Advice given before coming to Cameroon from a former Peace Corps volunteer:
“Invest in a fake wedding ring before going to Cameroon. It’ll just be easier to say you’re married rather than fighting off the overwhelming amount of men who will hit on you.”
Before coming my response to this was, “I live in Brooklyn. I can deal with catcalling.” My thoughts now: This is far from catcalling. In fact, I’d welcome a Brooklyn, “Hey ma what’s good?” right about now. Here, there has been little to no catcalling as we New Yorkers understand it to be. There has been everything from I love yous (yes multiple) after a handful of conversations, a coworker asking me not to wear a certain (modest) dress to work anymore because I look “too beautiful in it”, to being offered VIP status at football (soccer) games by one of the national team coaches. This might sound flattering but it’s not. Instead, I’m annoyed and feel like some object to be conquered.
Said by a coworker while a group of us were out having drinks after work: “I’ll just have a drink. I won’t eat. My wife cooked and there will be trouble if I don’t eat at home.”
A couple of weeks ago, my response to this was, “Ha! If my husband wanted to eat out I’d think, good! No need for me to cook. My thoughts now: who am I to judge if a woman wants to cook her husband a meal. I respect a man who respects that his wife has taken the time to make it and therefore will eat it.”
Asked by male coworkers at the university cafeteria: “When are you going to cook for us?”A couple of weeks ago, my response to this was, “I don’t really cook so never. When are you going to cook for me?” My thoughts now: Now that I’ve gotten over the initial culture shock of no supermarkets, I actually have food at my house. But I still won’t cook for you because I still can’t get ground turkey meat, cheese or tortilla shells. If I ever get my hands on those things, come on over and bring your wives!”
Stated by a female colleague: “Women here are expected to support their men. If the man cheats, the woman still has a responsibility to keep the family together.”
Previously my response to this was, “That’s insane. If a man cheats an American woman would leave.” My thoughts now: That’s not entirely true. I found that I was stereotyping BIG time with this particular one. There are plenty of times that infidelity affects American marriages and the woman (or man) decides to stay and try to make it work. My stereotype in this was that African men will cheat and continue to do it because women aren’t valued. I can’t make that assumption because that is not necessarily the case. I had to swallow some humble pie and check myself on this one.
Preached at church, “It’s not God’s will for men to be polygamous, no matter what the culture says.” My thoughts previously: Amen! My thoughts now: While I’ve heard the other side of the benefits of polygamy (financial reasons, cultural traditions etc.) I’m still sticking to my guns here. I don’t like it. The thought of it makes me uncomfortable. I still feel it benefits men more than women.
Told to me by a colleague while giving me a tour of a nearby kingdom: “When a man has multiple wives, the first wife determines how much time he will spend with the others.” My response last month, “Ah hell to the na!” My response now, “Ah hell to the na!”
Said the other night by a male colleague after I complained about not having running water, “Is it so difficult for you to get rid of that place and come over here (to live with me)? Are you addicted to hardship? Stop thinking like a little naïve girl.” I think it’s important to mention that this particular person has 2 advanced degrees, one of which he received in NYC! This happened just this weekend so there is only one response. I was deeply hurt and offended that I would be referred to as a naïve little girl. I moved to Africa ON MY OWN knowing NO ONE before I go here. My response then,now, tomorrow and next year, “Screw you. ”
I could go on and on. Never in my entire life have I thought so much about what it means to be a “good woman”. I’m 34. Never been married. No children. In New York, this is not abnormal. At times, it’s even served as a source of pride. I was proud to be independent, enjoying my life on my terms without a man dictating where I could or could not go, without children waking me up before the crack of dawn on the weekends. It felt good to come home after a long day of work and order takeout without being expected to cook.
Despite the crazy written above, something strange is beginning to happen. I find myself daydreaming about what it would be like to be someone’s wife. I’m beginning to exhibit intense signs of baby fever (holding babies during church, squeezing and kissing the chubby cheeks of my friend’s baby whenever he’ll allow me to do so). The conclusion is this. I will not define myself based on my or another culture’s idea of who I should be as a woman. I will also try to refrain from judging other women for the paths they’ve chosen. Instead, I will trust that God is molding me into the woman he has created me to be. That is the only role I will happily accept.
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