go back to America, “the land of the good things”, and have to leave them here.  I wish I could take them with me, or at least give them a much better life.  Best I can do at this point is just enjoy this next year with them.  
And to end things on a better note, I’d like to say I’m pretty proud that in the year that I’ve spent here I’ve only gotten amoebas once, dehydrated once, and one cough/cold.  Other than that no other illnesses which compared to other volunteers I think is quite an accomplishment!  One year down and no malaria! Here’s to one more year of pretty decent health! 

Friday, March 11, 2011

The last few months in Togo

So again I've failed to update this regularly, I think I'll just stop apologizing and admit that, well it's probably just the way it's going to go from here on out. 
Well since my last update the holidays have come and gone.  And despite the weather and lack of any sort of holiday spirit floating around, I actually really enjoyed the holidays.  For Christmas eve I had 3 of my closest neighbors over for dinner and we all cooked dinner together, made spiced wine (well as best as we could), and listened to Christmas music together.  It actually felt a little like the holidays.  My friends stayed at my house after dinner while I decided to make the trek across town to go to the midnight mass at the catholic church.  It took everything in me to not fall asleep during the mass and actually make it to the end at 1:30 a.m.! The next day we had a great breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs together before everyone slowly started heading back to their own villages. Once they were all gone I had lunch at my friend's house, then just meandered around town handing out these chocolate peanut clusters I had made to the people I'm closest with in village.  Then that afternoon there was of course camu (traditional dance). I was told it was to start at 3 p.m. at the catholic school.  My friend called me around 3:30 asking if I was going to the dance and I told her I was on my way. I arrived around 4 p.m. and there was just about no one there.  Worried I had missed it, I called my friend back asking where she was and confirming that I was in fact at the catholic school.  I was in the right place, and yes it was in fact starting late, very late.  So waiting for it to start I took a seat at a random bench that was sitting there and naturally a calabash of Tchouk appeared in my hands within minutes. After a few minutes of waiting several groups of dancers started arriving from all different directions. Then before I knew it, camu was in full swing! For a little over an hour everyone was just dancing in a circle around the drums.  To my surprise the women were dressed as men and the men were dressed as women.  When I asked why this was the case I was told “because it’s Christmas, we do the same for New Years, you’ll see”.  When I then asked why so many people were carrying suitcases I was told “because they’re old suitcases, don’t you see”.  After a calabash or two I was eventually persuaded to join the dancers and was immediately given a pair of castanets and found myself dancing around the circle with my friend from the micro-finance office clanging my castanets and completely surrounded by a herd of children. Once the dust became too much my friends and I decided to all start heading home and thus was the end of Christmas in Togo! 
For the next few days not much really happened.  I met up with a few friends in Kara the day after Christmas and spent some time at the pool but other than that it was basically just waiting till New Years Eve.  For NYE I once again stayed in village my closest neighbor Joni came out to spend the evening with me.  We had dinner at my house, hung out a bit and then headed over to the hotel for their NYE party. I was told the party started at 8 p.m. but to not get there till 9 or so.  We ended up arriving around 10 or 10:30 and were about the 3rd and 4th people to arrive.  We grabbed a drink and sat down and watched as a 7 year old girl just took over the dance floor by herself.  She was adorable and quite a good dancer.  I grew attached to her and later in the night met her dad and asked him where she learned to dance and he told me from watching t.v.  She fell asleep in my arms at the end of the night and I wanted to take her home!  But before all of that, after we watched her dance for a bit my friend in village showed up and told us we needed to go have a drink at another bar that was near by and then we’d return to the hotel’s party.  It was at this point 11 p.m. so it seemed a little odd to leave our new years eve party so close to midnight, but we obliged and headed over to the other bar.  Turns out it was a bar I had no idea even existed in town and is a pretty cool place.  We wound up doing our midnight countdown at that bar, and by we I mean Joni and myself, and once we finished our drinks went back to the hotel.  We stayed at the hotel for quite a while and eventually made it back to my house.  The next day we went over to my friends house and had lunch, after which Joni headed back to her village and I just roamed around town greeting people, participated a bit in the New Years camu, and eventually wondered back home and hung out with my host family that evening.  And thus the holidays in Togo came to an end.  All said and done, I’m glad I stayed in village for both holidays, it may not have been what I’m used to and what I love in the holidays but it was a good time nonetheless and everyone welcomed me into their homes without any hesitation.  
Since the holidays my schedule seems to have finally calmed down a bit and I feel like I’m finally starting some bit of work.  At the end of January I started my women’s group which will meet once a month and I’ll train them on a new topic every month and we’ll also discuss women’s rights and how we can help the young girls in the schools.  The first meeting I went over feasibility studies and we discussed some of my ideas for reaching out to the young girls in school.  I’ve also just started my computer classes for the teachers at the high school and my adult english lessons.  I’m still continuing my English clubs in the schools, but for the middle schools the attendance is little to no one so I’m getting rather frustrated with them.  Aside from that I’m still working on compiling information on Togo to make a country guide and am working with club espoir in Kara once a month.  We have a couple of camps over the summer that I’m now trying to apply for as I want to participate as a counselor and also trying to find participants I can nominate from my village. When I actually talk about what I’m working on it never seems like much, yet some how I always feel so busy and like I never have enough time to do anything that I need to do.  I do however spend a lot of my time doing housework between boiling water, hand washing my laundry, washing dishes, sweeping, washing the floors, dusting, moving water from one bin to another, washing out my water bins, etc.  Being here really does make you realize how much time we gain by having machines do so much for us and just by having running water even.  
In mid February after club Espoir I headed down to Lome with Mary, a volunteer about an hour north of Kara who came in country the same time as me and is one of my closest friends here. I had to have a few tests run (nothing serious!) and also just wanted to get back south to visit Tamara and my host family in Tsevie.  A big group of us wound up being in Lome together so a bunch of us went out for valentine’s day together and splurged on some really good pizza and mediocre wine. That afternoon though, Mary and I took advantage of the Ambassador’s open invitation to PCVs to come and use her swimming pool.  It was an awesome pool and we had it to ourselves. It was the perfect temperature and so clean, it was great!  We also found strawberries and excitedly bought a demi kilo, not really knowing how many strawberries that would be.  We paid too much for them but it’s funny what becomes a splurge when you give up so much.  We very excitedly brought them to the pool with us thinking this was going to be the best idea ever.  As I pulled them out and was just about to bite into the first one I realized we hadn’t washed/bleached them (as we have to do with all fruit you don’t peel).  We weighed our choices of risking getting sick or enjoying our expensive strawberries and very sadly wound up putting them up and deciding we’d try to figure out how to bleach them back at the hotel.  We wound up just having to take them with us when we left Lome the next day.  She was headed back to Kara and I was headed to Tsevie for a few days.  So thankfully I only had to wait one day to finally enjoy my delicious little strawberries.  
I wound up spending 3 nights in Tsevie where I was able to catch up with Tamara and spend an afternoon with my host family.  As always it was great to see them all and I had a great time.  I got to see a little of the work Tamara is doing and got some of my own work done as well as relax a little.  I also unfortunately/fortunately received the news from some tests done in Lome that I had Amoebas.  Good news in that I know something was in fact causing my diarrhea and I could now take medicine for it.  Bad in that well Amoebas I had been told are no fun.  It hadn’t been as bad as other people had described it so far, so I wasn’t too concerned though.  I was originally planning on leaving on Thursday so that I could make sure I was back in village by Friday night at the latest since I had my computer classes starting on Saturday morning.  And since one never knows how long a bush taxi is going to take it’s usually best to give yourself more than enough time to arrive and in my case since getting to my village from Kara after about 5 p.m. can be tricky it’s best if I give my self an extra day in case I have to spend the night in Kara.  However, I talked myself into staying Thursday night and leaving extra early on Friday taking a chance that I would get a good bush taxi and make it home before dark.  And thankfully I did for once get a fairly decent bush taxi.  It was never too crowded and didn’t make too many stops between Tsevie and Kara and I wound up making it to Kara by about 3 p.m.  Unfortunately though, on our way up the mountain in to Kara we passed two big semis that had tipped over and sadly with the second one we came across the man I assume to be the driver was lying next to the vehicle dead with just a t-shirt put over his face.  It was the first dead body I’ve seen and it was rather creepy.  Yet I found my self not being as shocked as I feel I should have been and I couldn’t stop staring at it as we drove by it ever so slowly. 
I happily arrived back in village before night fall, had time to catch up with a few of my friends in village, unpack, relax, and go to bed at a normal hour.  Early the next morning I got up, packed up my stuff and biked out to the high school to start my computer classes with the professors.  Much to my dismay they didn’t show up and the director of the school told me to start my classes the next week.  Frustrated that I was so stressed the day before about making it home in time for the classes only to have them cancel on my without notice I was discouraged from doing anything else the rest of the day and pretty much did nothing the rest of the day.  Sunday evening was then to be the start of my adult english lessons.  And yet again to my dismay no one showed.  So needless to say I was in a very discouraged mood and had no desire to work the whole week following and honestly did very little for several days after that other than personal stuff.  I visited Madjatom’s monday market which is the large market on the border of Togo and Benin.  Wound up spending all day there on Monday and on Tuesday I went to another border town for the second part of a funeral for my friend’s mother’s husband.  Upon returning from that around 12 on Tuesday I was then invited to go back to that general area for another funeral.  Since I wasn’t in a mood to work, I accepted and headed back to the border area to see another funeral.  Unfortunately they weren’t doing any big celebrations that day (it was an 8 day event since it was for a Chef), however, just before we left I did sit down and watch them slaughter a giant cow that had been killed before our arrival.  I watched in amazement as they cut up every single piece of the cow and divided it amongst the various elite of the village.  I reflected back on my first time in France when at the age of 17 I watched my host family slaughter and skin a sheep in front of me with complete disgust and wanting nothing to do with watching that.  And here I now was 12 years later willingly watching as these men were not only skinning the cow but cutting up all of it’s parts and even cutting open the stomach and intestines right in front of me.  
Within the last month I also had my dog neutered.  When I talked to the vet about it, he said he’d come to my house to do it but to make sure that I had two strong men with me to hold my dog down.  I told him I didn’t know how to ask two men to come do that for me so he said he’d bring two.  He wound up not showing up on the day he was supposed to come but came the next day instead.  His reason for not showing the day before was that his son had been kidnapped to be brought to Nigeria.  They had thankfully caught him and the son was returned but he was busy with the police all day.  I couldn’t believe he was still showing up at my house so soon to do the operation and I had no idea what to say to him.  He was so nonchalant about it was strange.  But apparently since we’re a border town that happens a lot here so I guess they’re not as shocked by it.  Anyway, with my dog chained up and the two men holding him down I stood there and watched as they neutered my dog.  I don’t know why I watched and I don’t know why I wasn’t more disgusted by it.  
I think it’s now clear I’ve become too desensitized and perhaps a true PCV.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Farewell Soeurou...Pagouda won't be the same without you

On Jan. 5 a woman in village passed away after being sick and in the hospital for a few days.  I'm still not sure what exactly she died of, but it was sudden and it a bit of a shock to us all in the community.  She was such a fixture in village that it's going to be weird without her.  She always walked around in a manner that I was never sure if she was crazy, drunk, or a little of both.  When I once mentioned that I thought she was a little crazy everyone laughed and said "I can see how she would think that". So apparently she wasn't crazy, at least not officially. She would often be found just dancing down the street and everyone would be laughing at her.  Every time she saw me she'd address me by saying "mon fils" (my son), I'd then remind her that I'm a girl and explain that it should be ma fille, not mon fils as I'm a girl and not a boy.  She'd then seem confused and in English say "my baby" and point at me. We had this same exchange more times than I can count, yet now I'm going to miss it and miss her and all her crazy antics.  
Last night we had the wake for her and it was my first wake to go to in Togo.  We stayed up till about 11 p.m. with everyone saying prayers, singing, telling their stories about her and so on.  At some point this other woman in village, who was drunk, came walking up to the front dancing in front of everyone while the band was playing and people were going around collecting money to pay for the funeral.  People were laughing and commenting on how this woman was replacing the one who had passed away, as that sort of spectacle is exactly what the deceased would have caused. Then today we had the burial for the woman.  We again met in the same place just outside the Chef's compound where everyone gathered and there were more prayers and more music (I was fortunate enough to have the trombones right behind me!) and we all eventually walked to the cemetery following the truck carrying the casket.   As we walked up to the grave site I noticed that many people stopped early and hung back, while others went up to the grave site.  Then as it was explained to me that the women don't go up to the grave and I realized it was all the women who had stopped early and it was the men that were surrounding the grave.  When I asked why this was the case it was explained that they think women don't have the heart to handle being by the grave and that they might fall.  But apparently a woman can go around the grave if she so chooses.  Then while we were all gathered around grave as the casket was being placed in the ground, the same woman from the night before comes walking in to the cemetery wearing the hat of the deceased and creating quite the spectacle.  My first thought was that she was either drunk again or just acting like the deceased in order to say she was some how possessed by the deceased or something like that.  It was then explained to me that the family gave her the hat and asked her to act like the deceased. So that's exactly was she was doing, walking around crying out during the burial, yelling at people, and just stumbling around.  Apparently this is very common to have someone act out as the deceased at the burial.  I just found it odd, distracting, and a little eery as she did an amazing job at acting like her and it really seemed like the deceased was walking around at her own burial.  She also continued to walk around and act like the deceased for the rest of the day.  It was eery.  
One thing that always strikes me here is how different their views on death are from ours.  But I guess in a country where death is so common, it's not that surprising that they accept it and deal with it a little better than we do.  I believe they said that within the last 5 months this family, which is the Chef's family actually, has lost a total of 8 family members.  Even though here that would include very extended family it's still just crazy how frequent death is here.