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Family buries banana stem as kin's body held in Iraq

Saturday April 25 2020

Ruth Omungala, 47, died in Baghdad three months

Ruth Omungala, 47, died in Baghdad three months ago and her family conducted a mock burial on April 25, 2020. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

BENSON AMADALA  
By BENSON AMADALA  
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A family in Kakamega County Saturday buried a banana stem in place of their dead kin.

During the ceremony, the banana stem wrapped in white lay on a table in a tent, symbolising Ruth Omungala's remains, a domestic worker who died in Iraq three months ago.

But more worrying is that the family is still in the dark on the whereabouts of Ruth’s only daughter, Everline Awuor.

The stem was then lowered into a shallow grave in a lush maize farm away from the main family’s compound to mark Ruth’s solemn but brief mock burial ceremony in Ingusi village, Mumias West Sub-County.

“If we don’t do what tradition demands, the family could be haunted by her spirit. There is nothing else we can do for now,” said Joash Okulia, Ruth’s elder brother.

This is the difficult choice that Ruth’s family had to make after failing to transport back her remains from Baghdad where she died after an ailment.

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Her mother, Mrs Emily Namukuru Okulia, 67, is yet to come to terms with the death of her daughter.

For the last three months, she been struggling to understand how her daughter found her way out of the country and ended up in the Middle East to find a job.

Ruth, 47, left her rural village two years ago and travelled to Nairobi to look for a job.

Her family had no idea that she would later arrange to travel to Iraq to take up a job as a domestic worker. News of her death in Baghdad left the family shocked.

The family has been desperate to transport her body home for burial but the plans fell through due to restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Okulia said the family was shocked to learn of the death of his sister in a foreign country.

“We had all along known my sister was in Nairobi. When news of death reached us, we were shocked because we had no idea she had travelled outside the country,” said Mr Okulia.

A distraught Mrs Okulia said: “My daughter has died in a foreign land. She was close to me and a kind person. I had hoped her body would be brought home for burial but that has not been possible.”

Those present at the ‘burial’ were mainly close family members. The family had been allowed to hold prayers and conduct the burial in 45 minutes to avoid a gathering of villagers in line with Ministry of Health guidelines on social distancing in burials and other public places.

Mr Okulia explained that since Ruth was not married, the banana stem cut from a sweet banana plant would be buried away from the family compound. There would be no slaughtering of a bull or other animals.

Ruth’s grandfather, Jackson Misiko, identified the spot the banana stem would buried and supervised the digging of the ‘grave’.

“After the burial, a chicken would be slaughtered for him and he will be given a new blanket to carry home,” said Mr Okulia.

The grave diggers too would enjoy a delicacy of chicken and ugali after tending to the grave and mourners had dispersed.

She left home with the mother, two years ago and has never got in touch with relatives since then.

When Ruth died, the family was approached by individuals who claimed they would help arrange to have the body transported home. They introduced the family to lawyer who requested to be paid Sh60,000.

Mr Okulia said he has been trying to contact the lawyer who is based in Nairobi in vain.

“The last time we spoke, he was so hostile and told me to stop calling him,” Mr Okulia told mourners.

A group of women, who claimed they were friends of Ruth, have reportedly collected an unspecified amount of money to support the family meet burial expenses but are yet to hand over the cash.

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