Being a firstborn daughter in a relatively sizable extended family of East Africans* certainly has its benefits. I’ve been taught to experience rice as a food group, I have family scattered across the world (which can really cut down on hotel costs whenever I get a case of wanderlust), and generally speaking, the comfort of knowing that I have a large network of aunts, uncles, and considerably older cousins that consider me to be their own child is a privilege that I treasure.
That said, none of this comes without some quirks. Case in point: my beloved mother is currently in an extended stay in the islands of Comoros, where my family is from. Somehow, her visit has become all about my absence - apparently no one can understand why I can’t take over a month off to come visit my family and expect to have a livelihood to return to. All of this has resulted in an increased frequency of the general side effects of the aforementioned highly extended and highly involved family network in any of the following ways.
1. International calls at any given hour of the day or night
Most first generation kids in the PME (Pre-Magic Jack Era) have spent a formative part of their lives running downstairs to the local bodega to obtain a $10 calling card to chat with their families abroad. Programs like WhatsApp and Skype have even further facilitated communication through gratis VoIP protocols (depending on what data plan your cell phone has). This has led to receiving calls at ANY hour — because your aunts and uncles love you too much to consider that they are eight hours ahead of you, and are therefore rising you out of your slumber at 2:30 in the morning just to say hello. I’ve warned them that consistently calling me at emergency hours will lead to me ignoring the phone when there is an actual emergency, but last night my REM was interrupted for the essential update that baby Fauza is learning the Single Ladies dance, so I don’t know how well that stuck.
2. Invasive requests from people that may or may not be related to you
Every trip back home requires that we tote along with us gifts to bring to family. The interesting part is just how many individuals consider themselves family around the times of these trips. Cousin Mbaye who you can’t figure out just how you’re related to but sent a picture of you two together when you were five will send you a message on Linkedin along the lines of “Congratulations on the new job! Btw I heard Hollister polos are cheaper in America now, can you send some with your mom?” “Hey, I went to primary school with your father! Oh you and your father haven’t spoken in almost 10 years? That’s unfortunate he talks about you all the time. Now about that iPhone 6s…”
American living apparently equals infinite financial resources, no matter how many times I tell them that I live on a steady diet of $4 hot wings from the corner store.
3. Romantic inquiries from your aunties’ faves
My mom traipsed her way to the Indian Ocean with pictures of her adorable children in tow. Not less than four days later, I got several new requests from Comorian phone numbers in my WhatsApp of “not quite cousins” asking what’s new with me. Except this time they had no childhood pictures of us together to share, just pictures of them in their present-day vertically challenged glory. (Comorian people are not known for their height. My brother and I are practically mutants in this regard). Long story short, my aunts are terrified that I’m letting my eggs shrivel up and die and consequently have taken the initiative in turning my WhatsApp into a Tinder Account (God knows what happened the last time I tried that).
I’m in the process of patiently explaining to them that I’m saving myself for Serge Ibaka, but their response is somewhere along the lines of when I tell my friends for the umpteenth time that I’m giving up beer for good.**
Pending a French-language version of Momma Dee’s seminal gospel classic “I Deserve”, I don’t foresee getting through to them anytime soon.
While my WhatsApp (and data plan) are currently in a downward spiral, I wouldn’t change my family for all the chicken this side of the Mississippi. That said, if any of you guys discover a foolproof method for filtering out conversations from your twice removed cousin’s primary school girlfriend’s uncle, let a playa know. Hollister shirts are expensive.
*One of my aunts has 7 kids from her FIRST marriage. I have 6 aunts just on one side, and a couple uncles with more than one wife. And my dad was married prior to my mom. I'm just happy most of my male cousins are named Muhammad.
**I really am this time, though. Well…at least until the end of the year. Three days beer-free!