My Cousin, Nogaye

Elston Tortuga - Senegal


December 30, 2014

My cousin Nogaye is 19. She has two years left in high school, and when she passes her bac., she plans to attend university in Dakar, where she will train to become a math teacher. My cousin plays football with the boys. Her team always wins.

One night, I was helping Nogaye with her English homework, me on a woven mat, her opposite me, settled in a plastic lawn chair, outlining a response to the question, “do you think a woman has to be educated?” She responded, “with the creation of the parity, a woman has the right to go to school like the boys.” Intrigued, I asked her what she thought about parity.

She pursed her lips, leaned back in her chair, and said “Je ne suis pas d’accord.”

I was shocked. “Pourquoi?”

She replied, “the man and the woman are not equal. I’ve never seen a man that could give birth. The man is superior.”

I was near tears. How could this empowered girl, pursuing the path to higher education, harbor such a deep-rooted shame? I sputtered, spewing a knee-jerk string of self-righteous questions; “how is it just that when a woman comes home from work she must cook, and clean, and look after the kids, while all a man has to do is pray?”

She explained to me slowly, as if to a child, that a man can’t perform the domestic tasks that a woman must, especially looking after children, adding that it is, in fact, the woman’s right to perform these tasks.

I backed down, realizing we had reached an impasse. We continued working through her assignment, me still fuming.

At first, I was dissapointed in Nogaye for accepting her subordinate status. Then, I felt the claustrophobia of a culture that teaches boys and girls alike to accept the man’s superiority as fact. Then, I realized that I had stopped asking “why,” and begun demanding, “why don’t you see that I am right?”

Nogaye isn’t going to school to realize her dream of becoming a math teacher. My uncle Pape isn’t a mechanic because he loves working with cars. My uncle Abdoulaye would much rather stay home than go to the fields everyday.

In Ngueniene, careers don’t exist. People have jobs in order to put food on the table and shelter overhead. Traditionally, men are expected to supply the pantry with food and ensure shelter, while women are expected to turn the food into meals and look after the house and children.

Nogaye will go to university in Dakar not to pursue her love for math, but to help her parents and ensure that her children are well-fed and clothed. When she returns from work, she will perform the domestic tasks that her culture has assigned her. Nogaaye’s life doesn’t stop at her career. In fact, in Senegal, the family is far more important. She wants to do her best in raising a family, and that means she will be the one rearing her children — no man could possibly do it better than she.

I’m still not comfortable with it — definitely not with the concept of gender sub-ordinance, but I’m starting to realize that it isn’t necessarily wrong. I grew up encouraged to become the first woman president. Nogaye grew up learning how to raise children and keep a house.

Elston Tortuga