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Month 20: umdeni wami (my family)

Family. Umdeni. Depending on one’s culture and values,  that word can have a lot of different meanings. For Zulus, family spans from the immediate family to the most distant relatives. (For example,  when I ask my sister how someone is related to our family,  she sometimes shrugs and laughs with an, “I don’t know.”) For me, family has been strictly immediate  – ya know,  the people who helped raise you or that you have made memories with.

I was literally dropped off at my family’s home way back when. They didn’t know anything about me except my age, gender and country of origin. Since then, I’ve become a real part of this family, and my definition of family has changed.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and we ventured up the hill to gogo’s house. All of my mom’s siblings were visiting (my aunts and uncles) and all their children (my cousins). Specifically,  one cousin was visiting who went to the primary school I work at, but since then moved to another area with her uncle for secondary school.  I’ve been here long enough to see her transition from a little girl to a full blown teenager, which alone makes me feel like I’m a member of this family.

Even more so, my mom likes to call me and my sister “black and white twins” — makes me laugh every time. My sister and I are both 25-year-old (soon to be on my part) only children. The immediate family on my property is pretty small,  so they wanted to expand their family, just like I did!

When I say “mom”, I’m 99 percent sure talking about my South African mom. Same goes for grandma, uncle, aunt, sister,  brother,  cousin.  That’s not to say I’ve forgotten about my American family,  but I don’t differentiate the two. Everyone here and everyone there is a part of my family.

Last month,  my American dad and step mom had the pleasure of visiting my family and village. We had dinner and cake for my sister’s birthday,  and watched the video from my mom’s wedding. Both of my families got to meet, spend time together through a bond I share with both of them.

Ironically, visiting gogo’s house on Easter reminded me so much of visiting my own grandma’s house when I was younger. I can’t understand most things people say at family gatherings unless my sister translates,  so I kind of just sit there, twiddle my thumbs and laugh when people are acting things out because then I get some sense of “what’s going on”. As a kid,  I did relatively the same thing at my grandma’s house, but because I was the only kid and no one was close to my age. This Easter,  I couldn’t help but laugh to myself because as different as they are, my family experiences still share some similarities. Just one more reason why I merge the two!

My family is hosting the next Volunteer that will replace me in September. It’s bittersweet to know I will be replaced because another American will be welcomed into this family; he or she will get to have the amazing experience I had. I just hope they always remember me, because I will never forget them! I will always consider them part of my family,  and am happy my dad and step mom were able to meet them.

Much love to the Mathebulas! I cannot begin to thank them for all they have done for me, especially giving me an incredible family from one continent to another. I now understand that family doesn’t have to be the people who have always been in your life; family is the people who treat you like family – that’s what will always count.

Yours in service,


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