YANDÉ – « Jigéén dafa wara gàte tànk » (A woman should not roam all over)

She has been crying for hours and I can’t get her to stop. I have just been sitting here, wondering what my next move should be.

Yande is my 17 year old daughter and I’ve been raising her on my own for several years now. Her mother left us after… well, the reason behind that is another long story. Unfortunately, I am starting to realize her absence is more and more impactful as Yande grows up. There are just certain things I don’t know how to handle with an adolescent girl that’s discovering her identity, as I wrestle with my own. One thing I made sure of though was to foster a strong relationship with her. I may not know how to handle everything but I made sure I was always a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent to, and a sharer of my lessons learned. I made sure I was just as much her friend as her father.

Dad: Yande, stop crying. Sit up and talk to me.

Yande: I feel so stupid!

That’s the first thing she has said in the two hours I have been sitting in her room – so that’s a start. I was a worried mess.

Dad: What happened? I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.

Yande looks over to me and very slowly utters the words that had been choking her this whole time.

Yande: I’m… pregnant.

I can’t move. I don’t know if I heard her correctly so I remain silent for a moment.

Dad: Yande, sit up and look at me. What did you say?

Immediately, the tears that had subdued momentarily were back and she started bawling.

Dad: No, no, come on. Speak up – did you say you’re pregnant?

She continues crying and I feel the room getting darker. I don’t know what to say next.

Yande: I’m so sorry! Please don’t hate me.

Dad: I don’t hate you. I’m angry. I just need you to explain to me what happened.

She is still crying uncontrollably. I start losing my patience.

Dad: I’m going to step out. Get yourself together and come talk to me when you’re done crying.

I slam her door shut and head for the front door.

Shit!

I start pacing on the porch, wondering what went wrong … what didn’t add up. I have given her everything to make sure she never needed anything from anyone – ever! Fuck! I go for a walk around the neighborhood to clear my thoughts. 

What if she had been raped? Did she have a boyfriend this whole time and I didn’t know? What does she even know about sex? I can’t pinpoint where to begin. I don’t know what to do and I don’t know what to say. I decide to head back home and confront the situation – I have to figure out what happened and decide from there.

I open the front door and see Yande sitting on the couch, waiting for me. My stomach drops as I look at my little princess, scared and worried. I am filled with every emotion as I make the walk over to the living room to join her. Angry that she’d gotten herself into this mess. Mad that I failed somehow as a father. Worried because I know I am not fully equipped to help her get through this but I have no choice. And finally, relieved that she came to me despite the unpleasantness of the situation. That’s one area I didn’t fail completely – I still have that bond with my princess. I probably feel more scared and worried than she does right about now, in all honesty. You’re never prepared for this kind of conversation. I sit down, hands shaking.

Yande: I just want to start by saying I’m so sorry. I can never apologize enough and I feel so ashamed sitting in front of you right now. I don’t even know what to say. I’m sorry, Daddy, please forgive me. I know you probably hate m…

Dad: Yande, stop. I don’t know what to say either. But I need you to start from the beginning.

Yande takes a deep breath and starts explaining.

Yande: Well, there’s this boy I’ve been seeing for a few months now. I swear I was going to bring him to meet you but I was waiting for the right time. It all moved really fast… I guess I just lost control. [Pause] Okay, let me start over. His name is Pape and he goes to my school and is in the same class as me.

I was quiet and intently listening – I need to hear more.

Yande: We really like each other – we’re in love. He knows about the baby.

I lose my breath at the sound of my 17 year old daughter talking about things I didn’t even think were on her mind.

Dad: Slow down. When did you start seeing this boy.

Yande: A few months ago. But it really picked up this school year… He’s not a bad guy, Daddy, my grades are still good and… let me stop. I know there is no justification for my behavior.

Dad: You’re right. There is no justification. Yande, you’re 17! He’s still a boy himself. I sent you to school to get an education, not to be someone’s girlfriend and definitely not to get pregnant! What the hell were you thinking?

Yande: I wasn’t thinking … I’m sorry. We didn’t plan this, I swear. It was an honest mistake – just one time! I was so scared and we promised not to do anything else. I am not a bad person, Daddy and then 7 weeks later I’m finding out I’m pregnant?! You haven’t even met him! How could I be so stupid?!

Dad: Slow down, girl. You’re not stupid. You just made stupid decisions.

Yande: Dad, help me. I am so scared.

Dad: Me too. I thought we had a good relationship; good to the point where you wouldn’t hide things like this from me. You’ve been seeing him for months and I didn’t know.

Yande: I know, Daddy but I just didn’t know how to bring it up. It felt…weird every time I wanted to bring him up.

Dad: Well, I would have rather you did so I could give you some advice. You’re still young and I know you’re going to have feelings but this is a very fragile age period for you. You’re going to feel like you have it all figured out but you don’t. And you won’t for a while. Honey, relationships are not made for the weak-minded or lighthearted.

Yande looks at me with the most inquisitive eyes, filled with tears – yearning for more. It’s like this was information she wish she had asked for before all of this happened. In that moment, I knew it was time to educate my daughter.

Dad: Babygirl, we’re going to have a lot more of these conversations. I need to meet this boy and his parents. You’ve gotten us into a huge mess and I’m gonna have to clean it up. You’re really going to need to brace yourself for some tough life lessons. Sometimes we make decisions that stick with us for a really long time … and this is one of them. That’s not to say your life is over but it just got a little harder.

At this point, her tears disappeared. I could tell what I was saying was sinking in and she was having a wake-up call.

Dad: Look, we need to start setting up doctor’s visits and getting in contact with Pape and his folks. But let’s table this conversation for now and get you some rest. Come on.

Yande: But Daddy, what if I don’t want to keep it?

My heart sank yet again. This is going to be a long journey.

OUMOU KHAÏRY – « Jigéén dafa wara dégg ndigël » (A woman should be obedient)

Dear World,

My name is Oumou Khairy but you can just call me Oumou. I’m 37 years old and living in London. I moved here at the age of 19 to continue my studies after receiving my baccalaureate. My parents wanted me to have more opportunities for my studies, career, and life in general but they didn’t have the financial means. Growing up, I knew I had to work hard in school to make them proud. But also, to make myself proud. I always pictured myself a successful woman in a Corporation somewhere. I didn’t know exactly what field I would be in or what position I fancied, but I knew it had to be big. My motto in life: “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”

Upon moving to London on an academic scholarship, I quickly tackled my studies in Finance and finished Uni in three years instead of the usual four. I got out and started interning at the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and rose through the ranks to Senior Executive – Credit Control (fancy eh 😉). I loved my career and I loved my life. I was successful by many measures.

Every time I call back home, my mother reminds me of the one thing I haven’t yet been successful in: marriage. I am twice divorced with a 10-year-old son. Marriage isn’t a motivating factor for me. Let me tell you why.

At the age of 22, I married a cousin of mine. Amid all I was doing to make my parents proud, this was one of them. My mother talked him up and I thought, “why not?” We grew up together and he was always respectful towards my parents. I decided to give it a try and see where things would lead. The marriage lasted one year. Upon finishing school and practically dedicating my life to the LSE to prove myself, I wasn’t a “good enough” wife to my cousin and we quarreled every day. I cooked when I could (which was honestly three times per week) and requested we buy food the nights we were too busy to bother ourselves with cooking and dishes. He didn’t like that. And he made sure to tell my mother. “Oumou Khairy, jigéén dafay ñeme waañ! Deel toggal sa jëkkër ji lu mu lekk. (Oumou Khairy, you need to cook for your husband – feed him!) My mother would always lecture me about cooking for him and making sure he’s well taken care of. “ Lekk moo gëna yomb si dëkk bi. Lutax mu bëgg ko def probleme?” (Food is literally one of the easiest things to sort out in this country. Why is he making such a big deal out of it?) I’d bite back. Soon, we divorced and I always laugh at the fact that not cooking dinner each night was what ruined my marriage. Maybe I didn’t take it seriously enough. Maybe there were other things I wasn’t doing right as well. But to be quite honest with you, I’m glad that marriage ended. He annoyed me more than anything – I mean how could one person obsess over cooking dinner as if that’s all I am good for as a wife. I was an individual before I married him and I intended to maintain my independence. I supported him in his career moves…why couldn’t he support me when I had to work late? Pshhh enough about that one.

My second marriage was…interesting. I met him at this coffee shop. I was working on a presentation for some key clients when he walks over and sat at my table. I looked up and noticed this perfectly chiseled face staring back at me, filled with confidence. He had short black hair and enticing, light brown eyes. He was English. He charmed his way with me and I fell for it (the accent didn’t help). That basically sums up our entire marriage. Fun, electrifying, and mysterious. But in all seriousness, it was a good marriage. We got along great when we were together. It was the amount of time we spent apart that killed the romance. I was busy with work and he traveled too much. Over time, we just found it harder and harder to make it work. I had our beautiful son with him and after years of each of us chasing the next success venture, we parted ways. It was amicable – he still tries to woo me back every now and then. And I may or may not entertain it. 😉

So, you’ve learned a little bit about my past – education, love life, and a little taste of my personality in between. Now, let me tell about who I really am. I’m Oumou Khairy Niang and I’m not your typical <<obedient, Senegalese girl>>. I made that sacrifice once for my parents in my first marriage but that didn’t work. A for effort. Second marriage also failed. B for better luck next time. Through it all, I’ve maintained my rigid backbone. I refuse to be broken by societal norms and expectations of what I can and cannot do with my life. Even when I make my own choices as I did in my second marriage and it didn’t work out, I confront every situation head on and gracefully handle the consequences of my actions and choices. I refuse to be molded.

I achieved my dreams of being successful at some Corporation out there and gained a beautiful son along the way. For many people back home, they would still pity me because I “can’t keep a marriage.” The funny thing is I pity those who are small-minded enough to think that’s the ultimate and only indicator of success. It’s 2019, honey; let those thoughts go! Sometimes, I wish I had a daughter so I could just fill her up with all these ideas of the liberated woman but then I think that might be too much – two of me! Haha.

Xoxo,

Oumou

FATOU – « Jigéén dafa wara muñ » (A woman should be able to withstand life’s tribulations)

Each night becomes worse than the last and each night, I lose more and more of myself. His eyes become darker, more evil – I can’t even bear to look at him anymore. I didn’t know it was possible to feel violated by someone who was supposed to be so “near-and-dear” to me. My whole life has been about him since the day we got married. His belly, his clothes, his sex drive, his desires, his orders, his commands… I’m at the mercy of it all.

What about me? What about what I want? I have needs too and once upon a time, I had dreams too. Ironically enough, I had dreams of being a lawyer one day; to fight for the rights of those who are voiceless yet here I am feeling voiceless myself. I had dreams of standing for the rights of the innocent and ensuring they had a fair chance at living a happy life! What has become of me and my dreams? They’ve taken a back seat to the conjugal obligations I am bound to day and night. And in some cases, they aren’t even part of the picture. I have lost myself.

I used to be beautiful. In my prime, many marriage proposals came my way. I turned them all down. I was top of my class and only two years away from earning my Bachelor’s. Then things took a turn. Ibrahima, my husband now, asked my father for my hand in marriage. Like many others before him, I refused.

Ibrahima: I’ll let you finish your studies. But I cannot wait any longer, Fatou. Accept my proposal.

Fatou: Ibrahima, I like you, I do. But I know how this story goes. Once we get married, my studies go out the window! I’ve seen it happen too many times and I don’t want that for me. I’m only 19 for God’s sake. Give me time.

Ibrahima: I won’t let that happen! Just trust me.

Fatou: No.

I suddenly found myself in a tete-a-tete with my aunt, Dior, after my family realized how rew [stubborn] I was being.

Dior: Enough is enough. We’ve tried bargaining with you but you don’t seem to understand. You’re going to marry Ibrahima one way or another. Do you hear me? He can take care of you.

Fatou: Tanta, I need to finish school. Ibrahima can wait.

Dior: You can marry AND finish school. It’s not the end of the world. You’re acting as if you’re the first to juggle both.

Fatou: I don’t want to. My answer is no.

By the end of that week, I was scheduled to be married on Sunday. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

28 years later, I still feel sick to my stomach. I liked Ibrahima before he was forced on me – but our marriage made me resent him. The whole thing made me feel helpless and now, on top of helpless, I feel ugly, somber, and drained. Before I got married, I thought could speak my mind and object every now and then to things I didn’t quite agree with. I realized that was a false sense of confidence … my life wasn’t really mine. I had lost myself a long time ago and in case you were wondering, I never finished school. I had my first child before I turned 21. So much has happened in the last 28 years and maybe another day I will tell you about it. But after a long day of cooking, washing, fixing, and sweeping, it’s time for bed.

The house is silent; the kids are sound asleep and I was ready to do the same. I wash my feet using the plastic kettle outside of my room door, slide my tired feet into my sandals, and step into the room. Ibrahima was already snoring away as I stepped out of my ripped grand-boubou made of cheap khartoum. I sigh and climb gently into bed.

Ibrahima: “Hmpt, huh?”

I didn’t even acknowledge him. I lay quietly in bed and think about how I would fund the next days’ meals. Suddenly, I feel his hands searching for me under the covers; I nearly threw up. Not tonight.

Fatou: Ibou, please go back to sleep.

Ibrahima: Come here.

Fatou: I’m tired. Please, let me rest.

Before I could even finish my sentence, he was already on top of me. The sad part about it all is that I am used to it. I am almost numb to the feeling of him forcing himself on me; it’s become routine. But this particular night, something that hadn’t happened in a long time happened …tears rolled down the side of my face. I had become so accustomed to his abuse that I stopped crying years ago… but tonight, my heart broke all over again as I think about what I had done to deserve this life sentence.

The next morning, the routine resumed. I woke up at dawn to find some money for the house while Ibrahima continued his deep slumber. I take a similar walk to a dear friend of mine who lived a couple of streets down from me to ask for assistance yet again. A little part of me dies each day knowing I have to extend my hand to feed my family. I truly feel helpless during this walk. With five children and a useless husband, I feel like I have no choice. She always helps with a smile on her face but I know that smile takes away a little piece of my dignity each time. I collect the money and head to the local market to pick up a few things.

Fatou: Here’s your breakfast. 

Ibrahima: This coffee doesn’t have sugar!

He didn’t even notice I wasn’t having any breakfast myself. There wasn’t enough for everyone so I go without. He hadn’t noticed in years.

Fatou: I don’t have money for sugar. This is what I have, take it or leave it.

Ibrahima: Is that how you talk to me now? You’ve gotten disrespectful lately. Wait until I have time to deal with you.

I sit quietly watching him have his coffee and stale bread from the day before. Around the fourth sip, Ibrahima started coughing and I fixated on him, motionless.

Ibrahima: I don’t feel so good…

Nothing from me.

Ibrahima: What’s in this coffee? What’d you do?!

Fatou: Shhhh you’ll wake the kids.

Ibrahima: Fatou! Answer me, what’s in this coffee!?

I remain fixated on him as he started coughing up clots of blood.

Fatou: I only say this so you can hear it before you die – otherwise, you woudn’t even be worth me wasting my breath: rot in hell.

Ibrahima: Fatou, lii dingua ko rethiou! Kou ñulouk sa jeukeur yakk say dom…wallahi! [you will regret this! The repruccusions will be seen in your kids! They’ll never be successful because of how you treated me! I swear it!]

Fatou: Batay meun na nek. Mais kou ñulouk sa diabar nak? Lan nguay yakk? [That’s possible. But what about how you treated me?]

I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as Ibrahima fell over, finally. The freedom I had longed for finally joined me.

I grab the breakfast dishes, step over his body, and steadily walk to our sorry excuse of a kitchen. I set the dishes down and walked into the room I no longer have to share with a monster. I was free.

ADAMA – « Jigéén soppal te bul wóólu » (woman, admire but never trust)

Adama stood in front of her mirror, putting the final touches on her lipstick and powder. She graciously tied her headscarf before admiring the final look and smiling back at herself. She did a quick spin, ensuring her round hips were enhanced by her tight skirt. Satisfied with her efforts, she grabbed her purse and phone and skipped out of her room.

Adama: I’m going to the market. I’ll be back in a little bit. Do you need anything?

Balla: No, I’m fine. You look beautiful, by the way! …Don’t be long!

Adama: Okay, bb. Thank you and see you soon!

Adama gave Balla a soft kiss upon his cheek and stepped out of the modest three-bedroom house in a white and pink taille basse. Her headscarf flowed freely down the side of her sweet, round face. She danced her way down the street, her favorite artist blaring in her ears – Wally Seck. She carefully avoided the puddles of dirty water and trash on her street, strangely juxtaposed next to brand, new marble-tiled homes. Adama has just moved to this neighborhood with her husband, Balla. They’re a young couple, newly married and head over heels for one another. Adama had always dreamed of getting married and having her own home with her husband. “My husband, our three little kids – two boys, one girl! That’s all I need!” is what she’d always tell her friends. They giggled over who’d get married first and over time, one by one, they all became “diek you ndaw” in their homes taking care of business. She smiled as she thought about how she escaped the scenario of living with her mother in law.

Today, Adama planned a nice dinner for Balla. Nothing special going on, just Saturday. As she walked down her neighborhood saying <<hello>> to the ladies sitting outside their homes, she smiled to herself again as she thought about how much fun her and Balla were going to have tonight. “I should hurry before it gets dark” she rushed as she hailed a taxi once she reached the main road. 

Adama finished her errands at the local market and began her journey home. In her shopping basket she had green peppers, garlic, ginger, hot peppers, romaine, and of course, Maggi to finish the dinner she already started preparing that afternoon. As she said her final goodbyes and exited the market, a young gentleman approached her.

Ndongo: Excuse me, do you know how to get to Hamo 5?

Adama: Huh? (as she takes her headphones out)

Ndongo: Hamo 5, how do I get there?

Adama: Oh I actually moved to this neighborhood not too long ago so I am not sure. Sorry.

Ndongo: Okay, amoul problem, dieureudieuf [no problem, thank you]. But Miss, I must say, you’re very beautiful! Could I possibly get your number?

Adama: It’s Mrs. I’m married so thank you, but no thank you. Good luck!

As she plugged her headphones back and continued jamming to her music, the young man stared at her as she walked away. She’s always caught the attention of men growing up; her wide hips complement her small waist. And her smile – that was another story! Straight white teeth perfectly positioned between the deepest dimples and sparkling, brown eyes! She was quite the sight.

The sun began its descent onto the streets of Dakar. The vibrant and rambunctious rumble of the cars, child beggars, ladies selling fruits on the side of the road, and young men playing soccer in random pockets all added to the charm of the city. Adama had to walk back to the main road to catch a taxi – drivers would not make it to small streets with all the sand. She finally hailed a taxi and bargained for a quick ride to Mariste, rushing to make it home as it was already getting dark. “It’s only 1.000 francs, dad! Don’t be so difficult, it’s getting late and I just want to go home! We’re partners – just give me the ride 😊” She smiled as she climbed in the backseat. After 10 short minutes, the driver pulled up to her house. Adama payed the driver and slipped out with her groceries. “Thanks so much, dad!”

Balla: Who was that guy you were standing with?

Adama had barely stepped foot in the house before Balla verbally attacked her.

Adama: What? What are you talking about?

Balla: Don’t play stupid. Who was he?

Adama: Who?! I don’t even know what you’re referring to.

She dropped her shopping basket, tears already flooding her eyes. She had never seen Balla so angry.

Balla: Oh, so now you’re a liar too?! That was your boyfriend I saw you standing with outside of the marche!!!

Adama: What?! No!!

Balla: Don’t lie to me, Ada! Who was he?!

Adama: I’m not lying!!! I promise! He was just asking for directions!

Balla: I can’t believe you’d stoop this low! It takes that long to ask for directions?

Silence struck between them.

The shadow of doubt had already been cast in Balla’s mind. Who could Adama possibly be standing on the street with?! Why were they talking for so “long” if all he wanted was directions? Where had she been all afternoon?

Adama couldn’t believe what was happening. She had long forgotten about that guy – all she did was tell him she wasn’t familiar with the area. And when did Balla even leave the house? How did he see her? Why was he jumping to conclusions? Her stomach was in her throat. Her perfect night of catering to Balla had been ruined by a stranger she couldn’t even remember what he looked like!

Adama: Balla, I swear I don’t even know that guy. Wallahi!

Balla looked at her in disgust. “How could she betray our marriage like this?” was all he could think about. “After everything I’ve done for her, this is how she repays me.”

Balla: I need some space to think.

Adama: Balla, please don’t…

Adama spent the night crying. Balla spent the night on the couch. She never finished the dinner and they never enjoyed their Saturday. Balla toyed with the idea that she had been cheating on him all along and tossed around all night over the decision he should take. “My dad always told me, djiguen sopal te boul wolou [woman, admire but never trust]. I should have known.”