Warding off Marriage Proposals from Senegalese Men
“Je t’aime” (“I love you”) is likely to be the first phrase I hear out of a Senegalese man’s mouth when I meet him. As a white American woman (otherwise known as a “toubab” or white Westerner to the Senegalese), I’ve had to learn to ignore obsessive attention from Senegalese men. I’m frequently asked if I have a husband, a question that I would never get during a two-minute conversation as a 20-year-old in the United States. For the sake of ending the conversation, I respond, “Waaw, am naa jeker.” (“Yes, I have a husband”) in the local Wolof language.
Now that I’ve been here three months, I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to men frequently asking me if I’m married. First it’s important to realize that being married at 20 here, especially in the rural areas, is completely normal. So culturally speaking, it is quite possible that I could be married.
In fact, I was warned when I arrived that many men pursue marriage with American women with the sole intention of obtaining an American green card.
However, what at first took me by surprise was how outspoken and forward the men are. I’m sure that they don’t approach Senegalese women in this way, and that a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m a Westerner. In fact, I was warned when I arrived that many men pursue marriage with American women with the sole intention of obtaining an American green card.
With this in mind, it’s hard not to be somewhat bitter about the whole situation. I have yet to master the art of ignoring men on the street without being rude. I want to be culturally sensitive and greet people, but at the same time, I don’t want to get caught up in a longer conversation, which usually leads to most men asking for my phone number.
Sitting in the park one Sunday afternoon, two friends and I were approached by a nice Senegalese man who was “very happy to meet us today.” It was definitely one of the most awkward conversations I’ve had here as he kept speaking English, but didn’t really have much to say except, “You have husband?”
Women are not allowed to have more than one husband. This marginalizes women and puts them in positions of inferiority.
Yes, I was engaged for the sake of not letting things continue further. While this man clearly wanted to meet again, my friend’s “Goodbye, we won’t be seeing each other” line was very clever: “Aux Etats-Unis on laisse les choses comme ca à la chance.” (“In the U.S., we leave things like this to chance.”) In Senegal, this has to be true. A perfect exit line, I must say.
Let me also mention that in Senegal, polygamy is completely acceptable and what most men choose to do. Being polygamous allows men to have multiple wives, which in turn means multiple families. However, women are not allowed to have more than one husband.
This marginalizes women and puts them in positions of inferiority; hence why I could never allow my hypothetical Senegalese husband to come get his green card in the U.S. and return home to his other wives in Senegal. I promised my dad I wouldn’t come home with a Senegalese husband, and I think he has very little to worry about.