sama waa ker ci senegal. ma famille senegalese. my senegalese family.
My host family is unique in its size. It is rare to have an only child in Senegal. Families are huge due to both polygamous households and the general preference for having many kids. Even as an only child, you are still guaranteed a multitude of cousins, all of whom seem to move fluidly between the households of the extended family. Cousins on your dad’s side of the family are not actually called cousins, just brother and sister. Bineta and I share the strange experience of growing up as only children, the sole combination of our parents’ craziness, but in entirely different conceptions of family.
We often have uncles, aunts, and cousins visiting our house for meals, tea, or just to chat and watch TV. My family spends a large part of each day doing those activities.
My host dad is a recently retired fireman, who, after 28 years of work, seems very content to spend the rest of his life relaxing. He likes to sit in the living room and talk politics while he rolls himself a cigarette with special mauritanian tobacco. My sister Bineta, is 27, recently married, and almost finished with cooking school. She takes after her father in her calm and quiet character. My mother is the social butterfly of the family. She spends the morning doing chores and preparing food, but is often out visiting friends and family in the afternoon. I wish I could describe them with more depth and insight, but I don’t think I’ve had enough time. Unfortunately, without a shared language or culture, my impressions of them remain relatively flat. I am afraid to assign value or judgement to their actions and characters. Like I said, I need more time. 4 months is not enough.