Thursday, July 15, 2010

Really Trying...

... to understand the culture of polygamy and a woman's role here.

Wolof language lesson for the day:
Jekker- Husband. Jek= Front of, or head. Ker= House (some may argue heart)
Jabar- Wife. Ja= Keeping your eyes forward or locked onto something. Bar= Following fast or running fast.

Not cool.

As a loudly opinionated and fiery woman, I get pretty fired up at some of the ways women are treated in this country. When I first got here one of the men at our orientation told us that men will frequently ask you to marry them and it's just part of the culture and to not take it too seriously. So I didn't... for the first two weeks. But every time a meet a man over here, I usually catch the word "jekker" in his first through fifth sentences usually leading up to a very irritating question.

I've got some issues with this. I'm so glad that the first thing men think when they look at me is that I have a neon sign hanging around my neck that says, "HEY, I'm just a Western gal who wants to come here and marry the first dude who asks!" A male colleague of mine put it into perspective for me... I am a woman traveling without a husband. It's not common for women in this country to just leave their husband for a month to do research, hence, I must be single. Okay. Understandable.

Issue number two. Getting asked to be a wife or second wife isn't something that happens once a week. It happens almost every day and it is wearing on me, even though I try to joke about it. I bought a fatter silver ring than the one I was wearing and I carry a dogeared picture of Nate and I around in my pocket that I frequently whip out and show pretty much everyone and they STILL ask. Someone even asked if Nate wouldn't mind if I was his wife in the United States and the other dude's wife here. Excuse me?! Why is it such a casual thing to ask someone to marry you? Seriously, instead of saying, "Hey lady whose name I don't know, how is the weather," I hear, "Hey. Are you married? Be my wife."

This all leads me to ask: How many women from out of the country come around here looking for a husband? Also, why do men here have all of this control? It is a part of the culture that I cannot get used to. I've really been trying to do some reading on this to understand the male behaviors here but I still can't wrap my head around it. I even had a discussion about polygamy with a university professor at UCAD to understand all of this. His basic answer? Men are weak and need more wives so they don't cheat. Also what if a man marries a woman who doesn't have a strong sexual drive? Then he'll need another wife to satisfy that. Also, women are stronger and can handle all of that. Um, really?

And yes, there is class to consider and race and religion and... the list goes on. I still get mad.

I miss my guy friends because I know that they just like to hang out because they are awesome and have no ulterior motives.

And I miss Nate even more because I know he doesn't run around asking random women to be his wife and he is cool with being married to a loudly opinionated and fiery woman.
From Dakar 2010
Jen, who is still having a blast, but trying to learn about the context of these gender issues and the struggles women my age and younger are having in Dakar with blurring cultural lines (believe me, they are trying)

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