I will post the poem in my next post...stay tuned!
Monday, February 20, 2012
Relationships, Broken Hearts, Men, Women & Love
I have not had regular access to the internet and have been unable to post. However, I have been writing a lot and have three new entries to share. I will be putting them up in the next couple of weeks. Enjoy
No matter where you live or what culture you were raised in, the majority of human beings deal with relationships, heartbreaks and love. Being here and having the opportunity to live in a local community and date a host national has given me a different perspective on relationships, standards, gender roles, and love. It has also brought to awareness a particular sense of gratitude for my own upbringing and freedom. I want to apologize for writing so much about the oppression of women. I never planned to revolve my blog around this subject, but lately the stories I feel most inspired to share are just that.
The words relationship, boyfriend, and girlfriend have a very different connotation here than they do in America. Most will agree that in America when you are in a relationship it means that you are dating one person unless agreed upon otherwise. Communication is essential and trust is even a bigger. Cheating is looked down upon by society and is a likely cause to end a relationship. Here it is very much the opposite. Cheating is a common practice and though people do not necessarily like it, they accept it. I have spent a lot of time talking about this subject to both men and women (teenagers and adults). The chance that your Senegalese boyfriend (muslim or catholic) is having or has had sex with another person while dating you in pretty darn high.
Some of my male volunteer friends have had some interesting conversations with Senegalese men. One friend told me that his tailor asked him why the volunteers (male) do not want to “play” with the women here. His quote “the women of village “A” want to play. You just tell me whom you want and I will help you.: When explained to this person that he was in a relationship and was not interested, the man did not understand. He explained how he was also in a relationship. This type of thinking is not uncommon.
In trying to understand why this is so accepted I talked with a good friend of mine. She was born and raised in Sierra Leone, yet had the opportunity to live in America for much of her adult life. She explained that African men love their girlfriends and want to marry them however they commonly sleep with other people. It doesn’t mean they don’t love their girlfriends but before marriage they don’t see the necessity to remain loyal to one woman even if they have not had sex with her. It is something she told me that she has learned to accept. She also talked about the lack of effort made by a man once he has your commitment (sexual or not) And romantic gestures such as giving flowers or love letters are very unlikely. Love here is reflected in action rather than emotions. If you are a man and you love a woman and want to marry her you work hard to have money so you are able to support her and your future family. Women show their love by working hard, being obedient, and domestic.
So you would think once people get married the sleeping around would stop. Unfortunately, it does not. In a polygamous society, such here, men use the excuse that they are looking for another wife as a means to justify their sleeping around. For Catholics this excuse is not accepted thus men who choose to have affairs do so much more discreetly. Either way the consequences for these types of actions mostly affect the women.
I have seen girlfriends and wives act out against this and the results have been discouraging. My host sister went crazy when she found out her husband was talking to another women and tried to hit him. The result was that he beat her. My friend found out her husband was taking a second wife and spoke out to him only to be hit. A girlfriend found out her boyfriend was sleeping with other women, called him out but stayed with him anyways.
In America a woman has the right to leave her husband if he is unfaithful to her. Unfortunately women do not have the resources to pack up leave. They are dependent on their spouse for financial support. Also women who do choose to leave and return to their father’s house are often times looked down upon. Being a woman in this culture means putting up with whatever your husband does and if you don’t like it then you must find a way to deal with it.
I can’t help but to admire a woman who has an unfaithful husband and is stuck in the situation. She has really no choice but to carry on, take care of her children, and find a way to cope. Emotions are not expressed here! Besides children, the only time you will see someone cry is at a funeral when they are mourning for the deceased. They are taught from a very young age that repressing how you feel is the way you live. The result is that women have very little self-esteem, refuse to stand up and talk, and do not complain. I know from my conversations that there is not a lack of feeling. The women here do feel and they do get hurt and upset when someone wrongs them. They choose to ignore it, let it go and move on. You may think this is healthy, but in my observations I have seem many women who turn all this hurt into anger. They let it out on their children. A good friend of mine is a perfect example of this.
She was the youngest daughter of 7 girls. Her father died when she was 13 and was then married off to someone twice her age. She is an extremely intelligent person and loved to study. This change ruined her life and after being married to this older man and having a child, he died. She was 19 when she moved back with her mother who had recently re-married. Now with a child and no financial support and her mother’s new husband was quick to marry her again. She had three more children and is treated poorly by her new mother and law. She does all the laundry, cooks all the meals, milks the cows, pounds the rice and every other task women do here. The difference is that no one helps, her husband gives her no money and spends most of his time taking his motorcycle to watch soccer games or to parties. She never complains but after several conversations with her, my heart is full of sadness for her and her situation. I recently wrote a poem thanks to her inspiration.