My host mother is the youngest of Ziba Youssef’s four wives. As far as I can tell she has two children, Ousman and Marwarn, thirteen and four, respectively, but I can’t be sure because everyone calls everyone mamma. Two of Ziba Youssef’s wives, both significantly older than my host mother, come calling several times a day to babble at me in a language I don’t understand and giggle when I imitate them. Wizened and mostly toothless, the first of these two wives currently has a massively swollen foot, which I estimate she broke about a week ago. Despite this fact, she insists on hobbling around the compound with a spindly stick ignoring my requests that she sit down and elevate it. The second of these two wives has a broken wrist. Last week I tried to wrap it with the ace bandage from my med kit and told her not to move it, but the ace bandage disappeared by sundown and she, too, refuses to sit still.
I am not allowed to sit on the floor. When I come to greet the two older wives, both offer me their chairs. Taking a chair from a 60+ year-old woman with a broken foot is against everything I consider okay, but I’m not allowed to refuse. Nor am I allowed to eat on or help with homework on the floor. I am always brought a small table or a little stool so that I don’t have to bend down too far from my chair. The children are often commanded to fetch my bucket from my room so I don’t have to move, and whenever I try to help my host mother sweep she looks and me kindly and shakes her head.
But none of this compares to how I am fed. Our host families are paid handsomely to feed and house us (some even built new structures and latrines to accommodate the trainees), and it seems a unanimous trend across households to feed the nasara as much as possible. I usually get enough portions for four or more people (which I can never finish), and when I return it to my host mother the children hungrily finish it. It is unclear to me whether this is the only dinner the kids get. My hope is that, when Ousman and a few cousins (and occasionally my host mother) attack the half finished plate of rice I hand them, it is dinner number two or three.
My host family isn’t too bad off as far as people who live on approximately $2 a day go: They have one house in the compound with electricity, several flashlights for late night activities, plenty of to to eat and all the children are in school. This does not change the fact that I, a visitor in the household, am overfed and expected to take precedence over everyone in the family save for my host father. To say this makes me uncomfortable would be an understatement. Furthermore, it is hard to take on labor intensive activities with an injured thumb. This is a challenge that I have yet to overcome.