I remember looking at last year’s Yak board right when I got my official Bridge Year acceptance box in the mail. I probably spent over an hour looking at photos, reading about peoples’ experiences, looking at the itinerary for winter excursion. But there is one piece that I still think about quite often. It was titled, “To my Senegalese husbands” and I recommend reading it before reading my post:
If you didn’t read it, to summarize, it discusses the culture all women here face of being asked if you have a husband, or more specifically she discusses being told that you are someone’s wife. Two lines that always stuck out to me, before I came and since being here, are “I am at the store to buy food, not to see you,” and “My smile is not an invitation for you to talk to me and does not mean I am in love with you.”
I came to Senegal already having a picture of the type of, what I perceived then as, harassment that I would face here. My point in writing this piece is not to refute Nicole’s article. To tell you the truth, I am constantly asked if I have a husband followed by if I want a husband. Sometimes I’m even told that I am already someone’s wife and they are coming home to the US with me. I understand. It can be tiring; it can be frustrating; it has made me think before “why do you feel you have the right to my attention?” When I first arrived in Senegal this made me extremely uncomfortable. My reaction was to put my head down when I was walking home from the bus stop and book it to my house in Apecsy. Yes, I have a husband! “Waaw, amnaa jëkër!” was one of the first Wolof phrases I got really good at saying. I did everything I could to avoid talking to people on the bus, in shops, or on the street, and if I had to I kept my conversations short. But I started to realize something about my Senegalese husbands after a while. Most of them are pretty interesting people. Some here would say it’s because I’m from New York, maybe it’s just my personality, but I tended not to talk to strangers before coming to Senegal. Anyone who has taken a taxi in New York knows that you get in the back, say where you’re going, and sit there on your phone until you get there. At least that is what I used to do. I got in the habit of doing that when I got here as well. If not in a taxi on my iphone, then on the TATA bus looking at my feet. Once I realized that the people I was meeting in boutiques, the auchaun, on the TATA 47 or the Dem Dikk 008 (my two regular buses) were really cool people, I had an in. “Hey tubab, amnga jëkër?” (Hey tubab, do you have a husband?) It was my built-in conversation starter, and I didn’t even have to start the conversation. Most of the times this line is used as a joke, a little game that people play, but once that’s set aside and out of the way people have really cool stories to share. Honestly, these are probably people that I just never would have talked to on my own, because I didn’t have to. Now I get in taxis and I talk to my drivers, many of which are my husbands, all the way until I get where I’m going. I talk to shop clerks while they are helping me. I talk to the people that I see every day on my walk to and from the program house. I can spend all my days, because yes this tends to happen every day, thinking of this as harassment and keeping my head down on my walk to the bus. I can spend every day being annoyed or pissed off at Senegalese men. Or I can spend my days laughing off the guys with questionable intentions and having some really cool conversations with others.
Nicole’s post wasn’t wrong. I have certainly experienced cultural fatigue because of the frequency that I’m asked for my hand in marriage, but for those days, I’ve come up with a few new strategies. Thanks to Sophie, my go to new phrase is “yes I have a husband in America but I want a second one in Senegal.” This usually gets quite a laugh. Yesterday, all of the girls were in a taxi heading back to Yoff from Mermoz and we beat the taxi driver to the question by asking him if he had a wife… and if he wanted one.
So, to all of my Senegalese husbands: keep asking! but then stop and tell me about yourself ask me about myself, more than just do you have a husband. I hope to have many more Senegalese husbands before I come home to America, and hopefully, many more friends and stories to tell too!