Friday, November 30, 2007

Host family dynamics, including a bait and switch

Without getting into too much detail, I'd like to address the group dynamics within my host family. Sheila is my host Mom, she is 24 like me and is a wonderful person. She takes her responsibilities seriously and likewise with partying she takes it seriously, goes to church regularly and is a fun sociable well educated person. She takes good care of me and is responsive when I express my likes/dislikes. She is a professor, she teaches 3rd grade. She has a 3 year old son with her fiance who is far away at med school. She is helping to pay his med school and after that he will help to pay for her higher education. I really hope he doesn't do her dirty by cutting out on his obligations or giving her AIDS, but this situation is not unreasonable here since women are so submissive in this culture.
Also in my house now is my aunt Lourde, who was empregada (maid) of Sheila's aunt. I'll tell what I know of the story, mostly related to me by Sheila. Years ago, the Lourde the empregada got pregnant by a man who was already married to someone else and the family said she was a disgrace and she lost her job, but one of Sheila's other relatives took the empregada in. When this relative had to move to Maputo for her job, she entrusted Lourde with looking after the house (the one where I live now). The empregada spent the electricity money on other things and now the house doesn't have electricity (why would the owner pay for electricity when she's not living there, I don't know, but Sheila blames our lack of electricity in the house on Lourde, the power company cut the power connection to the house). Sheila's aunt asked Sheila to live in the house and look after it since Lourde was not doing a good job. At some point the empregada had Carmen, this child is the one and same who gave me scabies. Carmen has a chronic problem with pilfering food and small amounts of money from both her Mom and Sheila, which angers Sheila greatly, especially when Carmen ate a whole bunch of homemade cookies that were a gift from one of Sheila's friend. I've tried to help Sheila explain to Carmen why stealing is bad. Carmen recently got bad burns on her head when she knocked over a soup pot while trying to see what was inside, i hope her hair will grow back. Carmen is what we call "indisciplinada" she is defiant even though she's only maybe 4 years old at most and fights back or laughs when being punished, and suffers no consequence for this.
Lourde also has a 2nd baby with the same deadbeat dad i think, and this baby stays up in the swaddling cloth on the current empregada's back most of the day. The baby has separation anxiety and cries as soon as it leaves the cloth, Sheila criticizes Lourde's child rearing tactics here too and i agree with her. The current empregada is about 11 years old and just failed 3rd grade for the second time. I think she considers Lourde to be her mom. How does one fail 3rd grade, you might ask? Lourde prevented her from going to the exams because she had to stay home with Lourde's baby when Lourde got called in to work in the kitchen at a bar.
Across the street is Lourde's Mom, Laurinda. Laurinda was the first person I met here, apparently Sheila wasn't there to sign the paperwork and this unsociable old lady across the street became the official caretaker. Laurinda also received the money from Peace Corps, and Sheila was always in a situation of asking the money from her. Surely Laurinda was pocketing some of it.
During the scabies outbreak in the house (around week 5), I told Sheila that she and everyone in the house would have to be treated at the same time. Sheila refused (but "I don't have scabies"), argued, and eventually I resorted to asking the PC homestay coordinator, Agueda, to talk with her to see if she couldn't convince Sheila. Agueda told me that I would have to move houses because she spoke with my Mom and my Mom refused to budge, but it later turned out that she only spoke with Lourde. The fact that I was to move houses was to be kept secret from the family until I actually moved. I explained to Agueda that she spoke with the wrong person, that Sheila was my Mom and that Sheila runs the house and makes decisions about who does what in that house. The next day the mean lady from across the street, who never invited me in nor said more than hello and took no interest in me other than to skim off the money from PC, she came over for lunch and told me that I was mistaken and that Lourde was my Mom. Why did Laurinda come into the house and make such a stupid assertion? I kept my calm throughout the conversation and explained that this all sounded very strange, and essentially that I wasn't born yesterday and to this day I'm perplexed did she really think I was that weak or stupid, or that I would cave under her seniority and just change Moms and start calling Lourde my Mom and I guess Lourde can make decisions about my well being? It didn't even matter at this point, since I was meant to leave anyway thanks to Lourde's refusal to cooperate with Agueda, I only wanted Sheila to have a chance to make things right. I kept using Socratic questions to lead Laurinda time and again to the conclusion, what she was saying was a lie, it was incredibly stupid, and that she was making no sense, but she wouldn't budge and just held to her assertions. The conversation was riduculous and I hope that I don't have to have many more conversations like this, where assertions mean more than reason in the argument. But then again I get the feeling that this will happen again, chalk it up to cultural differences.
In the end Sheila agreed to treat everyone, and finally the PC money went direct to Sheila so we are all happy now.

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