Dear Men of Senegal,
It’s been nice getting to know you these last 5 months and we’ve had some really good conversations. You’ve taught me how to make attaya, debated with me about Donald Trump, and gone on for hours about how much you love to work out. But, men of Senegal, I think our relationship has experienced a few bumps along the way. Because I want us to have a healthy relationship during these last 2 months, there are a couple of things that I just have to get off my chest.
I have grown used to your eyes widening and jaws dropping when I actually respond to your calls of “toubab, kay!” (white person, come!) as I pass you in the street. I return your calls not because I think you are truly being friendly, but rather because I recognize that your actions are to be as a challenge for the out-of-place toubab girl. I stand up to you and your presence, speaking in your native language to prove to the both of us that I am not what you think I am.
Since we have been getting quite close these last few months and you feel comfortable prying in on my private life, I have a question for you: Why do you think it is acceptable and/or appropriate to be so invasive with your so-called jokes. The conversation typically goes from “Nanga deff?” (How are you?) to “Am nga jeker?” (Do you have a husband?) before you even learn my name. You are 15 year old boys who have just began puberty to 50 year old men with three wives and twelve children to support. If you could get back to me with an answer to my question any time soon, please let me know.
And yes, people in my culture do similar. American boys cat call and will ask for a girls number when she is clearly uninterested. But I am confident when I say that at least American boys have a better understanding of what “no” means. In Senegal, I may be denying you in a language foreign to me, but it is your language. Even when I say “deedeet”, you are still so ignorant to my refusal. Your excuse of our uncomfortable interactions just being a part of your culture is not only inexcusable, but incorrect.
So, men of Senegal, for both of our sakes, please stop following me home after I tell you that I do not want to come to your house to meet your family. Stop coming into my home uninvited and refusing to leave until I give you my number. Stop telling me that your wife will never know. Stop thinking that I don’t notice when you take pictures of me. Stop telling my friends that you can’t help yourselves around such a pretty white girl. The color of my skin and sex to which I was born do not stop me from being far more intelligent than you will ever consider me to be.
Men of Senegal, give me a second to be fair and think about this situation from your perspective. When you are living in a village like Thiadiaye or even a big city like Dakar, your exposure to white people is extremely limited to the rich French tourists and the few American Peace Corps volunteers. But I cannot forget about the other white people you constantly see; the actresses in the movies you watch and the models that exemplify so-called perfection in western culture don’t exactly help the situation. Are your actions and perceptions of me something of my culture’s fault? Is anyone to blame?
Well, to end on a good note, I do enjoy the rare occasions when you are genuinely interested in what I’m doing in your country. When you treat me with respect, I have no problem reciprocating it. I have met some of the good ones too, the diamonds in the rough. Modou Tham and Baye Mor Dieye are the boys that give me hope that you may one day understand that we are equal.
Finally, men of Senegal, I approach you with an open mind, please do the same for me. If everything works out well, I think my last 2 months in your company can be enjoyable for us both.
P.S. I still won’t tell you my American name. I don’t want your Facebook friend requests.