Friday, March 03, 2006

The Third Kind of Welcome

Last night, I didn’t feel like cooking so I went out to buy a sandwich. As the woman was preparing it, a man bustled in with his cell phone ringing and his bag half open. He still managed a very proper, “bonjour”. He seemed to be in his mid-forties. Bald. Very tall. Dressed very meticulously in a sweater vest and slacks. When his phone call ended (it got cut off, actually), he corrected himself, “actually, I should say bon soir.”

I said, “yup, it’s evening,” and then his phone rang again. He spoke mostly Wolof on the phone, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was his wife, because the words I caught sounded like, “I’m coming, I’m coming. I’m at the house.”

My sandwich was ready, so with a quick, “have a good evening” as I left, I began to walk the two or three blocks home. Halfway there, I began to hear a piercing “psssst.” Around here, that’s the usual way of getting someone’s attention. (As opposed to the American way, I suppose, which is to yell, “hey! Yo!” )

In my limited experience, when the “psst” is directed towards me, it’s rarely something I want to hear. So I pretended not to, and kept walking. But the “pssst”s continued and got louder. I turned my head to see if I recognized the person. Way back, practically at the sandwich stand, there was someone waving madly.

With a sinking feeling, I turned back forwards and continued walking. I knew where this was going to end up, and I was still hoping that if I ignored him, he’d give up.

But no such luck. He started yelling. “Hey. Hey!” So I stopped. I turned around, and waited for the waving man to catch up. When he saw me finally stop, he started running. It was, of course, the man from the sandwich shop. Still sort of officiously bustling, saying something about why am I, uh huh, and of course you wouldn’t, and then, “But you remember me, right? We just met?”

“Yes, I remember.”

And then began the script that I’ve become all to familiar with these past couple weeks:
"How long have you been in Senegal?”
“A few weeks.”
“Where are you from? Are you French?”
“No, I’m American.”
“Oh! I… uh… I don’t… uh… speak very well… very well English…”
“That’s fine. It’s no big deal.” (I’ve been speaking French, and continue to speak French.)
“I’m ----“ (I don’t remember his name.) “You are?”
“Naomi,” I say, wearily. Warily.
“Ah. It’s a pretty name.”
“Thank you.”
“I’d like to make your acquaintance.” He proffers his cell phone. “Can I give you my number? Will you give me yours?”
“No. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.” My standard response.
“But we might never run into each other again. It could be two years.”
“C’est comme ca.” And I walk off.

I should emphasize, and not just because my mother is reading this, that none of these guys are scary or threatening in any way. They’ll tell you they love you (last night at the stadium, I happened to glance right, which was the perfect opportunity for the guy sitting next to me to profess his undying devotion), they’ll ask you over to meet their families, they’ll tell you they want to teach you Wolof. Sometimes they’re persistent—but they take the rejection well. They’re just trying their luck, anyway. I might have their golden ticket, and if they don’t check, how will they know?

None of which makes it any less annoying. You might think that being hit on all day by random strangers would be flattering, would swell your ego, make you feel like hot stuff. But really? Not so much.

I complained to one guy, a friend of a friend, who was obnoxiously hitting on me all night, that it was incredibly annoying being hit on by all the Senegalese men. He was incredulous. What’s the harm? He wanted to know. They’re just being friendly. They’re just trying their luck. And anyway, a lot of white women like it.

I haven’t met one who has. Some, though, handle it better than others. My friend Nina laughs it off. Earlier this week, after Wolof class, I had lunch with her, Lena, and Kristian. After lunch, we stood outside the restaurant for a few minutes, discussing where we were going next. A guy walked up to Nina and started in. When he got to “je t’aime, quoi.” (which is a slangy, very informal construction, and hardly appropriate for a declaration of love), Nina laughed.

“You love me? Are we going to get married?” He was somewhat bewildered, but he played along. “Yeah, sure.”
“When? Is Saturday good for you?”
“Yeah, Saturday’s good.” We were all listening now, and snickering.
“Can I come?” Kristian asked.
“Sure, of course,” the guy replied.
“He’s my husband,” Nina told him.
Now the guy was completely befuddled. “You’re married?” He turned to me. “What about you? Are you married?”
“Me? Yeah. I’m married to him too.” Polygamy is very common in Senegal, although they know that it’s not something Westerners do. The guy was starting to get that this was a joke.
All three of us are married to him. He has three wives.” That was Lena.
“You can’t have three wives. You’re too young,” the guy said.
“I’m rich,” Kristian replied. “Anyway, I’m 36 years old.” He’s 21.
“Well you don’t need all three wives. Why don’t you give me one?”
“Sure, that’s fine. But what are you going to give me in return? I can’t just give up one of my wives for nothing.”
“I’ll give you my sister.”
“Nahh. Why would I trade away one wife for another one? I’ve already got all the wives I need. How about a motorbike?”
The negotiations continued. And then, “but which one can I have?”
“Any of them. Take your pick.” The guy turned back to Nina, hopefully.
“Nah,” she said. “I’m sticking with him,” meaning Kristian. “He’s rich.”
And, laughing, we walked on.


Blogger Scooter said...

The married story -priceless!

2:08 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

"You might think that being hit on all day by random strangers would be flattering, would swell your ego, make you feel like hot stuff."

Nahhh, why would I think that? I much prefer it here, where no man will ever talk to me ever, unless he is homeless.

Seething with jealousy.


2:29 PM  
Blogger jkrunning--Just Keep Running said...

I agree with Jeanne, although I would probably get tired of it, it would be nice for a day or two, or three...

4:13 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

lol. ahhh, good times with the random marriage proposals. just think, when you're older, and have kids, and you get asked about past relationships, you can say

"well kids, when i was young, i turned down many a marriage proposal"..

it'll not only be funny.... but true!

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Another Fitness Blog said...

From an American guy's perspective that's pretty impressive. Rejection is tough to take, I don't care how often you get it! I guess we have a lot to learn from the fella in Senegal!

4:24 PM  
Blogger David said...

Do the men recognize that a wedding ring means you're married? Maybe you can wear one of those until it is to your advantage to decree that it's not true to a potential right guy.
And if not a ring, then what is the universal signal over there?

10:38 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I just happened to stumble across your blog from somewhere else (I've been hopping all day, so I can't remember where I came from!), but I really enjoy it. I'll be back!

4:22 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Missin' YOUUUU! Please post!

You must have some good stories by now.

11:31 AM  

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