Cultural exchanges

Feb 22nd, 2007 | By | Category: Ireland

Jasper is a member of the travelling community. Jasper is, of course not his real name (how did you guess?), but if I am going to use an alias, why should it be a stereotypical travellers’ name?

Jasper calls at the door most weeks and stands and chats for fifteen to twenty minutes. I wouldn’t call him a friend; I am under no illusions that if I didn’t give him a few quid, he would immediately cease calling. One of the reasons I give him a few quid is that it means I see him each week and can check that he is still living in the estate where he was housed about two years ago, and where he needs to remain for the health of his wife and children, and that the children are still in school. The other reason is that I regard it as my own tiny piece of wealth redistribution; he spends most of his money keeping his old Ford Escort on the road and driving down the country to visit various of his family members.

Each week I get news about his wife and four children and various snippets about the goings on amongst his large extended family.

Sometimes I get lost in his telling of stories, chiefly because the principal roles are often played by people with identical names. I have to get him to retrace his steps and explain which person is which; sometimes they are both cousins, but I have slowly worked out that there are some cousins who are gentle and biddable beings and other cousins who take too much drink and knock their wives around.

Anyway, Jasper called at lunchtime today and was telling me of a funeral he had attended. Funerals are an important part of his culture as they are an important part of mine, and we can exchange notes.

“We got to the cemetery”, he said, “and there was a whole row because they had opened the wrong grave. They were going to bury him with the wrong woman. So we all went away and they dug a second grave and we came back, and it was still the wrong grave. So the undertaker said that he wasn’t having any more graves dug and that the family could dig the grave themselves. So the family had to pick up the shovels and dig themselves to make sure he was buried with the right woman”.

Knowing that such an incident could cause serious hurt and upset, I said, “The undertaker doesn’t seem to have been very organised, opening the wrong grave twice”.

“Ah”, said Jasper, “that’s a difference between the settled community and travellers. How often in the settled community would you have three women with the same name buried side by side?”

I was tempted to laugh, but didn’t. His culture is as dear to him as mine is to me.

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