Being a firstborn daughter in a relatively sizable extended family of East Africans (one of my aunts has seven kids from her first marriage, I have six aunts on one side, and a couple of uncles with more than one wife) certainly has its benefits. I’ve been taught to experience rice as a food group; 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 who 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 further facilitated communication through gratis Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP (depending on what data plan your cellphone 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 raising 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 Who May or May Not Be Related to You
Every trip back home requires that we tote along gifts to bring to family. The interesting part is just how many individuals consider themselves family around the time of these trips. Cousin Mbaye, to whom you can’t figure out just how you’re related but who sent a picture of you two together when you were 5, 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) is 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.
Damon Shamira is a 20-something New Yorker who likes all things Dipset. You can join her in waxing poetically about chicken, Cam’ron and gentrification (gotta have some balance) under the influence of varying amounts of brown liquor at her semimonthly blog.
Shamira Ibrahim is a 20-something New Yorker who likes all things Dipset. You can join her as she waxes poetic about chicken, Cam’ron and gentrification (gotta have some balance) under the influence of varying amounts of brown liquor at Very Smart Brothas.