Understanding my sister

I’ve been an only child my whole life, so sometimes it’s hard to understand what goes on in a sibling kind of relationship in the US, and especially here. Especially when last week my family tried to tell me that my sister was stupid. I repeated, “Stupid?”

“No,” they shook their heads, “more than that.”

My sister may be moody but she isn’t stupid. I couldn’t believe it, and they said it right in front of her. They brought it up because I asked why she didn’t like me- she’d been flat out rude to me for days, slamming doors and ignoring me. So that’s what they told me. I tried to ask her about it but she wouldn’t look at me and went about her business. She doesn’t eat with us, or talk with us, or even celebrate Tabaski with the family. She cleans and she cooks. All I could say was “Thank you Deyfama, that was delicious” but she never responded.

Finally, yesterday, she looked at me as I came in and I jumped at the opportunity.

“I know you’re not stupid.” I waited, but she just stared. “I know you are very smart, I can see.”

Her jaw loosened and her lips parted in disbelief. She looked at me and said, “I never could read good.” Deyfama has a learning disability, probably dyslexia. Because of it, her teachers kicked her out of the classroom and she dropped out of school. She can’t get a job because she can’t speak French, and her family despises her for it. They tell everyone that she is stupid, that she isn’t right. How could she not believe them? No wonder she walks with such effort on the floor, determined to make each step stick, as if it were the only thing keeping her grounded.

This morning she let me help her clean my room, she even laughed when I tripped over the bed sheet. All of a sudden she took my hands. She spoke in Wolof, but very slowly so that I could understand.

“You American, but you understand. Them, my family, but don’t understand. You are the real sister.”