In a collection of his infamous graduation speeches (found after the previous Fellow Eli left it in my house), there are a few things that stand out about Vonnegut’s brief, insightful, words. He chooses a different theme and moral for each speech, but they always have the same recurring stories to illustrate that theme. One of the most thought-inducing ones is that American marriages are failing because a wife, husband, and two kids aren’t enough. There use to be giant villages of distant relatives and neighbors that all shared a space, without cars and technology to separate them. Everybody needs a big family to spend time with, because one significant other and a few kids doesn’t cut it. Maybe because Westerners are trained to grow up, move out of the house, and blaze their own trail.
Well, we may have found our answer as to why Senegalese people manage to lead (seemingly) happy lives. He also has an anecdote about witnessing a baby being born in Nigeria: after a week of only nursing, anyone and everyone above the age of 15 in the village would come over, hold and rock the baby, kiss it on the head. What a pleasant thought for that child. It’s hard to feel lonely when, even in your own house, there are five rambunctious kids running around playing football, a few sisters diligently making lunch, a few brothers watching an animated game on the TV.
My older sister Ouhmi has a two year old son Mohammed, but her husband is in Italy trying to make a living while she teaches French in a village somewhat far from our home, Pire Goureye. Because of this, Mohammed lives with us in Pire. One would think that a child living without either one of his parents would be sad and lonely. But, instead, Mohammed constantly has hoards of capable teenage aunts and uncles playing with him, feeding him, and saying ‘masa’ (sorry) when he falls on his face and starts crying. If only single or teenage parents in the United States had that kind of wonderful support when faced with the daunting task of raising children.
We should make an effort when we return to the United States: an effort to reach out to neighbors, friends, friends of friends, and cousins that we haven’t talked to in years. Go to your neighborhood park, join a cooking club, just motivate yourself to meet new people and maintain the friendships that you have. Because a family of four just isn’t enough.