Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My extended families

On Sunday, while we were riding around on a boat on Lake Union checking out all of Seattle's lovely houseboats, my mobile phone rang. It was none other than Rushabh, our 13-year old neighbor from across the street, checking up on us.

"Where are you guys?" he asked. "And what's Issy doing?"

We've been really blessed that we lucked into living in a house on a block in Ballard that has just the kind of family we like living across the street. Rushabh's mom makes some mean Indian cuisine (she has us over for dinner all the time); Kooshbu, Rushabh's 7-year-old sister, has been coming over lately to perform "Say, Say My Playmate" (remember that one?) with me; and they all absolutely LOVE Issy. I mean, they come over as soon as he's done with his nap, take him over to their house and feed him and--ready for this?!--babysit FOR FREE. Can you even imagine?

They're so much fun. Shortly after we all come in from our day out sightseeing with Mom, Dad and Adam, Rushabh blows through the door with Kooshbu in tow and the house becomes, for lack of a better word, exciting. Exciting in that loud, jokey, utterly chaotic way that I've noticed is characteristic of every house I've ever lived in.

This all likely started back in Cameroon, where I lived in a small house in a walled-in compound that included my landlord, his wife, Hadja, their four small boys and about 12 other people who were related or renting a room.

Hadja and I were tight, and once I got back from teaching, we'd hang out on my porch with neighbors and gossip. My house was always open to anybody and everyone. The boys would always be coming in and out, wreaking havoc and being silly. Hadja'd always keep her meat in my freezer because she didn't have one, and at least 2 times a week she'd come banging on my door once I'd already gone to bed so she could come in and pull it out. Every month, religiously, she would also come to my window at night (always when I was already asleep) and say, "Amanda! J'ai besoin du coton!" The "cotton" she needed so badly--Tampax--was the coolest thing since sliced bread, in her opinion--she'd never seen tampons before. Usually shortly thereafter, a number of the kids in the neighborhood (they all trolled the garbage for cool potential toys) would be walking around making music with the cardboard applicator "horns" they'd scored from the trash.

For at least the first year after I moved back to Boston from Cameroon, I didn't know what to do with myself when I was at home. There weren't people walking in and out continuously; there was quiet. It was abhorrent. Somehow, in those two years back in Yagoua, I'd forgotten what a private person I was and how being alone feeds the soul, yada yada yada. I needed people around to feel real. My roommate Shazam (a Peace Corps friend) and I quickly remedied the situation by making friends with a dozen or so strange, foreign people--our now husbands included in that group--and nightly made hearty, African-like stews for at least 8.

Life in Amman proved to be pretty much the same. Our lovely old dilapidated house had guys coming in continuously to fix this or that. Eyad, our right-hand man, was always walking in to take the car keys to go get it fixed, repair some electrical prob or bring a chicken (or 3 or 5) over from Samer's dad; Geeva, our maid, and her oodles of Sri Lankan friends, would be group drying the dishes or cooking up some food, all the while chatting and laughing excitedly; and Samer's brother Yasser would randomly walk in with bags full of chocolate bars and pumpkin seeds he'd drop all over the floor. A regular madhouse.

I'm aware that many people--my husband, particularly--consider me a bit of an anal type. And sure, I do like things just so. No dirty socks thrown beside the bed night after night without ever being picked up, toilet paper rolls changed soon after the paper's all used up, etc., but somehow the house's general freeform social nature is just the way I like it. My family, God love them, are the greatest, but somehow I just keep on managing to find myself living far away from Southern Ohio. In the meantime, I like to find my family here in my own digs, barging right through the front door.


At 3:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a PCV in Yagoua too! When were you there?


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