Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, January 17

A Family's Parasite

I got in a fight with my brother over fish. I adapted the policy to tell the people of Senegal that I'm allergic to fish- because it just seemed easier than explaining that every time I eat it I become violently ill. So from the first week I moved in, I worked out an agreement with my host mother that when the meal included fish she would tell me in advance and either I or she would make something separate for me to eat in my room.

My eldest brother, thinking anything from 'why should she be so special' to 'perhaps she's just too weak and if we continue to feed it to her she's get over it' has never been keen on the idea of a separate meal for me. And in the times when our family doesn't have a maid, the afternoon meal generally becomes the responsibility of said brother to prepare it after he gets home from school.

Well, this week I walked into the kitchen while he was preparing the fish... and he told me he'd be making vegetables for me separately. Great, that's something Mom does too. Except, when it came time to eat, there was clearly no separate plate, no Mom to explain, and a house full of men confused as to why I wasn't sitting down at the lunch bowl. Awesome.

Three bites into the fish dish and sure enough, I was started throwing up. Angry, hungry, and nauseous... I hid in my room for the rest of the afternoon. Later in the evening, when my brother got back from school he came to greet me, but I told him I was angry because he'd made me sick. He said nothing and left.

Two days later I still wasn't talking to him, and got the impression he didn't really seem to care. So I confronted him about it. I told him I wanted him to apologize. Why? Because you fed me fish when you said you were making me something else. No, I said I made the vegetables in a separate pan from the fish. Well as you can see, if they all end up together in the end then I still get sick. That's not my problem. Ok, well why didn't you tell me there was soup in the refrigerator that Mom had left me. Why did you let me just eat the fish. That's not my problem. Ok, forget the fish. How come when I got sick, you didn't care? Doesn't it bother you that I was sick because of something you'd given me? That's not my problem. Awesome.

That's the moment when I realized that I'd been taking the term "family" a little too literally and had begun to lose the context. These people are my HOST family. They are here to pretend to be my family, to host me in housing and food, but they have no obligation to actually act as my family. Especially since I pay them rent and food allowances to cover the aforementioned.

It may seem irrational that I'm upset, but that doesn't mean I'm not. I care about these people because they are the closest thing I currently know to a family; like living family organism. I pretend to be a part of the colony because it makes me feel better. And in so pretending, if something happens to disrupt the function I am concerned and immediately seek remedies to rectify wrongs. When someone else is sick, I bring them water or make hot tea.

But looking at it from their point of view, I'm temporary. Volunteers may come and go, but they, the true members of the family, remain... and therefore I can't really be counted on. So, given that, why should they bother putting more effort than necessary into a relationship with me. It's not their problem, just as my brother said.

On top of feeling like a parasite to these people, I've now lost the ability to talk to the person I felt the most comfortable with, by brother. The crappy part is that he seemed to be the only person who understands the concept of "homesick" and he was the easiest to talk to (although admittedly that could be because he's got the best English skills).

As it stands, though, I think I'll choose to keep pretending to be part of the family instead of a parasite. That just seems more livable.

1 comment:

  1. So I was blog snooping, hoping to find a cool feature that I could add to mine and I decided to read your post. I can hear you telling this story! You and molly tell the best stories

    I agree and understand. My family thinks I'm a bank. I got asked for tea and sugar yesterday and said I have the money to pay them for February and then only enough for my breakfast and trip back to Kaolack. Then that afternoon I said I was going to the post office to check for my birthday package, one woman said to me "I thought you didn't have money."

    Like you realized, they are only our host family and unless you are the first volunteer, they have realized you will leave and want the most out of you. It's harsh, but I have so many experiences to support it.

    Also, directly confronting people is a big deal here!! Be careful when you do that.

    See you soon!