Archive for May, 2011

On Friday last week, there was a funeral service at the Abode (the Sufi community in upstate New York where Habiba’s mum lives) for Habiba’s father, Ramana. It took place in the library, which is housed in a large room in of one of the main buildings. The buildings themselves are quite old, having been built by Shakers in the 19th century, I think. It was attended by maybe fifty people and was quite informal – I was overdressed in my shirt and jacket.

The service was led by Ramana’s guide and two other officiants dressed in white robes. It began with a Leonard Cohen song, included readings from world religions, poetry and reminiscences of Ramana, and concluded with The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’. Afterwards, there was buffet lunch in the dining hall downstairs.

The service was very emotional for Habiba; Noor, her mum, I think was affected, too, but in general seemed more phlegmatic. Several of the other guests shed tears as they talked about Ramana.

I was on camera duties, so I recorded most of the service as best I could. My camera is not primarily designed for video and only takes 15 minutes footage at a time; I had to reduce the resolution halfway through to conserve space – and still maxed out my 4 GB memory card before the end. Now I’m in the process of uploading everything to Facebook.

The following day, Saturday, Habiba and I took the Megabus service to New York and thence to Washington DC, to attend her brother Vakil and his partner Shannon’s wedding on Sunday. We stayed at the very nice house of friends of Habiba and her mother. The basement was a near-self-contained and quite large apartment; we were woken up on Sunday morning by the maid coming to use the washing machine in the bathroom.

The wedding took place in a small hotel in downtown DC and was officiated by a friend of Shannon’s; he turned out to be a very efficient officiant as the ceremony was over in about five minutes – which everyone agreed was good. The officiant said a few words about marriage, the rings were brought to the front by Shannon’s young niece, the couple exchange ther vows, Shannon’s father put in a request for grandchildren, and then we all ate.

Afterwards Vakil and Shannon took me, Habiba and Noor on a walk through the National Mall, where we saw the White House, the Washington Monument, the brand new World War II Memorial (which, they explained, was designed to capture the architectural style of the 1940s – ie, a fascist style), the Lincoln Memorial (the Reflecting Pool was being dug up) and the Vietnam War Memorial. Then we went back to Shannon and Vakil’s place, where dinner was leftover wedding lunch (I had my third tasty cheesecake of the day).

On Monday, the five of us drove to Annapolis in Maryland. We found a place to park in a residential area, which was adjacent to an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay. Ramana had been a keen sailor, so the family wanted to go there to spread his ashes in the water. We stood on little jetty in the sunshine and Vakil and Habiba said a few words. Then he, she and Noorunnisa took turns pouring the ashes into the water.

Afterwards, we walked around and had lunch at a diner that specialises in crab – I had the crab omelet (and Vakil and Shannons’ leftover chili cheese fries) and found it to be good. Habiba bought an expensive and fancy pair of Wellington boots for herself and a cute cat salt cellar and pepper pot for me. I bought some replica historical coins and bank notes from a small museum.

Finally, Noor dropped us in Washington, where Shannon and Vakil headed home, Habiba and I headed to Union Station to take the train back up to New York, and she headed to the airport to likewise head home.

So it was an event-filled weekend, but very fulfilling. The funeral was a gentle affair that showed the love that Ramana’s friends and family had for him. The wedding, while perfunctory compared to others (even Korean weddings), was pleasantly straightforward and full of good feeling. The spreading of Ramana’s ashes was a similarly simple and peaceful moment where the family said their symbolic final goodbye.

These ceremonies and the whole of our visit has given me a greater understanding of Habiba’s family and has brought me closer to them. Personal closeness to another person is a very difficult state for me to achieve – or even comprehend – so it’s been a valuable time for me as well as Habiba.

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