One of our young friends here likes to refer to us as Mummy & Daddy, and our baby as his son. It makes for a complicated family tree, but is pretty representative of the blurred family roles here. Cousins are referred to as siblings, mentors are claimed as parents, and children belong to everyone.
Yesterday at our goodbye party, some friends said that we had treated them like family. But I don’t feel this originated from us, we have responded to our friends and neighbours here. Folk who dropped by with avocados they picked for us, who dished up dinner if we happened to visit while they were cooking, who we shared pegs and extension cords with.
On Tuesday we leave Soshanguve and will pack up our shorts, sandals and our titles of ‘Aunty Debbie and Uncle Paul’. I have loved being Aunty Debbie to our troop of kids and teenagers. I have loved being ‘Sesi’ (sister) to my friends, and ‘Makoti’ (daughter-in-law) to some of the older ladies. We have been claimed as part of the family here, and we’ve seen that family doesn’t have to be strictly about bloodlines.
Our team has also become family, people who we promised to walk with through the good and bad. We made a decision to belong to each other, it hasn’t always been easy, but at times of crisis, they were our people.
I’m looking forward to being in closer proximity to our biological family, but I don’t want to lose this wider sense of family. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying that ‘The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small’. Shannan Martin also points out that, ‘We shouldn’t be surprised when a me-centric culture leads to a family-centric values system where family is unimaginatively defined only along bloodlines and a shared genetic code’.
The statistics show that more people are feeling lonely in the UK. More people are living alone, or far from family. In these days we need to commit to one another. Yes, let’s care for our families well, but let’s also look up and around for the ones who we can invite in. It could look like a regular dinner, frequent communication, or an expressed commitment to be each other’s people.
We need wisdom, we can’t commit to each person who crosses our path. In family we are bonded to those from different generations, and those who have different interests or vocations. It can be awkward, but there is something good in sticking together.
I have been grafted into the family here, and it has changed me. Looking forward, I hope that I can offer others a branch, a place to belong.
Who has included you in their ‘honorary family?’ If you drew your family circle wider, who would you invite in, who would you commit to?