After a tiring evening of Wolof class, I am ready to relax, but before I even open the front door, I hear the calls of my name, “Fatou, Fatou” from the roof. I knew at that moment that my aspiration of rest would have to wait until much later in the evening. I reluctantly walk up to the roof to see my siblings.
Seyni immediately jumps into my arms. “Loy deff?” (“What are you doing”) I ask Seyni, who is three years old and is always up to something mischievous. She responds in Wolof, and I have no idea what she says, so I just smile and say, “Gis naa la” (“I see you”) and we both laugh. I usually tend just to smile and nod when I don’t understand what people are saying to me (which is more often than I care to admit). Doudou Kenne, who is nine years old and prefers to speaks in French with me, explains that she said she was waiting for me. We all sit on the roof for 10 minutes or so until I finally tell them, I’m going to go to my room “tout seul,” to emphasize that they cannot come with me.
Even though I am eager to just lie down in my room alone for a few minutes before dinner, I proceed to make rounds to the different family units within my larger family before I go to my room. I should say for clarity that I have 3 “moms.” Because immediate and what we consider extended family in the U.S. tend to live under one roof, the wives of my host dad’s sons are also my moms, in addition to my traditional host mom. There’s Yaay Aida (my actual mom), Yaay Marem, and Yaay Fatou (yes, we have the same name). I first say stop by Marem’s room since it is on the roof. “Namm naa la” (“I missed you”) is the first thing she says when she sees me. We go through the customary Wolof greetings.
“Mangfi rekk. Yow nak?”
“Mang fi. Yaangi ci jamm?”
“Jamm rekk. Alxamdulilaa.”
I then stop by Yaay Fatou’s room and go through the same greetings. When I finally get to my room, I take out my key to unlock my door, I am almost in the comfort of my room, until….
“Fatou! Fatou! Fatou!” Despite my best efforts, the kids have found me again. Seyni tries to jump into my arms again, Doudoukan begins asking about when we are going to the beach, and Aida expectantly stares at me for the candy she knows I have stashed away in my room. There is no way out. Sweat dripping down my face, my hair a mess, and a world of expectations coming from my siblings, I was ready to pass out. I take a deep breath and remember the many times I was told by my instructors, my moms, and other family members in the house, that I need to be strict with the kids. I put Seyni down, firmly tell her to stop. I tell Doudoukan we will go to the beach soon. I tell Aida that I am out of candy. “Mangi dem tedd” (“I am going to lie down”). They slowly begin to leave me alone. Finally, I unlock my door, close it, and lock it back.
I sit on my bed and reflect on the series of events that occurred from the time I got home to now. It’s hard coming to my “home” here, still feeling the need to put on a facade. In my home back in New Jersey, when I got home from school or choir rehearsal, there was always an immediate sense of comfort I felt. But here, I still struggle to find that satisfaction with the members of my household. At the end of the day I have only been with them for two weeks, and it takes time to grow meaningful relationships, especially when there is a language barrier. Here is home, and even though it is hard now, I know that it will get better. As stressful as the kids may be, I am excited to form relationships with everyone in my household. I am delighted to hear their life stories, their aspirations, and to watch their daily routines. Every day, I work to have one meaningful interaction with a member of the household to plant seeds for these relationships. Whether it is going to the tailor with Yaay Fatou or buying an umbrella with Adame because my host dad is concerned about my exposure to the heat, I am slowly building relationships with my new family, and I feel blessed every day to be here.