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Why I chose to work for the dead- Nyambura

By Caroline Nyanga | July 15th 2019
Sarah Nyambura Wangui has opted to follow her dream as a mortician.

When you think of a mortician, what strikes your mind in picturing a mortuary worker also known as an undertaker is often a man.

Or more still, you imagine a strange old man with peculiar habits and with very few friends. It’s a career very few men would dare venture into leave alone women.

But and 33-year-old Sarah Nyambura Wangui has defied all societal norms to venture into the world of the dead.

In the course of her work, she is surrounded by the dead more than the living. The mortician currently works at the Nakuru Hospital.

Sarah says embalming and beautifying the dead was her career choice “from day one”.

Inspired into the profession by a friend at the age of 25, Sarah often frequented Nyeri Provincial General Hospital and Tumutumu in Karatina, Mathera, just to familiarise herself with the activities that went on there.

“I recall going there more than 20 times. During each visit, the mortuary attendant would take me inside the morgue, which was filled with bodies placed in the cold rooms, on embalming tables and the floor,” she says.

Sarah adds that misconceptions about the profession and the dead is what inspired her to be a mortician.

“At first, I wanted to pursue a degree in journalism, but owing to lack of fees, I opted for a diploma in Information Technology at Nairobi Institute of Business Studies for six months. But I soon quit to do a certificate course in Mortuary Science at Chiromo Campus, University of Nairobi,” says Sarah.

“Although I am well aware that our career choice are sneered by many, it is something we are proud of, cherish and have a great passion for,” she says, adding that a world without morticians would be messy.

Sarah who trained at Chiromo for two years say that contrary to the belief that a mortician and a mortuary attendant are the same, the two are completely different professions.

“Unlike a mortuary attendant who looks after, washes, dresses bodies and guides relatives in identifying their loved ones, a mortician treats bodies to ensure that they are well-preserved and decent for burial,” she explains.

She says her work involves undressing the corpse, disinfecting, embalming, evisceration (removal of internal organs for diagnosis), draining of the fluids and blood, assisting in postmortem and stitching before the body is finally stored in the freezer.

Other procedures involve encoffing (putting final touches on the body by dressing and stuffing it in the coffin) before doing the final presentation popularly known as cosmetology.

The latter is beautification of the body which is done only according to the family’s specifications.

Despite immense support from their families and friends, they say there is still a lot of misconception about the profession.

Sarah says: “We all know that talking about death is difficult. It is high time we changed how we think about the death of our loved ones as we equally prepare for our own.”

Asked about the emotional impact of working on bodies, Sarah says she is used to it.

“I don’t mean to be callous, but it becomes a reality of your workplace, knowing that you are dealing with a corpse. We are all mortal,” says Sarah.

“I strongly believe that it is God who protects us. The only difference between the living and the dead is that the latter are lifeless,” Sarah adds.

“After all it is easier to be infected by a living person than the dead,” she adds saying that she hardly has nightmares.

The most challenging part of their work is reconstructing damaged bodies. But despite this they say they can look at a person’s picture before death and reconstruct the damaged part to its former appearance.

“Some families request that we remove braids or weaves. In such cases we must do so before the body is taken for embalming,” says Sarah.

She says that there are occasions when make-up is applied on the dead upon request by the family members.

“We do this after the body has been dressed and put in the coffin so as to maintain the make-up,” says Sarah.

There is no minimum number of bodies in a day. On a busy day they can work on even more than 20 bodies in a day.

For example, in April 2015, they handled more than 40 decomposed bodies from Garissa University College, Garissa, following a terrorist attack, which were transported in late and successfully managed to complete the entire process on all bodies in less than 12 hours – taking into consideration that they were only four morticians.

Their last advice is for people to strive to live in harmony with one another besides thanking God for a new day.

“Death is an inevitable transition that we all fear but we can’t help but talk about it openly besides preparing ourselves for it,” she says.

Sarah was trained by Chebi Enos Subisiso, a 29-year-old mortician, who has been working at the Chiromo Funeral Parlour for seven years.

Subisiso says young people are beginning to embrace the profession because it is marketable and not a crowded. He has trained more than 70 morticians since 2013.

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