Family Time with a “Passion”

Everyone knows when the clock strikes 8 in Camara Kunda. It’s not time for dinner or the hour for prayer. It’s time for “Pasion Morena,” a Mexican telenovela that flickers on over a weak satellite connection.

Monday through Friday at 8 p.m. – time stops. The eldest brother comes home from the bush, the eldest sisters take a break from their chores, the school-aged children put away their homework, the toddlers stop their games, Mom and Dad tell their guests ‘til tomorrow.’ Every member of our family drops what they are doing to come together.

Picture it: A Gambian family gathered ‘round to gossip over a Spanish soap opera with bad English dubbing. (Only a crazy toubab with a love for Latin America could be to blame!) Soon, our surprise and silly commentary is flowing: “Ooooh! He did not!” or “I knew it was her…oh, that woman…she is wicked, deh!” My Gambian family’s reactions are indeed half the entertainment in watching the ridiculous show that revolves around a corrupt, wealthy Mexican family.

On Friday nights, it’s an even fuller house. There’s two tushes to a cushion, no walking space across the floor and overflow on the porch when neighborhood kids come over to catch up on the drama of murder mysteries and love triangles. Things never get too steamy, though, since Dad flips the channel during every kiss.

With who’s dating who changing every day, it’s dangerous to miss an episode. My dad calls just to give me updates on nights I’m away. When a power outage cuts our programming, you’d think the president’s motorcade is passing by our screams are so dramatic. Once when the satellite stopped working, our whole family ran to a neighbor’s house to annex their TV only to find they were already watching the show. Their daughter had seen it at our house and got her own family hooked.

Our obsession truly is that bad. We named our puppy “Leo” after the main character. Our four-year-old sister sings the theme song by heart (in Spanish!) and we all have the regular commercials memorized.

Somehow, the TV is not rotting our minds though. The kids are able to follow the plot despite it being pretty complex. My brothers and sisters are always learning new phrases and can summarize the show in English, their third language. Between all the risqué love trysts, there’s been some side storylines warning teens against drug use, HIV and unwanted pregnancies – topics that most Gambian families ignore. Plus, the main female characters are educated women who put their careers before romance. The soap opera has been a spring board for wide topics of conversation: judicial systems, different cultures, character development, opportunities for women and personal values.

Sprawled across the floor, kids cuddled up in our laps – it’s the one hour everyone can rest, the one hour we laugh and talk together. Although it is true we may be a little “too” passionate about “Pasion Morena,” 8 p.m. is my favorite time of day.

–JDF