Marriage on the Mind

For the next 3 posts I’ll be doing a mini-series of the “hidden side of Peace Corps, what PCVs aren’t telling you.”

To start the series off I’ll be talking about… gender roles (finally!) and how hard it is to be a woman in a society that feels archaic when it comes to gender roles.

The most common example: marriage proposals.

Firstly, I’m going to talk about the interactions a Senegalese man hitting on a Toubab female. I’ll write out the most common experience for me and my fellow volunteers.

Scenario 1:
“am nga jekker” (do you have a husband?)
“am naa” (I have one)
“ana mu?” (where is he?)
“munga fa” (he’s over there)
“Toubab walla Senegalaise” (Foreigner or Senegalese)
“Toubab” (Foreigner)
“Lutax amoo jekker Senegalaise?” (why do you not have a Senegalese husband?)
“begguma ko” (I don’t want one)
“mon, sa jekker laa” / “danu tak” / “begg naa la pur sama jabar” (I am your husband, let’s get married, I want you for my wife)
“deedeet” (no)

Scenario 2:
“am nga jekker” (do you have a husband?)
“deedeet” (no)
“lutax?” (why?)
“begguma ko” (I don’t want one)
“mon begg naa la” (I want you)
“am nga jabar” (Do you have a wife?)
“waaw, di nga sama deuxizm femme” (yes, you can be my second wife)
“deedeet, duma begg bokk” (no, I don’t share)
“lutax?” (why?)
“ndaxte, mon, toubab laa, ci etas unis, gore am na benn jabar rekk, loolutax duma begg bokk” (because I am a foreigner, in the United States men have only 1 wife, that is the reason why I don’t share)

Scenario 2 more often results in worse scenarios, but in both cases, I’ll have to retort with, I don’t love you (but I love you), you don’t know me (but I love you), why do you want a toubab wife, toubabs don’t like lazy Senegalese men (but I love you), you are ugly (but you are beautiful), and on and on it goes. In these situations it makes me feel like as a woman, I command no respect about what I want, and no respect with what I say. No means no! But.. not in this culture, especially as a foreign woman. In the most serious situations, I’ve had men say, but I was a gentleman (while I harassed you) you should marry me, I have a large penis, and Senegalese men know sex. According to Islam it’s extrememly rude and inappropriate to talk about anything sex related with someone of the opposite gender, so sometimes these things are hard to swallow as a volunteer, you don’t expect them going to a Muslim country.

So that’s life as a woman in my shoes, but then there’s the opposite situation. My neighbor is a crazy woman and has been rudely trying to offer me away to her customers (she owns a breakfast stand). Just the other day I walked past her stand, and she said come, let me offer you to my friend here. I refused, she started repeating herself and making a scene (like always), and the man said to her that he didn’t want to marry me, and immediately she was quiet. As a woman of a different culture this was insanely annoying. I’ve been saying no for the past 16 months every time and I say it persistently. The minute a man says he doesn’t want something, there’s instant respect and no one prods him for a deeper answer, whereas if I say no, I get asked why why why, and no matter what I answer I give, they continue to question me. I get harassed continuously when I say no, until I am exhausted and can luckily escape the conversation.

In our region, we have 8 volunteers, and only one is male. The other day some of us were in another city trying to find a cab, 1 guy, 4 gals. One taxi driver cut through us and walked up to our male volunteer and said “gore lay waxale” (the man will bargain). We all left that conversation frustrated because the blantant disrespect for women is so strong no matter where in Senegal you are.

Of course I have many more examples, women are highly encouraged to wear skirts at meals, women sit a certain way at the bowl, women get served second, women do all cooking, cleaning, raising kids, but I’ll save those for another time.

Rereading this post I’ve realized that I’ve had a lot of trying experiences. There are moments when you meet a woman insistent on finding you a husband she drags you through the entire neighborhood introducing you to all men which leads to an endless afternoon of harassment, it makes me wonder how I’m still a PCV. I’m surprised I haven’t left yet haha just kidding. Here’s the harsh truth, it becomes a normal part of life. Being hit-on by a taxi driver, a neighbor, any man you encounter, it makes me as a woman really dread talking to any Senegalese man. Which in reality I think is really sad. My fear of being hit-on now determines who I choose talk to, what routes I walk, etc. Every time a Senegalese man approaches me, my heart swells with annoyance and I want to just walk away. My past experiences with Senegalese men have formed my opinion so much that I now fear and hate talking to men in Senegal.

I did warn you this was the ugly side of things. PC may be glamorous but there are real challenges with being here. Gender roles here are so different here. People can and will use the excuse of me being a woman for me to do something. In the States, if you anyone did that (especially in the work force) that is gender discrimination. Everyday it’s a battle of 2 cultures within me, my American side and the Senegalese culture I live in.

Don’t let this deter you from applying if you are thinking about it, the positives farly outweigh the negatives. Senegal is a beautiful country, but this is a harsh reality and I wanted to share it.

Next time I’ll talk about the emotional roller coaster.

Until then,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s