Friday, November 03, 2006

I'll take a third wife, with a side of fries and a coke

I came home from the office yesterday to the sounds of Naw and Ismaillah making fun of Gallo in Wolof.

Naw runs the boutique in my neighborhood. Aside from being my source for all things snacky or useful, from chocolate-filled cookies to bleach to bug death spray, he is one of my favorite people in Dakar.

Rose talked about him endlessly, before I moved into this apartment, but it wasn't until I had been living here on my own, while Rose spent six weeks in Europe, that I learned to fully appreciate him. He knows everybody and everything that goes on in our neighborhood. And he's got a perceptive and analytical eye for Senegalese culture, a fairly rare trait. Plus, having spent most of his childhood in the Gambia, a former British colony, he speaks English fluently.

Ismaillah and Gallo are the "guardians" for my building and the one next door. Sort of a cross between a doorman, super, and night watchman. They're both around all the time, and thus are some of the friendly faces in my neighborhood. Whenever I come home, whether from an afternoon downtown or a month in the US, they greet me like they haven't seen me in forever, and ask me how it was.

And Ismaillah has the addition honor of being my cockroach killer (only for the really enormous ones).***

The Wolof was too fast and complicated for me to understand yesterday afternoon, but the tone was obviously teasing, and Gallo was obviously on the wrong end.

Afterwards, Naw explained.

"Gallo has a third wife today. And so we had to laugh at him."

"I didn't even know he had a second wife. I thought he had just the one."

"Me neither. He's the one who told me that he has two wives. But now he says he got a third one yesterday."

Polygamy is legal and common in Senegal. According to Muslim law, men are allowed up to four wives. In villages, where traditional African customs sometimes still hold sway, I've heard of men with six or seven. I've even heard of Catholics with multiple wives, although the Catholics I know will tell you that their religion only allows them the one.

Gallo lives in a small room in the house next door, where he's employed. His wife, the one that I knew about, lives in the village he came from, not far from Dakar. I couldn't tell you where the second one lives, but I'd guess she's also in the village.

And the third one?

According to Gallo, who I asked a little while later, was picked up by his father on Sunday. He claims he had no idea he'd acquired this extra spouse until the day before yesterday, when he went to his family's house, and his father broke the news.

I'm not sure I believe him though. People will tell you anything, especially when they think you'll disapprove.

And all Senegalese people know that white people are incredibly weird about polygamy.

*** Lord, I talk about bugs a lot here.


Blogger jeanne said...

three wives, eh? that he didn't even know he had. well, it's a system.

12:11 AM  

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