During my week spent in my village I was asked too many times to count, “Are you married?” And when I responded “deedeet”, or no in Wolof, that first question was immediately followed up with “Why not?” I find that I am still working on an adequate response.
At first I responded with “Je suis tres jeune” or I am too young. But the girls in my town would just give me a strange look and say you’re 18, I was engaged when I was 18.
Then I tried to explain to them that I did not need a Senegalese boyfriend or husband and that I was here to study, not tie the knot. These excuses fell on deaf ears, with them insisting why would a young girl like myself want to be single?
I also tried telling them that I want to marry after graduating from university, and they again questioned why I insisted on waiting.
On occasion I resorted to lying, saying “Je suis fiancee” or “Je suis mariee.” The common response I got to this was that I should also have a Senegalese husband to accompany my imaginary American one.
One night while having girl talk with some of my host sisters, I told them that my mother had me, her first child, when she was 35, by the scandalized looks on their faces one would have thought I had said she was 80.
Coming from a home where my mother married late, and then raised three children as a single mother, I always viewed marriage as something I did not have to think of for a very, very long time. Yet the culture in my village, and many parts of Senegal have made me face the fact that around the world girls my age and younger are getting married, and tying themselves down under the weight of domestic chores and child rearing.
This thought was cemented in my mind as one of my new friends in my village introduced me to her fiance. The same girl who I had giggled with like a 13 year old the night before and who still had stuffed animals in her room was getting married? It was a hard thought to swallow as I pasted on a smile and shook her future husband’s hand.