Community Stories: The deadliest funeral

Sandy Bay Sirpe is a miskitu village on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua that does well to keep its head down after a long history of civil war fighting, hurricanes and drug smuggling. Of all the stories the locals tell, it is the one of the deadliest funeral that reminds them that they are just human beings.

There was the village doctor and his wife, also a doctor, that presided over the barrel of rum that washed up on the beach. It was early during Nicaragua’s civil war and there had been sporadic fighting that had worn down the community’s morale. Thinking it was accidentally dropped overboard by a cargo ship far out to sea, its timely arrival was seen as a good omen after the recent death of a toddler in the community.

As is common practice on the coast, a death is followed by a vela, or a wake that lasts several days. Friends and family of the deceased pass by the “dead house” all hours of the day and night to pay their respects by viewing the body, visiting with each other and celebrating the life the deceased once lived. Cakes and teas are served, and if the family of the deceased can afford it, alcohol.

Luckily for the family of the baby, alcohol was on hand. The barrel that washed up on the beach shortly before was rolled over to the vela by the doctor. His wife filled glasses for the family, their friends and themselves. They drank merrily well into the night.

Three days later, the village doctor, his wife and about forty other villagers were dead.

It wasn’t a barrel of rum they had found, but methanol, an alcohol that causes a slow, painful death after only one shotglass’ worth.

More than the war, more than the hurricanes, more than the drug running, the poisoning of Sandy Bay Sirpe so many years ago is still talked about in hushed tones and somber voices.

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