Pa Jonga dies on a rainy night in May. Ma Jonga and their other children tried to treat what was either malaria or typhoid fever with a drink made from boiled masepo and fever grass, along with the medication the pharmacist prescribed. Jende’s brother, Moto, calls him at five in the morning, an hour after Pa Ikola Jonga died. The chef at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant where Jende’s working excuses him for the rest of the night and offers his condolences. Jende rides home on the subway with his head down for the entire ride. When he enters the apartment, he finds Neni wailing on her cell phone. At that moment, Jende allows himself to cry.
The combination of traditional medicine with Western medicine reveals that people in Cameroon have as much faith in their home remedies as they do in Western science and medicine. Jende’s mourning for his father is intensified by the fact that he’s so far away from home. He doesn’t express emotion but continues on with his work day to fulfill his responsibilities to himself and his family. Neni’s expression of grief causes Jende to feel that he can mourn safely.
Pa Jonga is buried two weeks later, and Jende sends money for the funeral. Jende watches the ceremony on a video that he asked Moto to produce. He watches the six-hour DVD collection in one sitting. He sees Ma Jonga collapse in grief when Pa Jonga’s casket is opened. He listens to speeches about what a good man Pa Jonga was. He watches the dances that went on from late Friday night to early Saturday morning, and he also watches his father get lowered into the ground. A day later, Jende’s back begins to ache. He spends his mornings “lying on the floor, writhing in pain.”
Jende watches the DVDs in one sitting, wanting to experience the funeral as though he was there. Despite his full engagement with the images, and the fact that he sent money for the funeral, he feels passively involved in his father’s mourning. The ache in his back is due to increased stress—not only the stresses of his immigration status and his inability to make a good living, but also his guilt over not being present for his father.
One of Jende’s co-workers refers him to a cash-only doctor in Jamaica, Queens, who charges him sixty dollars after finding out that the accidental health insurance plan that Neni purchased online is useless. The doctor, who works out of a windowless basement office, asks if he’s been dealing with any stressors. Jende wants to recite the litany of problems that haunt him: his inability to bury his father, his aging mother’s need for more money, the financial responsibility of caring for his wife and children, his uncertainty about affording his wife’s international tuition, his shaky immigration status, and his inability to afford food for a decent meal on some days.
Jende’s lack of health insurance and Neni’s vulnerability to an insurance scam reveals yet another problem that both undocumented people and citizens face: lack of access to adequate healthcare. Jende doesn’t tell his doctor about his “stressors” because he knows that medicine can’t cure what’s wrong with his back. Jende believes his problems are psychosomatic, not physical.