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Published: December 4th 2008
My family here is composed of Mama Arriette, my brother Michel and my sister Anne-Marie. There are two other sisters in the family, one in France and another who lives in a monastery in Dakar, either of which I have yet to meet.
Although I don’t know much about Mama Arriette and never seem to pronounce her name just quite right I can tell that she is a mover and shaker in the community. There have been many incidences where her name has come up in conversation elsewhere on the peninsula. Everyone seems to know her. Other than that she is A grade chef and although we eat pretty much the same basic meals all the time I don’t think I’ll get tired of them.
My brother Michel, 28 being the only other male in the family is who I spend most of my time with and is the first one I go to when I need advice, help or if I want to borrow some of his tools. He is a hard worker content to spend the day laboring in the garden or on one of the building projects he’s involved in. For the majority of the time, unless there is a guest over, he is also the only one I eat with. This is huge benefit as I’m convinced much of the food born illness comes from sharing the bowl as hand washing is not big here and many people do not use utensils for eating. And although he sometimes prompts me to eat ridiculous amounts of food claiming it will make me a strong boxer if I do, I am grateful for the arrangement.
My sister 13 years old, is a mixed blessing. One side she is willing to do everything for me almost too nauseating lengths. Its not that I’m ungrateful, she draws water for me, takes away my trash, does the laundry, cleans the bathroom and sweeps my floor sometimes even when it doesn’t need it. The problem is most of these things I can and would prefer to do myself. Not that I can do them better but because they often come with a down side. Sweeping the room can sometimes mean rearranging my possessions to a configuration of her liking or the latest the obsessive fawning over my bicycle. Don’t get me wrong, I think every kid should have a bike and I cherish the memories as each few years I would grow into the next set of wheels extending the length of my ventures and deepening my appreciation of cycling with each advancement. The problem is giving an inch here can lead to mile. I first noticed a problem brewing when I came into my room and the bike would be moved to a different location. Interesting but not alarming maybe it was part of a thorough dust sweeping. So I decided to lock it up hoping this would be a clear sign, “do not move.” To little avail, I would often leave the keys lying around and found increasing regularity the lock would be off and the bike moved again almost like locking it was a challenge to someone’s rightful authority to keep unlocked. I didn’t nip it in the bud and before long my sister was riding around the complex crashing into the trees, and more often the ground putting an abrupt end to each short attempt.
Instead of getting visually upset I figured lets let her get this out of her system by going out to the road and giving it a proper attempt on a better surface than the sand pit that is inter ways of the village. Her first few dozen attempts were pretty disastrous as the bike is too big the seat too high and the gear ratio not ideal. Part of me was admitingly happy to sabotage the experience by not helping her out. I was hoping she would realize it was hopeless and let the fleeting desire pass. But as I stood there grimacing each time my primary transportation crashed to the ground I realized this girl with bloody heal and dogged determination is never going to give up. She is going to either ride that bike or just enjoy the novel excitement of pushing it along for 20 feet at a time before falling.
In realizing this I saw it less and less as an assault on my belongings and rather as an opportunity for female empowerment. In retrospect my sister riding clumsily along that day was the first local girl/women I can distinctly recall piloting any form of vehicle whether car, bike or charrette since I’d been in country. She was going to ride! I configured the bike as best I could despite it still being to large to properly fit her but at least now she had a fighting chance. She road albeit unstable and unable to turn, she still road.
Since that day she has cleaned my room excessively then lingered hoping to be repaid in time with the bike. I’ve reestablished limits and hid the key in order to maintain some sense of control, but finding her a bike of her own has become a priority to me. How to do that without every kid in the village asking “donne moi un cadeau” for the next two years I haven’t yet figured out.
I want to put in a side note here in case you are asking why I am being such a tight wad with my possessions. The village is basically a commune of a few interrelated families and the property of one person is fair game to the rest. So as my sister exposés her skills back and forth in front of the village a horde of other children gather all waiting for there chance to crash into the ground as well. If you don’t put up some definite limits on lending early on, like a well used easement over private property you loose all right to call it your own.
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