Things That Happen When You’re The First Born Daughter Of East African Parents In America » VSB

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Things That Happen When You’re The First Born Daughter Of East African Parents In America

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!

Shamira Ibrahim

Shamira is a twentysomething 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 semi-monthly blog, shamspam.tumblr.com

  • camilleblu

    sham your family is the east african version of the jenkins…or hightowers, or witherspoons, or barksdales, or gradys…big azz black families…

    • Illumina

      Yep. My dad has 9 siblings (full, step and half). My paternal grandfather had about 12 sbilings. My paternal grandmother had 13. My materal grandmother had 12 too I think. We overwhelm people with our sheer number.

      It took my SIL about a year to get used to us and to understand who everyone is in the immediate family; I don’t expect her to ever get a good grip on the extended family. We invite her brother to family functions and he usually sneaks out of to avoid the long train of hugs and goodbyes.

      My familial relationships are so crazy that my sister had to use a whiteboard at work to explain to her co-workers who everyone was and how everyone was related. She gave a pop quiz afterward. Everyone failed.

      • camilleblu

        lol @ everyone failed…

      • miss t-lee

        I’ve talked about this before. On my mom’s side of the family I have like 165 folks. They took be fruitful and multiply to the nth level.
        My friends are like your sister folks at work.
        BFF:”So wait, is that your cousin that I met before? No, that’s her sister. There’s 4 of them remember? You met 3 of the 4 that day?”
        *blank stare*

  • miss t-lee

    I literally just googled Comoros. I’ve been learnt today.
    Family…it’s all the same no matter where we are, or where we’re from.

  • CrankUpThe_AC

    lol those phone cards. I still remember my mother calling the card company because the card ran out 2 minutes early.

    ..they put those 2 minutes back on doe

    • Lea Thrace

      Bruh. My mom did not play with those calling card companies. They knew better than to NOT give her the time she paid for dammit!

    • miss t-lee

      I ain’t mad at Moms though.

    • MsSula

      Bruh. My aunty was the queen of calling the card company back. Lolll.

  • What I wouldn’t give to know where my grandfather’s people are from :( I’m so deprived of my culture.

    • fxd8424

      Familytreenow.com is pretty wonderful. There are a lot of wonderful free sites out there. I just found out my paternal great grandmother was 15 when slavery ended and where I paternal grandfather was from. I don’t remember anyone mentioning my great grandmother but I saw her listed on the 1940 Census living with my grandmother.

  • I think it’s nice your family hits you up for the cutest things. Min just call me for small time loans and to tell me somebody died. :(

    • camilleblu

      i’m so sorry, but i just cackled at this…

      • miss t-lee

        Me too.

  • Aww this is awesome. I wish I had contact with my family growing up. I hope I marry a woman with a big family to have these experiences.

    • fxd8424

      Where was your fam?

      • My father didn’t speak to his side of the family for years so I don’t know them. All the people in the US on my mom’s side are either like 80 or speak Spanish.

    • Val

      You will. :-)

    • Illumina

      Just make sure you have a big enough house to fit them all. Although my family is the git in where you fit in type, so we squeeze in anywhere. We’ve once at least 30 people sleeping in a three bedroom double-wide for a graduation party.

      I once shared a queen size air mattress with my cousin, my sis, one of my nephews and my cousin’s daughter. We should have saved all of the effort of blowing up the air mattress cuz we squeezed the life out of that sucker.

      • miss t-lee

        I know this “get in where you fit in” life.

  • Medium Meech

    Sham, you were so cute as a baby…

    • camilleblu

      that uncle? cousin? sitting there…i thinks looks remarkably like someone i know…

      • Medium Meech

        Yeah, like Sham… (or about 10 light West Indian dudes I know).

  • Ahhhh. Those calling cards. In our household, it was buying African Dream at the gas station in suburban MD to call Liberia.

    • MsSula

      What you know about that African Dream though? Loll. As a poor student, far, far away from her family, I needed to know the card that worked RIGHT.

      Whatsapp really saved the game for real. :)

      • Man, did it! I was always the one sent to buy that African Dream (it had to be African Dream. No other card was good enough lol).

  • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

    *Katt Williams voice*

    DIPSET DIPSET DIPSET!!!!

  • OrigamiBird

    “You’ll be back.” -Beer

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