Relationships

 

           The week before last, I came home mid-day during one of the days that Ami, the housecleaner, was working with her sister Mariem. They had arrived at 8:30 that morning and should have been finished with their work within about two hours, as is their usual practice. But they were both still in the apartment, taking naps on the matalas in the salon (living room). I was a bit surprised, but didn't say anything, as it seemed to be cruel and unnecessary to comment along the lines of, "What are you still doing here?" I recognize that societal mores are different here than at home, and that other rules apply. After all, they were just taking a rest - only staying there a little longer than necessary.

           In the many months that Ami has been working for me (since February), she has never missed a day and never taken anything. This contrasts sharply with the people who preceded her. For that reason, I am appreciative of the positive aspects of the work she is doing, especially since I have had experience with the opposite.

           All along, I have told Ami that whether she comes to clean by herself or with her cousin or sister, they are welcome to have a soft drink, an apple or orange, and some peanuts, all of which I keep on hand for visitors. Last week, I came home again mid-day, to find Ami and sister cooking! There were eggs in the pan, which I know were not mine because I didn't have any in the house, but they also were cooking potatoes, onions, and using bouillon, which they had taken from the kitchen. I was taken aback, but, once again, didn't say anything, as it seemed stingy to make a fuss about such small items. At the same time, I took into account that it is typical for Africans to live and work communally. Up until this point, with none of my personal items being outright taken, and only these things being used for their intended purposes, I didn't think that this was such a blatant infringement - only an annoyance, especially considering that the work has been good and dependable. The only thing "missing" was the privacy that I expected to have once I got home, and this is something that I do not expect Ami to understand, as Africans do not value solitude.

           Last Sunday, Ami and Mariem arrived with a plastic bag full of clothing. I wondered what they were going to do with it, but didn't say anything. I came back to the house to see that they had done their own laundry, too, in addition to mine. Why not do it at their house? What would be the difference? The only thing I could think of would be that they were using my soap powder. Could it be that for the sake of saving about 50 ouguiya (about 15 cents), they were carrying their laundry to my house, washing and hanging it there, and then taking it home? Once again, here they were, finished with their work, and hanging out at the house, when I was expecting to be able to have the place to myself by the afternoon.

           The value of the soap powder is just a piddling amount of money, but with all of these little things adding up, it was not the money that was starting to bother me, but the presumption that they could just settle in as if they lived there, and continue to be there as long as they liked. I stayed home for the morning. When their work was done and I was getting ready to leave the house, I told them that I needed to get going. I said, Let's go. The inside clothesline was full, so they put their things on the one outside. They gathered their clothing from it, and were off.

           Last Wednesday, they arrived again with a bag of laundry. When they were putting my laundry into the wash basin, I asked them if they were using my soap powder to do their laundry. Ami said yes, and I said, "Ca n'est pas bon" - that's not good. I stayed in the house the rest of the morning, just to establish it as my territory and to break their habit of hanging out. They were gone by 9:50, taking their unwashed laundry with them.

           On Saturday, Ami came by herself and she did not bring any laundry with her. I stayed there the whole time. She did her work within about two hours and then left. As far as I can tell, I was able to solve the situation without any confrontations or bad feelings.

*****
          Then there was a situation with my friend Babah.

          Babah has told me several times that he wants to go with me to the United States when I go home. I told him that that would not be likely, as it is a very cumbersome, expensive, and difficult process to get a visa to the United States. We have already been alerted by US embassy employees that many Mauritanians will be asking us for visas, and that all we need to do is direct them to the embassy in order to get the forms that they need, that the embassy will be the "bad guys" for us.

           Two Saturdays ago, Babah asked if I would write a letter to the embassy, to the effect that I will house him in my home if he were to go to the United States with me. His request caught me off-guard, as I wasn't expecting this "sales pitch" until we got closer my departure. I told him I could do that, but it would not help, as the embassy does not grant visas simply on the basis of visitors having a place to stay when they get to the USA.

           He insisted that I was wrong - and I think that he was getting upset at seeing that I did not want to sponsor or support his move to the United States. As he left my house after breakfast and his shower, he told me that he had to do something first thing in the morning on Sunday, the next day, so he would not be there for breakfast.

           Then, on Monday, at almost 8:00, when he still was not there, I called him to see if he was having transportation problems, which sometimes makes him late. He said no, that he was not coming. He also didn't show up on Tuesday or Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, I went into the store where he works to buy a few things, and I saw him there. When I greeted him, he was friendly, shook my hand, and asked me how I was doing. But he didn't say anything about not coming for breakfast.

           Apparently, it is not the African way to have a session about "processing" what is going on in a friendship. My sense of the situation is that he has finally determined for himself that the one thing he wanted to get from me - a visa to the United States - is something that I will not be able to provide. Therefore, there is no need to continue being my friend.

           Since then, he has been friendly when I have gone into the store where he is working. He called once to say hello, but has not made any other contact with me.

           It's disconcerting to know that somebody has befriended me only for the possibility that I represent with regard to getting a visa. It is also puzzling that the other things that I was offering him - breakfast, lunch, daily shower - were insufficient for maintaining a friendship.