waa: the people who live
ker: house, home
waa ker: family, literally the people who live at the house
A quick guide to my family, everyone living in my house, as far as I can figure it out. In these large and extended Senegalese households, deciphering true family relationships can be difficult. Senegalese consider friends who they have known for years to count as family members, and even distant cousins are welcomed like close members of the family. There is also a question of polygamy, which is practiced here. I am not aware of anyone in my family who is polygamous, but it does raise questions when considering members of your family. It is sometimes culturally impolite here to list members of your family or count them.
- Yaay: My host mother, whose name is Fanta Ndiaye. I would estimate her to be about fifty or so. Besides her children mentioned below, she has a daughter, Sona, who lives in Morocco.
- Pappa: My host father. He lives at home, but only for a few nights every week or two weeks. Otherwise, he lives and works at the family farm. I don’t think he is close with my mother anymore, because when he comes to visit they sleep in separate rooms.
- Diodio: My sister, who lives on the roof. My yaay is her mother. She has been widowed for six months or so, her husband killed in what I think was a tragic accident.
- Ndèye Awa: Diodio’s oldest daughter, age 7.
- Mafanta: Diodio’s youngest daughter, age 4.
- Rama: I consider her my sister, but it is unclear if she is truly one of my yaay’s daughters. For example, there once was a girl visiting who Nene introduced to me as “Rama’s sister,” which suggests that she is not Nene’s sister. However, this could be totally wrong.
- Hussein: Rama’s husband.
- Fatima: The baby of the family and daughter of Rama and Hussein, just over 18 months old.
- Samba: Definitely one of my brothers (as in, my yaay and my pappa’s biological son), age 23. Very tall.
- Ndèye: One of my sisters. I like her, because she is kind and funny. I know she got married at 24 years old, but I don’t know where her husband is or what happened to him, since he is never around and she is clearly raising her baby herself.
- Ndèye Fatou (Tatou): Ndèye’s daughter, age 2.
- Nene: Definitely one of my sisters, age 20 like me.
- Baba: My younger brother and my yaay’s cherished youngest son, age 15.
- Gaye: A cousin from the village, age 8. She lives in the house and attends school, but she also one of our bonnes, or domestic help. This is a fairly common phenomenon here, in which a cousin from the rural, poor villages will go live with family members in the city and work in exchange for payment to send home, room, board, and sometimes schooling.
- Ussainu: Slightly confusing because he once referred to my pappa as his “dad.” But Nene refers to him as our “cousin.” For now, I will list him as one of the cousins. He is in his early 30s and attending school here, trying to get his master’s.
- Adama: A cousin, 20s, living with us while he is in school.
- Adnan: A cousin, 20s, living with us while he is in school.
- Góor: A cousin, 20s, living with us while he is in school.
And there you have it! That’s my whole family—or at least everyone living in my house! I’ll let you count yourself.