Student Blogs

Familia: Family

November 19th, 2013 mpcase15

DISCLAIMER: For some reason, my computer literally REFUSES to let me put pictures up. I’ve been trying for over a week now and given up for now. I’ll keep trying and get some more up as soon as I can! So sorry for the monotonous paragraphs!

I’d like to use this post to write about the most significant part of my life here: my host family. My host family is absolutely great— and huge. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love children, and the efforts of my excessive highlighter and drawn-in stars/arrows that I inserted into my host family form back in June for the “how important is it to have children in your household” question were not for nothing. I’ll divide into 3 categories: the older children, the younger children, and the babies. First, there is Shemsa, who I mentioned in my second post. She’s 17 and an absolute gem. Beauty, brains, sass—she’s got it all. She’s also my life-line when I can’t understand something because she speaks decent English. However, words are still pronounced so differently (because of the accent) that it once took me 7 minutes to figure out that she was saying the word “Chinese” in reference to a dish we were eating. Also, on one of my first days here she asked me what the verb “kutulia” meant in English, because she kept saying it to the smaller kids. I looked it up in the dictionary, and it said: “to be eager.” Well, something to keep in mind if you ever go to East Africa is that Swahili dictionaries are terrible and half the time completely inaccurate. I eventually figured out that “kutulia” means “to calm down” (her yelling that verb at the children now makes so much more sense). However, considering the fact that she says “be eager” to them in English every day while smiling over at me in special gratitude, I’m not sure I have the heart to tell her the dictionary was wrong.


After Shemsa there’s Buthaina and Farida— aged at 13 and 14, respectively. These two are partners in crime, which is funny because they’re opposites. Buthaina is loud and aggressive and dramatic. Farida, on the other hand, is shy and sweet and quietly funny, the one who will make a random comment to herself that causes you to laugh for five minutes straight. At first, they were the hardest to get close to—I couldn’t relate to them like I could with Shemsa’s age yet I also couldn’t just do some crazy dance to get them to love me like I could with the kids. After hours of washing clothes together and trying to make sense of the plot of Indian movies and secretly looking through my American magazines together (SO not allowed), I’d say that I’m equally close with them now as I am with Shemsa (despite Buthaina frequently/eternally driving me insane).
Next comes the little kids: Anwar, Abduli, Nawaf, Ismaili, and Rumaisa, aged 10, 9, 7, 7, and 6. I’m absolutely in love with Ismaili. Picture the most precious, innocent, kind-hearted child you’ve ever met, and multiply it by 10. THAT’S Ismaili. I wish he could come home in my suitcase, but he actually just moved out a few weeks ago…hear my heart breaking? Abduli is a spitfire who does a weirdly incredible imitation of Tanzanian rappers. He’s also obsessed with soccer (everyone here is), and on my third or fourth day here the topic inevitably came up. He asked me which team I liked, and in response, I asked him which team he liked. He told me that Manchester City was his team of choice, so, not thinking anything of it, I said that I liked Manchester City, too, instantaneously becoming Abduli’s hero and best friend. I have now been living a deep lie for about 3 months in which I have consistently pretended to be a passionate, die-hard fan of Manchester City. Luckily, it just involves a ton of screaming and jumping and victory dancing and the occasional Google Search after I don’t know a tiny detail about a player’s childhood, details that Abduli views as essential in my identity as a fan. More to come on the other younger kids later!
Finally there are the babies—oh, and my host mom! There are two babies—Imrani and Sheimah, who are 1 and 2. They are both pretty deathly afraid of me, probably because they haven’t seen Caucasians much before, but Sheimah has warmed up and even said my name a few weeks ago. Also, Imrani took his first step about 2 weeks back! Although they refuse to love me, I will continue to shower them with kisses and love until they do. You’re probably wondering why my host mom has so many children—it’s because she’s actually not their mom, but their grandma! I consider her my mom here and call her “Mama Shemsa” because she is my mother figure, but she is actually the kids’ grandmother and they call her “Bi Shemsa.” My host grandma—their great-grandma—also lives with us, but she’s very elderly and ill so unfortunately I don’t get to interact with her too much. Lastly, there are a million other kids running in and out of the house every day that I guess I could call “half-host-siblings.” All in all, I couldn’t ask for a more loving and welcoming family. There are no doubt challenges, like having to deal with all the strange Zanzibari theories that they force upon me (in case you weren’t aware, if you bathe before your sweat dries then it will form a permanent film on your body and cause organ failure later in life…) and being fed only bread for 6 days straight one time (I eventually had a slight breakdown and now I’m fed yummy food so don’t worry). And, of course, they will never be my real family, who are my very best friends in this world. However, I know that without them I would be so utterly lost here—they give me a home, but, more than that, a place in their hearts. A place where I truly matter here. I spend more time with them than anyone because family is such an integral and indispensable part of the culture here, and I find myself starting to realize how hard it will be to leave them. However, as my host mother and pretty much every Zanzibari likes to say: “Tuko pamoja.” Translated: We are together, united. I’m lucky to say that when I leave on December 20th, I’ll have two families—one in America and one in Zanzibar. More to come on the lack of power and my internship!

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