Tuesday, May 02, 2006

He's Got Game

On the way over to the party, Jenna (an exchange student from San Diego who has been in Senegal since August) and I joke about how she is going to behave. She is dressed like a man, and she is looking forward to playing up the role.

“Oh, la belle gazelle! Do you ever get that one? I HATE that one?” she laughs.
“Yes! Yesterday! I just heard that one for the first time yesterday!”

She is going to try out all the lines we’ve been getting, incessantly, from Senegalese men since we got here. Preferably on all the ones skimpily (cross-)dressed as women.

“Except,” I say, after we’ve gone through all the best possibilities, “they might like it. They’ll probably think it’s great and end up wanting to take you home to meet their families.”

And, snickering, we walk into the party, where the music is already blasting, and there are scores of young Senegalese Catholics in seriously improbable outfits celebrating Mardi Gras.

I am there with Suzanne and three other toubabs—Jenna, and Katherine and Drew, who are students from Georgetown. We mostly stay together—it was only a few weeks after I’d gotten here, and I didn’t really know that many people—dancing, and laughing over the most ridiculous costumes.

And then.

“Okay, who is that guy who is just STANDING there? He’s totally staring at me.” I use the playful tone from before. The “god don’t you hate how aggressive the Senegalese men are” tone. But my eyes have been drawn in his direction more than a few times since I noticed him looking. Amid the crowd of silly dancing and sillier costumes, he’s standing still. Observing, with gorgeous eyes and a hint of a smile.

“Him?” Jenna looks over. “Isn’t that Théo? Suzanne’s brother? He’s not usually like that. I don’t know what’s up.”

“Oh wait. I met him before. It’s probably nothing then.” I look over, make eye contact and smile. He smiles back. And then stops watching me.

And later, Jenna says, “You’re right, now he’s staring at me.”

“You see what I mean? It’s a little weird right?” Right. He wasn’t watching me. He was watching people.

The costume contest/parade begins and the whole party flocks to find a good spot to watch. I pull over a chair to stand on, but plenty of other people have had the same idea, and it’s hard to see. Most of the entrants are guys, and they play up to the heckling and the cat calls, sashaying down the makeshift runway with artificially padded hips. There’s a mock kiss between a mock couple and the crowd squeals. It’s loud and hilarious, and would be even more so if I had any idea who these guys were. As it is, I can’t decide between the guy dressed as a conservative granny (complete with hair net) or the guy dressed in a micromini that he easily pulls off better than I would.

The voting is done by applause, and I have no idea who we’re voting for, or who ends up winning.

Somehow, I always know where Théo is, and somehow it’s always just a little out of speaking range.

The contest finished, the dancing starts again. I find Suzanne, Jenna, Katherine, and Drew. A girl wanders over. I’d joked with her when we were paying our admission (“Are you going to dance?” “Hell yeah, I’m going to dance.” “Show me your moves.” “After you.” “I’ll see you inside”). We dance together for a few counts, and she laughs. “You dance really well.” And she wanders off.

And then Théo is there, dancing with us, saying hi to Suzanne and Jenna. I wait for him to say hi to me. He doesn’t. I turn a little and dance in his direction. He smiles. A little kid comes over during an Mbalax song, which is a particular type of Latin/Senegalese music made popular by Youssou N’Dour. It goes with a very bizarre Senegalese dance that involves some sort of cross between the Charleston, the twist, and the running man. The little kid shows off some of his mbalax skills, and I copy him a little (as best as I can in the long Senegalese pagne I’m wearing as my costume). Théo seems amused.

Around midnight, the music stops and the party is over. Everyone swarms towards the exit en masse, and I’m certain that now Théo will talk to me. I nonchalantly walk towards the exit. Outside, I realize that Théo has walked off, and now I’ve also lost sight of Suzanne and the others. I find Suzanne a moment later, but Théo is nowhere to be seen.

***

When people asked me why I was single, which they asked A LOT, I told them that it was because I didn’t want a boyfriend. That if I’d had a boyfriend or a husband in the States, I probably would never have come to Senegal. That I’m here to work and to learn and not to date.

A lot of people accepted that answer, although it did set me up for my share of, “how can you learn all about Senegalese culture if you refuse to experience EVERYTHING about Senegalese culture?”

Sometimes they’d ask me if it was because I didn’t want to date a black person. I told them that wasn’t it, although I would prefer to date a Jewish person. That was something people understood: everyone is very religious here and they tend not to date across religious lines (although it happens).

If all else failed, I could usually put an end to the conversation with: “I’m not saying that I would never date someone here. But I’m not looking for anyone.”

Most of it was true, and some of it was convenient. Mostly I was saying, to whoever I was talking to, that I didn’t want to date them, and most of them got it without my having to be more explicit. A couple times, I tried lying and telling people I was married, but I wasn’t any good at that, and people could always tell.

***

A few weeks after Mardi Gras pass, and I mostly put Théo out of my mind. I know that I’m going to see him at Easter, which Suzanne has invited me to share with her family. If I’m honest, I know that I’m looking forward to it. But I’ve never really even spoken to him. And I remind myself that—even if it felt like the not-talking at Mardi Gras was very calculated or at least very shy—there’s sometimes a much simpler reason for not talking. And the fact that I haven’t seen him since? Tends to support the “he’s not that into you” theory.

Anyway, I’m not looking for a boyfriend.

Except that one day Suzanne comes back from her day off and says that Théo asked about me.

I knew it.

***

And then it was Easter.

I could tell you all about the little flirtations and the continued not-talking and the smiling from far away and about how he drew it out until the last possible second, when I was leaving at the crack of dawn the next morning. When I was finally convinced that I’d completely imagined the whole thing, and that I’d managed to pick the one guy in Senegal who had no interest in dating me. (You’ll excuse the frustrated exaggeration of a girl with a crush.)

But the important part is that, all of a sudden, the smiling continued, and he wasn’t far away. The not-talking stopped, and a few other things started.

And I'm not going to lie (I was never any good at that anyway). It's an awful lot of fun.

5 Comments:

Blogger jeanne said...

awwww! And hey, she's got game, too.

5:24 PM  
Anonymous g said...

Funny how the greatest people pop up when you least expect it, huh? I'm glad you're having fun!

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Dolores said...

Squeeeeeeeeeee!

Awesome entry, and rock on, and have fun!

1:37 PM  
Blogger David said...

I love a good revealing flirty love story. Have some fun!

10:30 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

awwwwww. cute.

i guess it really does happen when you least expect it, huh?!

have i mentioned that i'm not expecting it right now either?

hear me? dating god? i'm not expecting anything right now! nope! nada!

(why do i have a feeling they don't believe me?!)

12:40 PM  

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