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Family Values

I don’t often feel like I’m being censured by my African friends, even when I wear shorts (children’s clothes) or short skirts (not for married ladies!) in their presence. I think they’ve even washed their hands of my having one child, or perhaps just assume I’m barren and/or planning to adopt. For the most part, my Sudanese friends understand that my culture and theirs are very different and take a different country/different rules approach.

With one giant exception: And her name is Rita. None of my friends understand why my mother does not live with me. Even as they know she still works and “looks very strong”, they still cannot comprehend how I have allowed her to live on her own. Or how she has allowed us to not move her in with us. I’m not exactly sure on that front, but I am 100% sure that they all consider it appalling that I have let the senior matriarch in my family fend for herself.

“She likes living alone” I’ll explain.

“She needs someone to help her,” comes the response.

“I don’t know if we could share a house,” I’ll persist.

“It is not good for mother to live alone,” comes the parry.

It took me a while to gather exactly how appalling my family set-up was. I was too busy trying to figure out their own sense of family to notice. When men a generation ago had multiple wives, when “brother” can mean brother, half-brother, step brother, or cousin and “cousin” can mean first cousin, second cousin, fourth cousin, or member of the same sub-clan, there’s a lot to sort out.

But figure it out I did. And just in case I missed the perceived gravity of the situation, it was sweetly and generously driven home yesterday. Alek was discussing how her life would change once she began driving, and after she chatted about driving Agotich to school and having more time to grocery or clothes shop came this:

“And then, after I have taken Agotich, some times a week, perhaps once or twice, I will be able to visit your mother. I can sit with her, bring Anyieth for a visit, talk to her, and cook for her. It will be very nice.”

I had absolutely no response to this, except to be gob-smacked and deeply touched. The Sudanese do not say thank you easily or often for the simple reason that helping each other is a deeply held cultural expectation. As I have moved into a familial role, I am not regularly thanked or offered food for watching Agotich and driving her to school and home three times a week. I’m her Auntie, I can drive, and that’s that.

But my actions on their behalf have not gone unnoticed, either. And so, just as soon as she has some independence, Alek plans to begin starting to take care of my mother. Which, when you think about it, goes a lot further than any verbal thank you ever could.

3 Responses to “Family Values”

  1. blg says:

    Amazing story.

  2. tlalbaugh says:

    Thanks for making me cry! : )

  3. goldsteinrita says:

    They are the most amazing people. What will poor Alek think when she finds out that your mother is not at home very much? I wish that you could convince her that, at least for now, the last thing I want is to be taken care of.

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