It was stark black outside with the exclusion of the stars that illuminated the sky. On nights like this when the power went out I found myself just outside the house seated in a chair staring up at them. A beautiful sight they were. Yesterday was no exception, only instead of watching the stars I was watching my host mother struggle to make dinner. Dinner is usually cooked over a red kerosene can or on a mini grill with coal. Tonight it was coal.
With the same scooper used to throw away trash she fanned mercilessly at the bottom of the grill to keep the coal lighted up. I moved my chair over to her and held the light from my phone above the grill so that she could see well.
“Can you cook Awa?” she asked.
“Yes. But I don’t like to” I replied. She laughed.
“In our society, African society, it is important for a woman to know how to cook” she explained.
I nodded my head. “I know. But I still don’t like to cook.”
“When you get married you have to cook for your husband so you have to like it.”
I shook my head. “Yes I will cook for him. But I still won’t like cooking.”
The funny expression on her face told me that she just wasn’t getting it. I guess in her head because you had to do it, you needed to like it.
“In Africa if you cannot cook you will not get married. You do not have to know how to clean or wash but you must know how to cook.”
Call me backwards but I actually like cleaning and do not mind washing from time to time.
“I guess I won’t be marrying an African” I said.
She thought my comment to be the funniest thing ever and dropped the fan momentarily to grab her head and laugh.
She turned her attention back to me. “I have been cooking since I was…ten”
I simply replied, “That’s good.”
Women here in Senegal hold jobs as the men do, but the majority of them are devoted to household duties. That would entail the usual cooking, cleaning, washing, tending to the kids, etc. Not that they don’t have great aspirations but sometimes it seems as if their ultimate goal is to be the perfect house keeper. However this is just my perception of things.
My host mother spends more time at home doing homely duties than at the municipal where she works. Sometimes I wonder if she even has a set schedule because she goes in at random times during the day or week for that matter. I call my fourteen year old cousin Aida little woman in training because my yaye (mother) always has her in the kitchen with her. She can cook, she can clean, and she can wash…definitely wife material. I remember once, while looking through my host mothers wedding album, Aida said, “I can’t wait to get married.” I couldn’t help but to think look where your head is at already.
It is a cultural thing, I understand. The women are the pillars of their family in that they hold everything together. They keep the family functioning the way it should and without them to oversee things, who knows what would happen. A woman’s worth can be defined or outlined in multiple ways, but from where I am at now her sole purpose is to serve the needs of her family.