Living with a Senegalese family is about as difficult as living with an American one. They drive you crazy, but they always have your back. In return, you always have their back. There is a mutual trust and appreciation that doesn’t go away. Yes, my Senegalese family is not my real family, but it’s the closest thing I’ve got in this country.

I have been living with them for eight months now, and they have been wonderful. They are kind and patient with my language skills. They cook delicious food (by local standards), and they put up with my strange American behavior. I love all 23 of them, and I would do anything for them. This declaration was tested the other day when my sister Oulay knocked on my door.

She asks if she can come in, and I gladly accept. I find it slightly odd because my family rarely comes in my room, but I push these feelings aside. She sits down on the floor and tells me to sit with her.

We chat about nothing for about ten minutes until finally she tells me that she is sick. She pulls out her right breast and tells me that something is wrong with it. It hurts. I ask if she wants medicine. I give her Ibuprofen from my med kit and provide water. I give her a couple more and tell her to take them after meals. She thanks me. She says she needs to go to the marabout’s house down the road but she doesn’t have any money. I ask why she needs money to go to the marabout’s house. She says she will pay him money in exchange for health and protection.

How much? She wants 30,000 CFA, which is around $60. This is a lot of money considering how much I get paid monthly. My family has never asked me for money before. I have heard horror stories from other volunteers whose families have asked for substantial amounts. It’s an awkward situation for both parties.

I stall by steering the conversation elsewhere. Several minutes later, she stands up and tells me she’s going back outside. I stand. She asks if I understand the situation. I do. I go to my wallet and look. I only have 20,000 CFA, part of which is earmarked for travel. There is no bank in Sokone. I give her 10,000 CFA and tell her that’s all I have. She accepts it and says she will ask other people for the rest. She leaves.

I have so many mixed feelings about the situation. I feel so guilty that I didn’t give her all of it (though I had a legitimate excuse). I am also suspicious about this whole scenario. I believe she is sick, but I don’t know why she needs so much money just to see the marabout. I would be more willing to give her money for hospital bills, but I don’t want to tell her that. I don’t want to preach to her when she genuinely believes that the marabout can help.

These types of situations make me sad. In a country with such a strong NGO presence, the local people see a white person and immediately assume they are there to dish out the dough. Children, as well as adults, on the street ask me for money on a daily basis. I was always thankful that my family never did, and I appreciated the safety their compound provided.

I’ll keep you posted on further developments.

    • kristen :)
    • June 5th, 2011

    Wow… That is an awkward situation to be in. You’re a wonderful person Jamilla, in case you didn’t know lol I didn’t realize that there are 23 people in your fam… And I thought mine was big lol Love you & think of you often.

    • Lindsey
    • June 6th, 2011

    That is tough. Can you explain more what a marabout is in Senegal? I assume it’s a witch doctor or similar. I agree it would be better to give money straight to a doctor rather than your sister. Also are you usually alone with young women? I know you have trust in your family but you also don’t want to put yourself in a vulnerable situation. But I’m sure PC discusses that kind of thing with you guys? Do they have advice for the money thing? FYI these kind of scenarios will be excellent in future job interviews when you get questions about multicultural experiences or judgment, etc.

    • Sca-rah
    • June 6th, 2011

    I would like to comment on the “living with family, they drive me crazy” part of this post. You are talking about Lindsey, mama, and dad right?

    Hmmm I don’t know about giving money directly to her. Its awkward though. What did Baba say? I would almost direct her to Baba/Na or bring one of them in on the convo so that you know it is legit and the proper thing to do. I mean you did what you could to help at the time but maybe do that if she comes back.

    In other exciting news, you are going to Paris!! So excited for you!!!

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