At a grocery store in Dakar, the Senegalese man bagging my boxes of cereal asked, “Your name?”
“Tricia,” I answered. He stared at me. “Uh, you can pronounce it Tree-see-a.”
“Tree-see-a!” he exclaimed. “My name is Kuba.”
“Kuba? Nice to meet you.”
“I enjoy you,” he said.
“Thanks.” That was weird, I thought, but kind of nice.
“I love you,” Kuba said.
My brain short-circuited, so I fell back on the French phrase I’d been told was good for any situation. “…Ce va?”
Kuba wouldn’t be distracted. “Do you love me?”
“I just met you!” I said. I grabbed my bags and walked as quickly as possible out of the store.
I got hit on more often in six months in Senegal than the rest of my life combined. It seemed like a week couldn’t go by without someone declaring their love, proposing to me, or suggesting a cousin that I ought to marry. I’ll be honest, it was good for my ego.
I don’t think I was suddenly more attractive with no makeup and long skirts. The upswing in romantic interactions had two contributing factors: 1) men eager to use the few English phrases they knew, which almost always included “I love you,” and 2) third world men taking any opportunity to hit on a white girl, because hey, she might be your ticket to America.
This non-specific interest in foreigners was made very clear to me when three of my friends and I stood by the road waiting for a taxi. A man sauntered over to us and asked Mallory, “Would you marry me?”
“Uh, no,” she said.
Undeterred, he stepped up to Holly, “Would you marry me?” he asked.
Holly shook her head. He moved to stand in front of me and asked the same question. When I refused, he turned to Liz and proposed. She turned him down, and he walked away, four times rejected but not looking especially sad.
“I might have said yes,” I told my friends, “But he asked me third. That’s just insulting.”
Although the constant attention was nice, there came a point when I just wanted it to stop. After all, I generally envision my proposal coming from someone whose name I know, preferably after more than one or two conversations. And it got tiring, constantly turning people down by saying, “no” over and over again. So when Holly came bursting into our house grinning about a proposal, I knew she had discovered something new.
“I was filling my moto with gas, and of course a guy came over to tell me I was pretty and would I marry him? I thought, you know what, let’s see how much I’m worth. So I told him that yes, he could marry me, but my father is very protective of me. He would never let me marry someone without a dowry of four camels, two trucks, and a flock of goats. The guy’s eyes widened and he hurriedly shook his head, apologizing and walking away. It was the best!”
Of course, this new response to proposals might eventually backfire. But if someone accepts the massive dowry, well. At least I would have a lot of livestock in my marriage.
Valentine’s Week Posts
February 8: How to Plan a Galentine’s Day Party
February 9: Top 6 Romantic Songs
February 10: Top 6 Heartbreak Songs
February 11: “Romance” in Senegal
February 12: Top 8 Romantic Books
February 13: A Romantic Ideal: Harold and Jean Stark
February 14: Happy Valentine’s Day!