The people here are very stoic and tears in front of others are always met with "mombea dua. Usilie yamaza kimya" (pray a special prayer, don't cry and be quiet). I heard that or something similar at least 20 times yesterday at the Khitma (prayer service) for my student.
There were probably close to 300 women there (the men were all at the mosque near by) and among the bright kangas, smoking incense, and chanting there was profound sadness and wondering and at the same time an acceptance of it all. Before the praying began everyone took seats on the mats laid outside the family's home, answered phone calls, and whispered among themselves about the latest news about the ferry sinking...how some families lost as many as 32 people...how bribes were paid to allow the ship to continue making runs because it did not past inspection....how bodies are now washing up in Tanga... how most of the people that died were women and children.....how God does not make mistakes and we must accept this. I prayed a lot during the hours I spent sitting on that mat with some of my students and neighbors. I had lots of time since I did not understand the Arabic prayers being recited. About an hour into praying my student next to me started to shake and sob and her tears were met with other women slapping her on the arm or back and telling her to pray and not cry. Not because they do not also feel grief but because the culture dictates that they must not cry. I held her hand and as tears also filled my eyes I told her God hears her cries. And I knew in that moment He did. I know He does. It filled me with peace in the midst of pain I cannot understand nor fix. He hears their cries. He even keeps the tears. This verse has always comforted me as I am known for my tendency to cry in any and all circumstances. I would not survive long had I been born in this culture since I have been known to cry even at well placed music swelling during a commercial. But it does not only comfort me because of my own basket-case inclinations but because to really know, to feel, to wrap my small understanding of God around this thought brings a warm blanket of peace over me. He collects the tears. He remembers and is deeply involved when we feel pain or joy. I read some commentary on this verse and it said that:
" It is possible, and, indeed, it seems probable, that there is an allusion in this verse to the custom of collecting tears shed in a time of calamity and sorrow, and preserving them in a small bottle or “lachrymatory,” as a memorial of the grief."
We are the created beings but yet in His wisdom He saw fit to know us each personally and hear our grief. After the service we stood in line to greet his mother and sister and as soon as I saw them again I started crying. I tried to comfort them in broken Kiswahili. I pray they felt loved by everyone gathering to mourn Mohammed. Even Jesus cried when his friend died. He has suffered so we can bring our pain to Him. And in death there can be victory. I am praying for healing and love to flow from a tragedy and people here to know they are deeply loved.
It has been raining all day and night here today for the first time in months. It feels to me like even God is crying. Cleansing. Mourning. Remembering.