October 23, 2008

A former ISLE student said to us before we left, that our host parents would actually treat us and think of us as their own children. At the time I doubt that would be the case but after being here for a while I’m pretty sure my host family has forgotten that I am not their actual daughter.

We went out to dinner the other night with most of my host mother’s side of the family, because her older brother and his wife were visiting from the U.S. When we got to the restaurant my host father said to some of the other men, “mage dua,” which means my daughter. They looked at him because obviously they knew he didn’t have a daughter. Then he said that I was a student from America but that I was still his daughter.

Maria, who had been to a similar dinner early that week said that the table was divided by gender and age and that she had to sit at the children's table. I said that if we were in that situation I wouldn’t sit at the children’s table because I was certain my apache (father) would sit me with him at the older men’s side of the table. I said this because at my home it is always my host father and I joking around and hanging out, which is not exactly to be expected because Sri Lanka is still a very patriarchal society, but I think my host father really wanted a daughter. I was joking, but that was exactly what happened. He told me to sit across from him, which was funny because all the women were to my right and all the men to my left and I was dead in the center of the table. 
The dinner went well, but my host father has taken to use me as his excuse when really he wants something. At home he is always saying, “bade ginne,” which means I’m hungry, but at dinner he just kept saying that I was hungry so we would have to eat right away, then he announced that I was tired. Which was absurd because there were children there that were under two years old that weren’t tired yet.

Most of the evening was interesting though, because everyone I was with spoke English and Sinhala, even the small children. Still when everyone got comfortable they started speaking rapidly in Sinhala on all sides of me. I finally understood what it must be like to come to America, and try and learn English. I made a mental note to be exponentially more considerate towards people in America who had yet to master the English language.

Now, if it isn’t obvious, my host parents love children, and they were very happy to play with all the babies. However, in Sri Lanka you are still a child until you are married then instantly you’re an adult. My host brother is 26 but as he is not married my host mother still refers to him as “baba,” which means baby. I knew that it was coming because everyone was dotting over their children so I knew eventually I would have to swallow my pride and be dotted over. Then after I had finished eating my Amma, swooped in behind me and she said it in Sinhala but basically, she said, “Baby, please eat some of mother’s fruit.” Everyone looked at me as if this was a test of whether or not I was really their daughter. As my host parents are so insanely kind to me I consented and let her feed me. It was hilarious because I can only imagine how hard any of my friends would have laughed at me at home if my actual mother had tried to feed me.

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