Family For Life

Emily Hess - Senegal


January 16, 2011

I guess one of the most unusual parts of this entire trip is the idea of being part of a family unit again. It’s been about 7 months since I’ve moved out of my parent’s house in Indianapolis. Since then, I’ve been pretty much independent as far as functioning without a family is concerned. I live with two other people, about my age, so it helps me to form some kind of routine with them; it serves as a pseudo-family kind of thing. But for me, coming here was tough for a lot of reasons, and one of them was most definitely finding a niche within not only a family that I didn’t know at all, but within a family itself. Once you leave the bird’s nest, it’s most certainly difficult to try to fly back in. Here I don’t cook my own meals, here I don’t clean my whole house, here I have to tell my host mom and dad where I’m going and when I’m going to be back. I don’t buy my own groceries, I don’t help budget the water bill, and I most certainly don’t scoop the cat box out. In fact, I wonder sometimes if either of my roommates are keeping up with scooping the cat box, because for some reason that job just sucks beyond all belief and yet I was the only one capable of actually doing it.

I’m finding that there is something amazing and natural about being someone’s child again, though, someone’s responsibility. And the more I grow accustomed to my family, the more I adore the thought of being a part of them. I have a special relationship and a keen admiration for each of them and that connection is helping me with the process of being a part of something I can call a family. Some days are harder than others, of course. Some days my little brothers get on my nerves and some days I just want to do what I want to do without asking for permission or telling my mother where I’ve been and where I’m going. But most days are the ones to be remembered. Most days I walk up the stairs and as my younger host brother, Tom, and I make eye contact, we automatically assume the position of karate-black-belt-street-fighters and begin swinging slow imaginary punches and kicks until one of us claims defeat and lies down on the cold stone floor, pretending an agonizing pretend death. Most days my younger sister by one month, Penda, asks me to help her with her English homework and we laugh together about how terrible her pronunciation of “r’s” and “l’s” are, and how American my French accent is. Most days I sit down to dinner with my family and feel like I really belong there. And when I think long and hard about it, I really miss the moments I had like that with my own family.

And there are the differences, of course, that separate my life in my blood family with the one in my host family, like eating on the floor around a big bowl instead of with a plate at a table, for example, or how I have to wash all my clothes by hand and assisting with the dishes is a hell of a lot harder than just rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. And of course, how I can never really understand what any of my family members are actually saying to one another. But there are so many more similarities, it seems, than differences. My sister is always borrowing my phone charger, and I eat all the chocolate. My host mom and dad bicker and quarrel, and my two-year-old brother, Mohammed, really enjoys finding new ways to annoy everyone in the vicinity that happens to be much taller than him. Two-year-olds are universal, I always say. My other brothers, Abdulaye age 9 and Tom age 12, often are found hitting and wrestling with one another for no other reason than that they are boys far too close in age and that it might be some genetic predisposition with all pre-teenage boys that make it impossible for them to not beat one another up.

More than anything, though, it’s great to feel part of it all again, especially in a new place and a new country where every day in an adventure and sometimes a surprise. And as the holidays approach, it will be difficult to be without my family in the United States. But I couldn’t love or appreciate my new family more than I do, and spending this time with not only them, but the family I’ve created within the GCY Fellows, will be more than sufficient in making me feel a part of something big for the holidays and for the rest of my life.

Emily Hess