Saturday, January 19, 2008



I think I made this clear in some of my previous entries, but just so you all know, almost all of the Pulaar people up north are polygamous. I’m not entirely sure if that’s universal in Senegal. It seems to be falling out of favor in more urban areas, but up here it’s quite prevalent. I’ve had countless discussions with men and women about it and I’ve made my feelings quite clear to them: “I certainly do not judge others who live a polygamous lifestyle, but it is and never will be for me.” (One of the best reasons for declining offers of marriage to Senegalese men). I’ve always been curious about the logistics of it though and until now I didn’t really feel close enough to anyone to ask personal questions. But the other night I was sitting alone with my sister/counterpart (Nene) and her baby and I asked her how she was doing adjusting to being a second wife now that the first wife (Mairam) is back and they live in the same house.

About a year ago Nene married her second husband (her first one passed away a few years ago). She is the second wife. As soon as she moved in, the first wife was really jealous (understandably) and moved to Dakar for several months. As soon as Nene had the baby, Mairam came back and they’ve been able to live more or less at ease with one another. But at first it was hard adjusting and Nene would complain to me about it. So I asked her if things were getting any better now that a few months had passed. She said that they were more or less better, but she also clued me into some of the kinds of under-handed competitive stuff that the two of them will pull. Like if Nene dresses up in nice clothes one day then Mairam will go and change her clothes so that she looks equally as made-up. Of course, they try to outdo each other when they cook meals too. They are on a 2-day schedule for cooking. So Nene prepares all the meals for 2 days and then they switch. The days that they prepare the meals, their husband spends those 2 nights in their room. (Yes, they do each have their own room). I guess it’s a sign of respect as a sort of “thank you” for serving him well that day. According to Nene he would never dare spend the night with the wife who had the day off. Also, apparently according to the Koran, after a woman gives birth she is supposed to wait 40 days before sleeping with her husband. So for 40 days after she had the baby she did not let him come lay with her despite his advances.

She did defend him adamantly though, which made me realize how much she does love him. He is a very nice man, educated, loves to laugh, works extremely hard, loves his children fiercely, and does not deny his family anything. He’s always very calm and I never hear him raise his voice.

I felt so lucky to be privy to such personal information and it was fun to giggle with her about “girlie” stuff. She even admitted to me that she understood now why I refuse to be in a polygamous relationship. (In case any of you were worried I’d be convinced otherwise! Ha!) She is the first person to ever say that to me outright. Though I have heard plenty of women complain openly about being second and third wives. And I’ve seen the look on their faces when I ask about the possibility of their husbands taking second wives. I would not want to cross my sister Binta that way. Lucky for her (and him) I’m pretty sure her husband believes in monogamy.

I still haven’t found a way to logically argue and convince men that no, in fact, there are NOT 10x more women than men in Senegal, and that the practice of polygamy does not exist because there are “too many women” and not enough men. It’s not enough to tell them that I have a Master’s degree in Population and Development from LSE. Nope, they’ve seen the compounds in their hometown (which they’ve usually never left) and they see only women (duh!) and therefore they are certain that all of Senegal is full of way too many women. Hmmm.

This particular argument makes me nuts and I’m at the point where I have to just avoid it because it feels like I’m beating my head against a brick wall. I think that maybe I should start walking around with Senegal’s demographic breakdown to show people and maybe that will help? A secondary project perhaps?
In any case, I hope you all enjoyed that cultural insight. I certainly did.


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