Before I start I would like to clear the air: no, I do not have a Senegalese girlfriend, nor a Senegalese wife, nor do I plan on getting married while I am here, nor do I plan on taking more than one wife. Why the litany? Every few days I have déjà vu. I meet a new person or have a conversation with a friend and it invariably devolves to the same topic—girlfriends and wives –sometimes much further than makes me comfortable.
Please see the dialogue at the end of the post for the translation.
Part of the problem is that a lot of people here assume I am a lot older than I actually am. For example, back in Sangalkam my older brother’s friends assumed I was 23 to 26 until I told them otherwise. Thus they naturally assumed that I would have a wife (or two) and maybe even a family. However, the truth of my youth seems not to make a difference. In a country and culture where teenage marriage, especially by girls, is not only accepted but in some places common practice, it seems bizarre to some that I am leading the single life.
Marriage proposals and harassment (or at least intense interest) was something that some of the female GCY Fellows immediately had to cope with in Dakar, and some of them are still dealing with a few characters. The experience has not, however, been gender limited. In Senegal I have, much to my surprise, gotten several direct marriage proposals, usually motivated by a desire for a green card to America. In fact, just last night my host mother offered me my host sister as a potential spouse, saying, “No, really, I’m giving her to you. She’s crazy. Take her back to America.”
People can be pretty insistent—sometimes joking in unique Senegalese fashion and sometimes serious, as far as I can tell—about trying to set me up. Women, but especially men, lecture me on their views of the benefits of a Senegalese wife: I could stop spending time washing my own clothes and I essentially would have a personal chef. On any given day I might be offered somebody’s sister, friend, or co-worker as a fiancée, girlfriend, or for slightly more promiscuous activities. Yes, some men can get pretty crude rather quickly, but I now know enough Wolof slang to understand when it is time to end the conversation.
Any dialogue about girlfriends or wives always involves the same questions: “Do you have a wife/girlfriend in the US? Why not? Do you have a Senegalese wife/girlfriend? Why not? Do you want one? Why not?” Then there is a fair amount of cultural comparison and I usually end up saying something along the lines of “I am waiting until I finish my university studies before I marry so that I can support my family,” a response that satisfies discussions of marriage, though not other solicitations.
In light of these ongoing misadventures I had a little bit of fun, asking one of my Noflaye host brothers, Pape Cheikh, about his romantic life while the camera was rolling. Of course he turned the tables only moments later, filming me as well to have a few laughs.
I have done my best below to transcribe and translate the rather circular dialogue.
Gus: Pape Cheikh.
Pape Cheikh: Waaw. Yes.
G: Dama bëgg laj: I want to ask:
P: Waaw. Yes.
G: Naka sa coro? How is your girlfriend?
G: Eh! Ana mu? Hey? Where is she?
G: Uyu ma! Uyu ma! Answer me! Answer me!
P: Man, amuma. I don’t have one.
G: Amuloo. You don’t have one.
P: Waaw, am naa benn bu nekk Etats-Unis quoi. Yeah, I have one in the United States.
G: Ah, waaw. Ah, yes.
Bayizal: Am na benn bu nekk Noflaye! He has one in Noflaye!
G: Nu mu tudd? What is her name?
P: Uh, comment disais? Non, je te dis pas le nom. Uh, what were you saying? No, I am not telling you the name.
G: Ah huh. C’est secret. It is secret.
P: C’est secret. It is secret.
G: D’accord. Okay.
P: C’est une boîte sècrete. It is a secret club. [laughs]
G: Naam? Yes?
B: Na nga def? How are you doing?
P: Dama la bëgg laj benn aféer. I want to ask you about one thing.
G: Waaw. Yes.
P: Ana sa coro? Where is your girlfriend?
G: Oh, amuma. Amuma coro. Oh, I don’t have one. I don’t have a girlfriend.
P: Amuloo coro? You don’t have a girlfriend?
G: Amuma coro, amuma gel, amuma jabar, amuma xale, amuma daara. Maangi fii rekk. I don’t have a girlfriend, I don’t have a sweetheart, I don’t have a wife, I don’t have a girlfriend, I don’t have anything. I’m here alone.
P: Bóo Etats-Unis amuloo daara. When you’re in the United States you don’t have anything.
G: Déedéet, déedéet. No, no.
G: Maangi fii rekk. I’m here alone.
P: Ah hah!
G: Man bayyi… [stutters] bayyi… lëpp… foofu… Bayyi naa lëpp foofu. I have left everything there (in the United States).
P: Senegal: amuloo fii daara. Senegal: you don’t have anything here.
G: Senegal: am naa waa kër. Senegal: I have family.
P: Waa kër ak lan? Family and what else?
G: Waa kër rekk. Just family.
G: Ak… ak xarit yi. And… and friends.
P: Ak xarit. And friend.
G: Ak ay xarit. And friends.
P: Naka business bu nekk? How’s all of your stuff?
G: Business dox na rekk. It’s fine.
G: Tutti rekk. Just a little.
P: Dégg naa foofu, hôpital, am na ñaari coro. Dégg naa kenn— I understand that there, the hospital, there are two girlfriends. I here that someone—
G: —Déedéet, amuma benn coro, amuma benn coro. —No, I don’t have any girlfriend, I don’t have any girlfriend.
G: Am naa chef de Poste, am naa xarit yi, am naa feebar yi, wante amuma coro. I have a head doctor, I have friends, I have sick people, but I don’t have a girlfriend.
P: Amuloo coro. You don’t have a girlfriend.
G: Déedéet. No.
P: Ah huh. Dinaa la… Dinaa ko mës a sacc ma photo ko ma indi ko. Dinaa ko ne Moustapha ne na amul coro. I will… I will get (steal) one photo of her for me so I can bring it. I will tell her that Moustapha says he doesn’t have a girlfriend.
P: Mais, fii Senegal, am na ku donne sa coro. But here, Senegal, there are people who would give you a girlfriend.
G: Waaw, am naa xarit ku bëgg indi ma coro, wante man bëgguma. Yes, I have friends who want to bring me a girlfriend, but I don’t want it.
P: Waaw, danga war a bëgg nak! Yes, you should want it!
G: Man dama bëgg liggey rekk. I just want to work.
P: Ah! Ak coro la bokk, coro la bokk sa liggey. And with your girlfriend you will share it. You will share your work with your girlfriend.
G: Déedéet, déedéet, déedéet. Man duma bokk sama liggey ak coro bii. No, no, no, I won’t share my work with this girlfriend.
Wherever you are in the world, my best goes out to you. Until next time, jamm ak salaam from Senegal.