The Perfect Wife

I asked 42 people the following question: “If you had to describe “The Perfect Wife,” using only 5 words, what words would you use?”

I posed this question because I was curious to see if this “new generation” had a different idea of a good wife is than the “older generation.” I also wanted to see if there would be a clear line in the sand between men and women. Now, I recognize that 42 people is not a large sample but I think I got some coverage. Here’s a quick breakdown of the respondents before we get into the results.

  • No. Men: 19
  • No. Women: 23
  • Age Range of Respondents: 21-40
  • Experience Range: I tried to the best of my ability to ask (1) people who were born and raised in Senegal, then moved to another “Western” country, (2) born and raised in Senegal and still living in Senegal, (3) non-Senegalese men and women, (4) men and women who may be considered “traditional, (5) as well as men and women who may be considered “modern” across all groups. I asked single people as well as married folks. All in all, I tried to get answers from a diverse group of people and while it isn’t a perfect study, the results were interesting.

Most Common Terms (across men and women)

  • Patient … 12x
  • Supportive … 10x
  • Caring … 9x
  • Respectful/Respectable … 7x
  • Loving … 7x

Observations:

I wasn’t expecting to get things like “a good cook,” “a good mother,” or “submissive” with a 5 word limit — but I was prepared to. And I actually did get submissive twice but anyways. The graphic used for this post features some stereotypical things that the Senegalese society can expect from a wife (and eventual mother). Multi-tasking, keeping a home, taking care of the children, cooking, keeping her physique, all while the husband sits down with a good newspaper and waits to be served (no offense to the men reading this). It is a hyperbolized view but one that isn’t far-fetched in some homes, especially for that “older generation” I mentioned earlier. But I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t get too many “typical answers” and instead, received some heartwarming responses that culminated into one conclusion: men and women alike (at least those who responded to my question) see “the perfect wife” as first and foremost, a human being, and as a partner in a relationship.

The single most common characteristic given on both sides was patient. I found this interesting because it spoke to the human-ness of people. It almost says “I know I am not perfect so I would like somebody by my side who understands that and is willing to work with me.” I gathered from further conversation with a few respondents that “the perfect wife” is a woman who will be a long-term companion and stay by their side. It was similar to the reasoning given for supportive, as they felt like they want a true partner-in-crime. That isn’t to say that wife won’t cook, clean, or keep a home. But that was not the image they have in mind when picturing a perfect wife and when given only 5 words, I was happy to see that they were used wisely. The gamut ran wide on the words respondents did choose to use. Religious/spiritual/pious came up more than once, as well as being trustworthy, compassionate, loyal, attentive, empathetic, generous, and responsible.

There were a few notable words that stood out to me:

  • Self-Sufficient: One interesting term that came up twice in the women’s results was “self-sufficient.” It came up once in the men’s results in the form of “independent” but this was something something that many women gave as a number 6 or 7. Particularly with the younger women, it was important that a wife be able to stand her own.
  • Self-Aware: I thought this was very good choice as it speaks to how a perfect wife (and any spouse in general) needs to be perceptive and well-informed of many things, but in this context, of their relationship. Women are seen as the backbone/foundation of family structures so I found this to be a great fit when describing “the perfect wife.”
  • Respectable: On both sides, men and women wanted someone respectful and respectable. I wasn’t surprised but this one stood out to me because it spoke to how society plays a role in who we choose or have chosen to be our partner. The opinions of others matters in determining who our life partner will be. It was one of the few words given that, in my mind, had more to do with others than ourselves. I could be wrong; I’d love to hear other’s opinions on this.
  • Problem-Solver: Similar to the backbone/foundation rationale given in the “self-aware” bucket, being a problem solver is great in any spouse! Society has conditioned us to believe that men/husbands are the problem solvers – again, I could be wrong but men are just seen in such a regard as holding the house down. But “the perfect wife” in many ways is THAT problem solver.
  • A Guide: One man said this is the only characteristic he would use as it embodies everything that you would need in a partner. There is a lot buried in that term and that too was a common theme across other characteristics. I had a great conversation with someone about how, in a bucket of 5 words, there can still be a major characteristic flaw. For example, I shared with them my 5 words (revealed below) and they said “You can be all of those things and still be rude.” So perhaps throwing all the characteristics into one term was a simpler way of saying “I can’t choose only 5 words.”

One think I noticed on both sides was that it almost felt like I had given the respondents a word bank to pick from. A lot of the same words kept coming back up and it made me wonder if we’ve been conditioned to think “this is what a good person looks like” and thus, that’s what makes a good wife. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I can’t help but think the list on both sides would look very similar if I asked for descriptors of “The Perfect Husband,” which has been requested by a few so possibly to come in a future post! Or maybe I’ll ask the 50+ generation and see how different those responses are!

Side note: With 5 words, it was hard to narrow it down! But I have full respect for the men and women who managed to sneak their physical and ahem financial requirements in there: gorgeous, can’t be taller than me, and beautiful, sexy, and my personal favorite, rich! They capitalized on the 5 word limit and I am here for it.

Let me close this piece out with something nearly all my respondents said to me: “the perfect wife doesn’t exist, Aida.” I was happy whenever someone said this — or they said 5 words wasn’t enough. The 5 word limit was practical but intentional. It forced the most important characteristics to the top and got to a very basic premise in partnership – that it’s all actually very simple. The things that are important are common in building any relationship. As I mentioned earlier, I could have asked any of the following questions and gotten a list similar to this one:

  • Describe your mom/grandma in 5 words (scratch the likes of seductive from the list 😂)
  • Describe your best friend (some respondents pointed out that “the perfect wife” is someone who is your best friend)
  • Describe the perfect president (again, scratch the likes of seductive from the list… you get the point)

What I learned was that we have all these checklist items of things we are looking for in partnership and as human beings, we practically all want the same thing. If I had asked for a list of red flags or dealbreakers, maybe that would have explicitly yielded more varying results. But in this mini social experiment, I learned that I could theoretically hook up all the people on the single side and have a 95% success rate!

Thank you to my 42 participants for humoring me and for this very insightful experiment. I’d like to invite readers to draw their own conclusions and share them in the comments! What observations do you have based on the data (see below).

Finally, a lot of my respondents rightfully asked me for my 5 characteristics. They are included in the data set and are as follows: Loving, Confident, Ambitious, Family-Oriented, and Loyal.

Full Experiment Results (grouped by respondent):

See below for a visual of the experiment results

The Perfect Wife in 5 Words.xlsx

“Not your typical Senegalese.”

Reading Time: 5 min

For those from Senegal or very familiar with the way women show up in Senegalese, there are certain words that come to mind when you think of “The Typical Senegalese Woman.” Submissive. Quiet. Obedient. Well-put together. Dignified. Sassy but soft at the same time. She always have my hair done, never talks too loudly, and never strays from the prototype.

There’s nothing wrong with that description above. It’s just there’s a new type of Senegalese woman emerging and that’s the loud, outspoken, tatted, back talking, go-getter, and unapologetic one. With the influence of social media and new sisterhood bonds, the Senegalese woman can show up in many different ways in today’s world.

It’s taken me quite some time to write this piece as I was having severe writer’s block. I tossed around the idea that there were always different types of Senegalese women and what we may know as the “rebel” is not a novelty. Then it dawned on me that I can only speak about my experience growing up and I thought about the very first series I did when I stated this blog: the “Jigéén Dafa Wara…” series. The was a series of short stories all about challenging the “typical Senegalese” attributes of a woman. I recommend you take a look at those short stories for a view of what may be influencing some of the stereotypes we may have.

For this piece, I want to talk about those times when we may see a Senegalese woman and that initial gut reaction when they don’t look like the “typical Senegalese woman.” Like the woman in the picture below, I think we all have initial thoughts such as:

“Maybe she’s not full Senegalese.”

“Maybe she was born in the U.S.”

“Oh she’s wild!”

I think over time, that initial gut reaction has diminished and we start to think and say things like:

“Wow, she’s so confident.”

“I love her authenticity.”

“I know that’s right!”

So maybe those were corny…apologies for that. But you get the point! What I am getting at is we’re starting to embrace the many versions of the Senegalese women that appear on the spectrum. There’s no longer a prototype and mold that must be fit. We’re able to exist as human beings, as individuals, without being tied to distinct attributes alone.

Another trend I’ve noticed is more business minding and less judging. I don’t think that will ever go away completely. In a recent Joko Podcast episode (Season 2, Episode 7), co-hosts Arame and Aida (that’s yours truly :)) talk about “Social Media Posting While Senegalese.” The episode explored the “”double life” many Senegalese-Americans live due to external pressures to present oneself in a particular way on social media. This “particular way” is the typical Senegalese image of being pious and responsible. While those are amazing attributes, it sometimes does not leave any room for self-expression, social experimentation, or making mistakes. There’s always a jury that’s on the other side of the screen waiting to brand you. But as I hopefully stated, I have noticed more of minding one’s business and just being ourselves, no matter how tightly or loosely that ties with the standard cutout.

What I challenge you to do is to erase that image of the perfect Senegalese woman from your head, if you have one. Instead, allow space for the nuanced experiences and personalities we have! I’ll be honest that not all my thoughts made it to this post as I am still sorting through some of them but I see beauty in that. There’s a lot of runway for this discussion to evolve – I invite you to share your ideas in the comments section! What’s been your experience regarding this topic?

“You will get played, sis!”

Reading Time: 5 mins

Ramata: I can’t believe this. That &%#@? played me!

Binette: Are you surprised though, sis? You saw all the signs coming…

Ramata: You’re right, I can’t even lie. But still! I had it under control.

Binette: There’s no such thing, girl. You try to control too much.

Ramata: Damn, when do we get to the part where you comfort me?

Binette: Oh, my bad haha! You know you my girl. I just hate that this happened after how much we talked about it. This dating game ain’t no joke.

Ramata: Well, that’s the first problem. Why is it a game in the first place?

Binette: And that’s your first problem – not knowing it’s a game. Girl, stop playing.

Ramata: It’s not that. It’s just… I gave everything to this relationship and I still got played.

Binette: Listen, there’s a million ways this could have gone. And a good majority of the scenarios would have probably left you in the same position. It’s inevitable for that first heartbreak.

Ramata: It doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Binette: I know, baby. But you got me and we gon get through this together! I got you!

So, this probably resonated with you to some degree. Without even knowing why Ramata is heartbroken, a good number of us women (and men) have “been there, done that.” We’ve had that traumatizing heartbreak that plays a pivotal role in our future relationships and outlook on life. And nothing is more memorable than that first heartbreak — that physical pain in your chest that prevents you from enjoying your food, being social, or even engaging in self care sometimes. Side note: shoutout to the Binette’s in our lives that help us navigate these challenging times.

The harsh reality is that dating is risky. When you decided to date, you also take on a number of possibilities: the possibility that you could fall madly in love with someone who reciprocates; the possibility that you could get your heart shredded into a million pieces; the possibility that your partner will love you tenderly in the beginning then turn into a monster once you’re settled in the relationship; the possibility that you, or your partner, might die and leave the other alone; the possibility that you would want to start a family with the love of your life but can’t and that might cause a drift in your relationship. The possibilities are truly endless and you won’t know what’s to come…until it’s right in front of you. That’s scary.

This fear of the unknown (or sometimes known for those of us that have experienced it before) is debilitating for some. It stops them in their tracks when it comes to pursuing love because it’s just too risky. But let me tell you this: you will get played, sis. No matter what route you choose, life has a way of teaching you certain lessons and I for one truly believe in Prophet Muhammad’s teaching “the pages have dried and the pens have been lifted” (Hadith 19). What’s meant to be for you has been written long ago so there’s no need to live in fear. I repeat, you will get played, no doubt. But there are beautiful lessons buried within those less than pleasant experiences in our lives. There’s no shame in “getting played” because it speaks more to the person doing the playing than the one “getting played.” Deceitful and hurtful people will eventually show their true colors so there’s absolutely no need to dwell on their immature behavior; what matters is that mandatory COMEBACK!

The comeback:

When you do get played – I can’t say it enough because you will – be sure to take the time to feel. It’s needed to be just be human and acknowledge what happened to you. Feel the salt. Feel the embarrassment. Feel the anger. Process your emotions and when you’re done, get back up and try again. Coming from a hopeless romantic, I can tell you there’s a doubly sweet feeling when you’ve been in the trenches and finally get it right. It’s a satisfying feeling knowing that the pain wasn’t in vain. That your past doesn’t define your future – it just influences it. We can’t erase the past and pretend it never happened. That would be dangerous because then we’re at risk of committing the same mistakes. We actually need to embrace that fear, pain, embarrassment, and anger and turn them into lessons. Get smarter about how you invest your feelings/time and try again. Make a comeback.

Now, there’s a way to make a comeback in my mind. Have you ever seen a woman go through a traumatic breakup and cut her hair? Or change up her style completely. Or change her inner circle? Or just change the way she walks? Yeah, that’s because she’s leveled up. She’s made a concerted effort to move on from the experience that hurt her. She’s decided to give it another shot and I think that’s beautiful. That’s the beauty in living – harnessing the possibilities and facing life head on!

The title of this piece was taken from a friend of mine who said this in relation to giving other young girls advice. I lowkey felt attacked when she said it because I was like “well damn, just read me why don’t you haha!” But it’s so true. It’s just the way it is and we can’t do anything but be smart and aware about it. Accepting that getting your heart broken or bruised is just part of life makes you more equipped to deal with it when it happens. I saw a post on Instagram about how getting your first heartbreak early on is actually better so your future relationships can benefit from the lessons learned – and so your heart won’t ever get broken as badly again. While I agree with the first part of that statement, I don’t think getting your heart broken early makes future heartbreaks less painful. I think it just makes you understand what you’re experiencing better. But because love is all about risks, I have to say that it doesn’t make future heartbreaks any less painful. There are high school sweethearts who experience heartbreak at 50 and it hurts just as badly as the 18 year old experiencing it for the first time. There is someone who experienced a heartbreak at 22 and again at 38 and it all hurt equally bad. That’s just the way it is.

As always with pieces like this, I like to solicit personal stories from fellow women brave enough to share so here we go.

Story Time

The question options were: (1) Have you ever had your heart broken? (2) If so, what did you learn from it? (3) How old were you? (4) What would you tell your younger self?

Woman 1: I would tell myself that it’s okay – the guy was ugly anyways!

Woman 2: Learn who someone is before you fall in love/get attached. I am still learning because I’m hardheaded.

Woman 3: Be straightforward with the person you are dealing with and be on the same page. The reason why I said be straight forward and on the same page is : sometimes we meet someone and we like them right on and failed to sit down and have a talk with them. You end up falling for a person who didn’t know what he wants or what he looking for but decided to go with the flow. Now here you are dealing with someone who has no feelings for you but wants you and won’t leave you. You can’t ask questions because you are afraid to mess things up now that you are comfortable having him around. Meanwhile, he is looking at the one he really wants and trying to get with her. My advice to my younger self would be : be upfront, let the person know how you feel and what you want. Be true to your feelings. From the beginning let the other person know, if they can’t deal with it let them go and you won’t go through the pain and the anger and the depression of losing someone who wasn’t holding on to you at all.

Woman 4: I would tell my younger self that the best thing you can do is just start and not overthink things.

Woman 5: Don’t trust a single soul. &%#@? ain’t loyal. I was 21.

Woman 6: I have been heartbroken 3 times in life.

Man 1: I would tell my younger self to have patience and not stress out.

Dating as a Senegalese-American Woman

Reading Time: 7 mins

Preface: this will be clunky. There’s just so much to be said!

Ladies, I’m going to start this post off with a question: have you ever talked to your parents about dating? Like at what age would you be allowed to have a boyfriend? What were the boundaries once you did start dating? When you first fell in love, or your first heartbreak, or who or what was off limits?

Let me guess, the answer to all of those questions for a majority of us is THE CONVERSATION NEVER HAPPENED and if it did, it was very short and off-target.

Let me ask you a different set of questions: were you expected to bring home the perfect guy as soon as you graduated college? Are your parents pressuring you now that you’re over 25yo and unmarried? Do all conversation roads somehow lead to the fact that you’re still single, if you are, or that you need to have kids, if you haven’t already, or shoot, have more if you “only” have one or two?

I find it interesting that we go from being seen as little girls and seldom have in-depth conversations with our Senegalese parents, namely our moms, to being expected to have it all figured out almost overnight.

Okay, one last question: has your mom ever talked to you about sex? Even after marriage, I bet the answer is no and if she did, I bet it was very passive and awkward.

Our dear parents/moms – they’ve always wanted what’s best for us, even in their blatant obliviousness to what the dating scene in America offers today. Contrary to what they might think, yes, their daughters are dating before marriage. And get this, they’re dating non-Senegalese men too (gasp)!

Today’s topic: Dating as a Senegalese-American Woman

The reality is we’re dating and we’re dating actively. Meaning when one relationship doesn’t work out, we are learning lessons and we aren’t afraid to try again. And we’re not afraid to wait as long as it takes to figure our shit out. I mean, we’re getting our asses kicked yet we keep at it! We’re all trying to learn about ourselves, our preferences, our boundaries, our deal-breakers, our turn-ons and turn-offs (yes, I said it). We’re taking control of who our partners will be, experimenting, and meticulously taking notes along the way. Our poor mothers don’t even know that we each have a “type.”

Okay, but more seriously though, the phenomenon of dating as Senegalese-American women is very real. The days of our parents picking a spouse for us are over. The days of marrying our cousins are [starting to be] long gone (there are still those of us who deal with this pressure). The days of not knowing and loving your partner – because they say jigeen dou beug, day miin (loosely translated to “a woman doesn’t love, she gets acclimated”) – are truly over. Or at least they should be.

This is probably a good place to interject with the Islamic disclaimer. I did a simple Google search on dating in Islam and will summarize my findings here. Courtship is allowed in Islam, meaning “dating” within specific boundaries to prevent Zina, or fornication. Dating in the modern sense is not allowed – e.g. you cannot be alone with your partner, no kissing, no touching, etc. – you get the picture. That’s the short version; if you’re looking for the long version, consult your local Imam 🙂

Getting back to the topic…growing up in America, there are a lof things we see as the norm and to be frank, dating is one of them. As people are generally getting married later in life, it’s hard to remain single up until the point you’re ready to marry. And quite frankly, dangerous. Some of us are not marrying until our late twenties and you can imagine how many lessons missed and opportunities not harnessed there are in that scenario. In the past, your spouse “could” be selected for you and everything work out “just fine.” There were families ties, traditions, and rules to be upheld. The thought of even straying from the boundaries our parents placed were slim to none, especially when you take into account the geographical limitations of women rarely living away from home. A typical scenario in Senegal might look like this: young girl grows up alongside her parents, may or may not finish school, is set up with a close or distant family member as soon as they deem her ready to marry. She may or may not go back to school depending on how her husband feels about that but you can bet your life that her life will take a complete turn as she transitions from youthfulness to the “cours des grands” (big leagues).

Well, today, that narrative is different. A typical scenario in the US may look like this: a young Senegalese-American woman grows up having dreams of who she wants to be, focusing on finding genuine friendships, and building a life around her. Her husband may not come into that picture until laterrrrr down the line and he certainly won’t be the center of her life’s attention. And that’s not to say that she values marriage or loves her partner any less. It’s just that that’s not at the forefront of her desires – or value as a woman. That’s also not to say that young girls in Senegal do not have big dreams. It’s just that the societal pressures weigh differently in those two contexts and the dreams of young girls in Senegal are often cut short to fulfill the ultimate destiny of being a good wife. Wouldn’t you too succumb to that gigantic pressure that corners you at every turn you take?

So you can imagine the Senegalese-American women dating scene: experimental, trial-and-error, and very fluid. Yes, we’re dating within and outside of our race/culture/ethnicity and we’re having a blast doing it. Do we get stung along the way, YES! But nonetheless, we’re much more free to explore our options and come to our own conclusions and to be honest, I love that. Even when things don’t work out, it’s reassuring knowing that you played a part in what happened to you. Proportionately , it’s disheartening to feel like life happened to you and you had no say – you were just a victim.

And that’s the root of this conversation. Women are no longer victims of bad marriages that they were forced into. They’re active participants in their own love lives – by dating and figuring out for themselves what they want and don’t want. I would call that amazing progress.

Growing up in a traditional Senegalese household, this was my understanding of dating: I was sort of allowed to after a certain, undisclosed age, but only at a surface level. I wasn’t expected to never have a boyfriend but the how was strictly under control. I was supposed to stay pure, have lots of dignity, and never falter, all the way to the point until I found my husband – or he found me as they would say. I wasn’t allowed to let them see any sign of niak fay da (lack of a backbone) in my face and God forbid I disobey Allah in the process (which was a whole contraction in and of itself based on the summary I provided earlier). Let me tell you right now that that’s not how my experience went. And based on responses from the lovely ladies who responded to my Instagram prompt, the story is the same for many. We faltered, made mistakes, got our hearts broken, and looked “niak fayda” on more than one occasion. And that’s okay! We’re human beings and we’re experiencing normalcy.

I strongly encourage dating responsibility, and sometimes otherwise, to truly learn about ourselves and our partners. In a perfect world, we would be able to blindly follow the advice of our parents and hope it all works out. Unfortunately, we are not in a perfect world so better safe than sorry.

Remember when I said we’re getting our asses kicked? Well, it’s Dating Horror Stories Time!

I asked my Instagram Senegalese-American female followers to share some dating stories with me and here are some samplers:

Story 1: “I love Senegalese men, but I also detest part of their mindsets when it comes to women.”

Story 2: “Dating is annoying. A majority of men are too headstrong/difficult. They ooze toxic masculinity.”

Story 3: It’s complicated. Ni**as be looking for a come up, not a girlfriend or a wife.”

Story 6: “Dating a Senegalese man is hard and complicated. And Senegalese men in American are a different breed!”

There you have it! Looks like we’re all getting a piece of the pie!

Devil’s Advocate (but not really): Marrying early protects women

This is going to be short. I always think about how many Senegalese women did everything right and still ended up getting played! Sorry to be so blunt but damn ! Like our moms tried to demonstrate the right way of doing things and I personally still see so many missed opportunities and heartbreaks! So I don’t know about you, but I am in favor of dating and figuring out what will work and what won’t work. Even with the horror stories, the ladies I talked to would rather get played, because we all do – more to come on that in another post – and eventually find our Prince Charming than be stuck with the choices of others. For those of us that are Muslim, we’d love to be courted and do things the right way…as soon as the Muslim men around us start adhering to that definition. Culture dominates in the dating scene in Senegalese society unfortunately so we’re left to fend for ourselves so we don’t end up in broken marriages, sleeping next to the enemy.

Work-Life Balance during a pandemic

3 minutes to read

The last year and a half have been intense to say the least. I always aspired to have a greater work-life balance and I thought working from home would enable that. I was wrong, point blank. My personal and professional lives have merged into one: in the boundaries of my room where I have my bed and my work desk. I go from my bed to my desk and back, each and every single day. It’s absolutely draining and redundant.

So, not the perkiest of intros but humor me. Do any of these statements resonate with you?

  • I feel like I don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish everything I need to.
  • I don’t feel fulfilled, no matter how much I get done.
  • I abandon my personal feelings/boundaries often to get things done at work.
  • By the time I finish work, I don’t have any more energy to do anything for myself.
  • I hate my job.
  • I have lost motivation/energy for things I used to enjoy doing.
  • I feel alone.
  • I want something different.

I could go on and on about how I have been feeling for the last year. I’m not deliberately trying to be a Debbie Downer but it truly feels never-ending. I know it’s partially due to just being in a very new place in my life but it’s also due to the pandemic. Being home more has not made me happier or “have more time.” It’s only blurred the lines between the different commitments I have.

Trying to “achieve” a better work-life balance is where we went wrong in the first place. The fact that we have gotten to a point where work has taken over so much of our lives that we have to try to fit life into it is problematic. It should be the other way around. This emphasis/correlation between work and success is threatening the personal happiness, mental health, and emotional fulfillment of many. And I wouldn’t say this is a problem that the pandemic brought along with it; it’s just that the pandemic (and working from home) has exacerbated these circumstances, making it harder and harder to peel away from the related anxiety and stress.

Recently, I read my dear friend’s article on her blog, Haniya Khalid (WFH Tips: Mental Health & Productivity – Haniya Khalid) and I must say, the tips helped. Because I was feeling confined to my room all day, the two that I found really helpful were making my bed every day and delineating between spaces for different tasks. I made my bed in the past but not intentionally. I would tidy up and call it a day. But actually taking the time to make my bed, position my pillows, turn on a candle or spray some room spray has tremendously helped me start my day. It’s a major accomplishment as soon as I wake up and I automatically feel more motivated. Subsequently, I don’t touch my bed again all day. I delineate spaces and utilize more of my apartment. I eat in my living room now, work only at my desk (unless I’m on a call while making breakfast/lunch, in which case I just use my phone), watch tv in the living room, etc. I highly recommend reading Haniya’s article (and her whole blog site) if you are feeling like you could use a refresher on setting boundaries!

I personally thought the pandemic and confinement living would end with 2020. But here we are in June 2021 and we’re still dealing with some of the same, prolonged issues. Things are slowly opening back up and that’s great but the feeling of exile doesn’t just go away. I still feel like there’s so much to do to get out of that funk so I’m going to keep trying and keep moving! I hope Haniya’s article and this one helps you step away for a second and reflect on how solitary living and dealing with working from home during a pandemic can take a toll on us – and what we can do about it!

My one-time rant on polygyny

Whenever I tell people I host a blog about Senegalese women empowerment, or that I call myself a feminist, one of the first follow-up questions I get is “So what’s your take on polygamy?” I always smirk and give a quick answer about how “It’s a choice.” I don’t always delve deep into the topic because there’s this stigma on feminists in Senegalese society that they’re man-hating, angry, rude, and ugly beings. It’s just not a good look. And that’s not why I avoid the conversation; I just know it’s going to be a long one and I’m usually not mentally prepared to have it.

But today, I decided to get this one-time rant out on my feelings about polygamy. I’ll start with the definition. Polygamy is “the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.” In Senegalese society, more specifically in Islam, a woman is not allowed to have multiple husbands so it’s not even a topic of conversation. Polygyny is the term used for when a man is married to more than one woman at a time. So today, we will talk about polygyny.

See the source image

Here’s what I think: it really is a choice.

A woman may decide she is okay being in a polygynist marriage. A woman may decide she does not want to be in a polygynist marriage. She may change her mind as well, although, this stirs up new issues in and of itself and will require a re-visit on the initial agreement she had with her partner.

A man may decide that he does not want to be married to multiple women at the same time. He may also decide that that is his cup of tea and would like to be married to multiple women at the same time. He, too, may change his mind, which also stirs up new issues, but the conversation should still be had to get back in alignment.

That is to say, I believe being involved with multiple people, whether it’s polygamy, polygyny, polyamory, polyandry – whatever poly it is – is a matter of having all the right information and making a decision based on that information.

What I believe is that people have emotions, rights, and desires. When those boundaries are stepped on, it takes away from the agency people have. It’s unfair to make a choice for someone. It’s not right to say, “you must live a polygynist marriage because xyz.” This often happens in Senegalese culture because women are told things like:

  • He has a right to have up to four wives.
  • Your peers are managing polygyny so who are you not to?
  • After everything he’s done for you… as if you are indebted to your husband for fulfilling his duties to you.
  • It’ll only hurt in the beginning. You’ll get used to it.
  • Your mom/sister [or insert a close female relative here] was a second wife. Why not you?
  • Deal with it.

Statements like these make it really hard to see any positive aspect of polygyny. I won’t be talking about those positive aspects because quite frankly, I struggle to see any in today’s world. I’ll stick to breaking down the statements I mentioned above. They’re dismissive, insulting, inconsiderate, and triggering. When we say things like this, it ignores any emotion, past trauma, mental health, or rights of the woman. It’s neglectful and truly disempowers the woman, who very well should have the right to say, “that is not what I want.” That right cannot be taken away from her.

I don’t have a problem with polygyny itself. I have a problem with how it’s too often executed in Senegalese society. I asked a friend that I admire – her way of thinking is always so mature and balanced, hey Arame 🙂 – and here is her mantra: Choice. Truth. Respect. I thought this was so eloquent and in perfect alignment with how I feel about it. Let’s get into each item.

Choice.

I’ve already talked about this and what I will add is that this choice is profound. That is one of the most rewarding attributes of being a human being and it’s what gives us a reason to live. Being able to feel like we have a say in the life we live. If you are simply a consumer of the circumstances around you, you are not living life and unfortunately, many women are left to be consumers of the polygynist lifestyles their husbands live. They have no say (or at least they’re made to feel that way and they fulfill that prophecy).

Truth.

This is a big one. Being honest in initial conversations about what each party wants, can handle, and aligning on that, is crucial to preventing future disappointment. It’s when one or both parties keep information from one another that deceit seeps in, betrayal becomes a companion in your union, and you lose quite possibly the most important foundation of any sustainable relationship. It’s 100% important to be honest about:

  • What you want at the present moment
  • What you envision for a future, mature version of your relationship
  • Non-negotiable circumstances
  • Triggering events/circumstances
  • Communication methods for hard conversations

It’s not easy being honest about hard topics but it’s a requirement. You cannot wait until the moment you decide you want a second wife to tell your wife you want a second one. You cannot get another wife first and then tell your first (or second, or third, or fourth). You cannot wait until the moment your husband informs you that he wants a second wife that you disagree. Have proactive conversations and early! That’s part of putting in the work required to make a relationship…well, work.

Respect.

I mean, does this need elaboration? All I will say here is that if you love a person, you will respect their feelings, their reactions to your actions and decisions, and their wellbeing – and beyond respecting these things, you will take it into consideration when making decisions. You will not want to see them hurt or in pain. I understand I am speaking from a place where I am assuming people marry for love. I also understand that not everyone marries for love but love is not a prerequisite for respect.

It’s not rocket science that polygyny is not for everyone. When people ask me my opinion on the topic, I recognize that it’s not a “why do you disagree with it” discussion. It’s more of just understanding my take and it took me some time to formulate but I finally got there. It’s just a matter of having a say in the matter (choice), being up front about feelings, capacity, and boundaries (truth), and being decent human beings to one another (respect).

To wrap up, I want to briefly touch on other aspects that I don’t hear being brought up in these discussions. Things like (•) STD testing in polygynist situations, (•) how the children will be raised when the father may be absent for certain aspects of his kids’ lives – or even prolonged periods of time when the father is not in the same location as his family (we see this a lot in immigrant husbands who have multiple households). (•) treating all wives “fairly” whatever that means, and (•) writing clear wills or fostering healthy environments so when the husband passes, his families are not left quarreling over his inheritance. That one is assuming there will even be an inheritance. Too often we see men who cannot financially handle multiple wives and families and end up creating disastrous consequences. Everything I stated above points back to one thing in my head: polygyny is about more than just being married to multiple woman and trying to satisfy carnal desires. It’s a complex, multi-layered system that warrants a lot of consideration from all parties involved before committing to it.

Personally, I do not want to be in a polygynist marriage. I would not like to be involved in a love, financial, and/or spiritual triangle, no thank you! I would be elated to hear from my readers, whether you agree or disagree. As always, let me know your thoughts and experiences with this topic. Feel free to reach out on Instagram on @elleparleenfin or my personal page @aida.guisse__

Senegal: Sonko is not the solution to our problems.

As far as basic facts go, I won’t spend too much time on what’s going on in Senegal currently. If you’d like to get caught up, use the hashtag #FreeSenegal on Instagram or Twitter; everything you need to know is there. And if you still need resources, feel free to ask any Senegalese person with an account (given they have common sense) and they will be more than happy to get you updated.

Senegal needs more than just a new President. Since the beginning of this turmoil, which dates back to 1659 when the French first started meddling in our affairs, we have known that the Sonko vs. Adji Sarr plot was just a means to an end. It’s never been about Adji Sarr, who is nothing more than a tool used to achieve that “end.” And ultimately, this is not about Ousmane Sonko either. He is one man that is a representation of the pent-up frustration, anger, and destitution harbored by the Senegalese people. He is one man that we hope can be the catalyst for the change we have long yearned for. But let’s be very honest with ourselves about what will happen when the dust settles: Sonko is not going to transform Senegal into the utopia we have in mind. He will simply lead the struggle and journey, but we would be selfish and irresponsible as a people to put all that burden in the hands of one man. We too must actively participate in the makeover of our country. The Senegal we want, and need isn’t going to be curated by one man – that’s the very issue we’re trying to resolve right now. We must all claim our piece of the responsibility pie and understand that the Knight in Shining Armor we’ve been looking for is in fact in each of our reflections in the mirror.

I have a few ideas on how we can do that, and I am inviting you all to be part of the solutions discussion, share your thoughts!

  1. When it is time to rebuild the country, build it with full ownership, integrity, and sustainability in mind. Meaning we need to avoid this very revolt we’re going through and the only way to do that immediately is to have more Senegalese-owned businesses. How can a young man with 2 degrees and no job in his own home feel any type of remorse or guilt about destroying a French multinational company? Where is the vested interest? It is disheartening for the Senegalese people who work in those establishments – knowing they don’t have a job they can go back to right after the battle is over. But do we want short-term gratification (and chump change compared to what we could really have) or long-term solutions? Let’s change the narrative from “Senegalese people work there” to “Senegalese people own and operate it.” Only then will the youth have a care in the world about the damage being inflicted.
  2. Getting rid of Macky Sall will only resolve part of the problem. He is the apogee of years of oppression, distraction, and manipulation – the deliberate distribution of somnifère to the Senegalese people to keep them sleeping so they don’t have time to question what’s been going on. What we have is a rotten regime that needs to be demolished and rebuilt, just like the concrete buildings. We cannot keep relying on the Guy Marius Sagna, Pape Djibril Fall, Karim Xrux Xax, Assane Diouf, Yacine Fall, and Barthelemy Dias’ of our country to keep fighting this battle alone. Risking their lives and the livelihood of their families every time they are dragged off to jail for daring to speak out against the injustice. We must all denounce it, each and every single time. This revolution is a great start, but we can’t go back to business as usual after a few days. We must keep educating ourselves and keep fighting.
  3. Go back to the basics. We are a beautiful, proud, and creative people. I’m coming from a place of privilege; I am fully aware of that. When I go back to Senegal, I find myself speaking almost in third person when I talk about the Senegalese people, my people, me! Going back to the basics means re-identifying with the resounding power we have. Yacine Fall poignantly said in a press conference on March 3rd that Senegal as a country is “rich but the people are poor.” That is unfortunate and sad. Let’s go back to the drawing board individually and then regroup to pinpoint the many riches we have and learn to exploit it for ourselves. A country cannot develop without education and security but above all, without opportunity! There are already so many brilliant entrepreneurs in Senegal. Genius ideas that make you smirk! Let’s use that as fuel and ammunition to curate the Senegal we need. We don’t need Western solutions infiltrating every aspect of our lives. It’s inevitable because that’s just the world we live in but it should not dictate our every move. Going back to the basics means prioritizing what we need and how we can get it – for ourselves. Leadership plays in a role in creating those opportunities but we as the people play an even bigger role in properly and responsibility exploiting them.
  4. When this revolt started on March 3rd, the government started censoring the Senegalese people living in Senegal by shutting down social media servers and cutting the feeds for TV stations reporting on the news. We are so upset as a people that we were being censored. How dare they!? But I challenge us all to use technology and the Internet more responsibly when this is over. The same way we’re disseminating information right now, let’s continue to do that. Less TikTok and more news sharing. Less WhatsApp stories and more thought-provoking discussions. Less dance challenges and more entrepreneurial displays. That’s how you transform the culture of a country. The media is a no small tool.

Going back to the title of my article, I would like to reiterate how we cannot rely on one man. We are 17 million and that’s much more powerful than one man. That being said, I would like to say Thank You to Ousmane Sonko for having the courage to take on this battle. Thank You for sparking hope in the hearts of many and Thank You for trying, trying to do better by us. Only Allah knows what will come of us but I hope Senegal is victorious. We cannot afford otherwise. Our people are tired.

I could go on and on, but I will stop here and invite you to be part of the discussion. How do you view the current situation in Senegal? Where did we go wrong? Going forward, what can we do better? How are you feeling?

What do you want to be when you get older?

Lately, I’ve been searching for the answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Nobody has asked me… the prompt is coming from me. The questions I get from others are more along the lines of “what do you do?” or “Do you like your job?”

For what feels like forever, I feel like I haven’t been fulfilled. I am grateful for my job and I am grateful for the multiple opportunities that have presented themselves to me over time. I truly am. But one thing that keeps coming back in my head is this desire to do more. I have a passion for helping others and that cannot be overlooked when I think about what I want to do or how I spend my time. It warms my heart to do something good for others, for no other reason than to make their lives or day easier, better, happier.

I don’t know what I want to be when I am older in terms of title but I know I want to be someone who positively influences others. Someone who makes the lives of others better by presenting them with opportunities and teaching them skills to be better versions of themselves. Above all, I want to be part of the solutions that eradicate hate and abuse, especially towards women and children.

One thing I struggle with is admitting to myself that I do want to be known! In trying not to be cocky, pompous, or “fouy” as we say in Wolof, I have subdued myself into thinking that it’s a bad thing to want to be known. I don’t want to be known or famous for the sake of popularity. I want to leave a legacy behind so that I can empower people the same way other men and women have empowered me. I want people to know me as someone who was selfless and abundant in all that she gave. My time, money, energy, efforts, and everything in between dedicated to serving the world and its citizens. It probably sounds cheesy but I want to help change the world. And that’s not a small dream or goal, so I have to stop making it small and in turn, making myself small.

I urge all my listeners and readers to ask themselves the question: what do you want to be when you get older? It’s never too late to decide to go on the journey to find that answer. In fact, it’s closely linked to finding out our true calling, our contribution to this world.

What it means to be a feminist…to me.

** I am speaking from MY point of view. I do not speak for all feminists as that would be impossible. I would love to hear what feminism means to you, woman, or man. Let’s discuss. **

Being a feminist in Senegalese society can sometimes be the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter. The term is so tainted and honestly, there’s not even much room to explain what you mean by “I’m a feminist.” People automatically write you off as one or all the following:

  • A man hater
  • Someone who wants to be free to do whatever they want and can.
  • A sexually liberated person who just wants to taxawaalu (roam free)
  • You want to stray from your culture’s “traditional values.”

One statement I find myself saying often is: “giving women equal rights does not mean revoking any rights from men.” I said this to justify being a feminist and almost to ease the minds of the many men (and women) who have a problem with feminism in Senegalese society. I was apologizing for the very thing I stand for. The statement should really read: giving women equal rights … or better yet women having equal rights. Period. Not having it given to us as that implies it can be taken back at any point.

When I started the blog Elle parle, enfin, I started with short stories about fictional (but very much realistic) Senegalese women. I wanted to show women in a more empowered light, with a voice, even when some of the stories showed the too-often-seen scenario of women being marginalized in our society. Today, I want to get to the crux of this blog by just flat out writing about feminism in Senegalese society and my view on the topic. I will do so by starting to unpack the statements above.

A Man Hater

Feminists do not hate men (at least not that I know of). Now, certain feminists may also hate men based on personal experiences but the two are mutually exclusive. There is no rule in any Feminist 101 Guidelines that states that hating men is a prerequisite to being a feminist. Simply put, feminists fight for the rights of women, for the protection of women against abuse, for the right and privilege to live a wholesome life. They are not set out to crucify men worldwide.

Someone who wants to be free to do whatever they want and can.

Contrary to popular belief, feminists have boundaries, limits, and realities they face. They are not loose cannons trying to prove to the world just how free they are. A feminist is not someone who just wants to be “disobedient” for the sake of – with no thought behind their actions. And quite often, feminists are not JUST feminists. That is just one piece of their identity – intersectionality is the culprit here. They are much more than just a feminist that those other personas play a factor in the choices the person makes.

A sexually liberated person who just wants to taxawaalu (roam free)

For some reason, in Senegalese culture, when you say you’re a feminist, it’s assumed you have no regard for the “virginity culture.” You are associated with promiscuity. This is simply not the case. The sexually liberated woman can be a feminist. The young woman saving herself for marriage can be a feminist. The happy housewife can be a feminist. The woman with a busy job handling business can be a feminist. There’s no template for what a feminist is, should look like, should behave as such, etc.

You want to stray from your culture’s “traditional values.”

I would pay a million dollars to go back in time and see how women were treated in Senegalese society because this association with feminism baffles me. I refuse to believe that my culture and tradition are rooted in oppressing women, mistreating women, and minimizing women. In the Senegalese context, feminism is not even asking for CEO positions or starting companies from the ground up; we’re talking about letting women have a voice in their conjugal life; we’re talking about not beating on your wife because she is “disobedient”; we’re truly talking about not treating women like second class citizens. That is a basic human right and when Senegalese feminists talk about it, they are quieted with assertions of losing their values. But what about Aline Sitoe Diatta and Yacine Boubou? If we pull it back to more recent time, women like Yassine Fall and Anta Babacar Ngom? Were they told they should sit quiet and not fight for what they believed in? Are these women any less Senegalese because they defy the norms? Can they not be Senegalese and feminists at the same time? And I don’t know that any of them self-identify as feminists – just that they are often brought up in feminist discourse and I beg to differ that they are not true, Senegalese woman because they dare to break the mold.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the topic of feminism in Senegalese culture/society. Factually, Merriam-Webster defines feminism as: belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. I implore you, as a consumer of my posts, to give this definition some thought. Wouldn’t you agree that it doesn’t take being a woman to simply believe in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes? And given that women have for a long time been deprived of these rights, that the fight for this equality should be focused on women? Wouldn’t you then agree with me that every one of us should be feminists? 

I started with a list so let’s close with one.

  • You can be a feminist… and cater to your man.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a stay-at-home mom…or dad.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a second, or third, or fourth wife.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a muslim.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a man.

Feminism is about choice, not force. It’s about men and women having the choice to live the life they desire, deserve, and work for, without coercion, oppression, and abuse being an interference.

To end, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought via a quote.

[Begin quote] “Being pro-feminist means being aware of women’s experiences and to bring them to the center of analysis, not to displace men, but to broaden the perspective.” [End Quote]- University of Massachusetts Amherst Men and Masculinities Center

Top 5 Things I Learned About Working Remotely in Sénégal

Early December 2020, I went to Sénégal with the intention of working remotely for part of my one month trip. I had my laptop, chargers, portable wifi modem, and workspace carved out. I was ready. Then I got in the country and automatically lost all motivation and drive to work. This blog post will be simple and to the point: my top 5 realizations about working remotely in Sénégal. Let’s get to it.

1. There will be a lot of background noise. I was in my house by myself for the week that I worked remotely so I figured there wouldn’t be any noise to distract me or my conference calls. I was wrong. Cows, chickens, goats, sheep, little children joyfully playing outside, neighbors greeting each other… you name it! There’s no shortage of noise that your coworkers will hear in the background and inevitably ask you about. And if none of that is true for you, there will certainly be the neighborhood call to prayer!

2. Don’t plan anything else on the day(s) you need to work. The team I work with sits in Seattle, WA. The time difference was 8 hours so I did the math and figured I needed to logon around 4PM local time in Senegal. I thought — heavy emphasis on the THOUGHT — that I could get one or two things done in the morning/early afternoon before logging on. To my unpleasant surprise, I learned that the notion of time is very different in Senegal. I can’t plan for anything at 9AM because that ‘thing’ probably won’t start until 10:45AM (that’s being generous). That means I will finish late and anything else I planned will subsequently be shifted by a few hours. Thus, I can’t start work at the scheduled 4PM time. I quickly learned to just sit my a$$ down until 4PM with nothing planned in the morning…unless I had a strong desire to have anxiety attacks while sitting in heavy Dakar traffic. I’ll stop there.

3. Your focus will be off. I mentioned in the intro that I had my equipment and workplace set up. Let me tell that is not enough! BEING in Senegal calls for something other than being laser-focused on conference calls and to-do lists. If you live there full-time and know this is your daily life, it’s fine. But if you come to a short period of time and try to squeeze working into your schedule, it just doesn’t flow the same. You go from talking about the upcoming baptism or baby shower… or concert … or drinking a nice glass of ataya to talking about project deadlines and roadblocks. It just doesn’t work. I was not as productive or efficient as when I was home and it had a lot to do with the fact that the environment around is not on the same wavelength as you are. It’s not good or bad; it just is.

4. You’ll have to help your Senegalese family understand why you’re working on vacation. One thing about Senegalese people is when they are on vacation, THEY ARE ON VACATION. Being in that space and dealing with responsibilities back home isn’t the most harmonious situation! So be prepared to explain why you’re a semi-workaholic and how what you’re doing is the watered down version of your life, everyday back home.

5. You realize what’s really important in life. We run, run, run every day that we’re working these intense jobs. We have hectic schedules and relish in that busy feeling; it makes us feel important or useful sometimes. But for me, I stripped that feeling when I was back home. You could say I stopped to smell the roses. I learned that there is so much more to life than what we often chase after and to be quite frank, none of us are performing brain surgery by ourselves. Truly stepping away is necessary for our happiness, our mental health, and our physical wellbeing. Burnout is real.

All in all, my biggest takeaway when it comes to working remotely in Sénégal, is to avoid it if you can. It’s one thing to visualize how you could make it happen; it’s another to actually make it happen. Between the less than ideal internet connection, the sounds of animals in the background of every meeting you have, and the vast difference in speed of life, it just is a recipe for disaster! But more importantly, I learned to appreciate the tiny moments that make you miss home THAT much more when it’s all said and done. Although it was a challenge to work remotely, it just made me realize that I should leave my baggage at the door when I go to visit my homeland, pays de la Teranga. There’s no room for checklists 😉

Pro tip: get a portable modem while you’re there for continuous connection! It’s a small, Orange box that you can recharge and connect your devices to!