I was stark naked on my way out to take a bath when I found Auntie squatting over my pit latrine. Actually, I didn’t yet know her name then since it was my first day in my new house and we hadn’t been formally introduced. She stared at me, perhaps more startled than embarrassed, as my white skin reflected the afternoon sunlight. Unsure what to say in local language, I simply turned around a bit so she could finish her business. Then she pulled up her panties and strolled right on out of my yard without a word.
Since then, we’ve been inseparable.
Auntie is my new little sister, a 4-year-old orphan my family cares for. And although she is less than a quarter of my size, she has appointed herself my body guard.
Auntie never turns down a mission. Whether it be to buy produce at the market, ice blocks from the compound across the way or bread at the shop on the street, she is there – holding my hand from start to finish. If small kids shout “toubab” at me, a non-insulting title to point out the fact that I am indeed white, Auntie screams back at them in local language: “Her name is Fatoumata! She is not toubab!” Once, when a rather insistent child continued to call me “toubab” after her repeated demands to address me by name, she chased him down and slapped him. I was so surprised — and secretly proud — I couldn’t bear to scold her. She ran back to me, silently put her hand in mine, and we continued walking.
When we’re not strolling through the village together, Auntie spends her days bossing her friends around. When she doesn’t get her way, she runs home crying to tattle. Although this act drives our adoptive parents crazy, I can’t help but laugh because it’s exactly what I always did when I was her age.
She’s already learned that sometimes it’s just easier to hang out alone. I’ve caught her talking to herself on more than one occasion, rattling on in a full conversation to who I can only assume to be her imaginary friends. I don’t know the names of her pretend playmates, but I called mine Joshua and Judy.
We even have the same taste in music. As Auntie once mischievously scrolled through my playlist, she stopped when my favorite Strokes song came on. She put my mP3 player down, took her head tie off and then twirled it around as she started dancing.
Another day when I was napping on the cement floor of my house (the ground is cold!), I awoke to a sleeping Auntie snuggled up next to me. I apparently had forgotten to lock my screen door and she let herself in, found that I was sleeping and decided to take a nap too.
She’s like a mini-me, complete with her unkempt hair standing straight up three inches off her scalp. Second only to playing outside, her favorite pastime is sitting on my lap while simultaneously rubbing both her head and mine. While comparing the textures of our hair, she often falls asleep in my arms – the only moments of rest for this little unpredictable spitfire.