This is the first time Ben and I have lived in a small town - college station doesn’t count. Even in Africa, people in small towns’ gossip. Not sure, but it may even be worse here than in Texas. Gossiping isn’t a good of course, but ya’ll have to promise not to tell Anyone from our village we told you. ;) Actually, I am writing about this because it’s interesting what their gossip is about – at least, I think it’s interesting because it so culturally based and so very different from gossip at home.
Solo has had a bit of drama this week. There are rumors going around the village that he is dating a 16 year old girl who is married. The whole situation is baffling to me – almost like a Mexican soap opera. When hearing this story, I had so many questions regarding cultural differences; I could barely grasp what was going on at all. Apparently, Solo’s mom told him the villagers are gossiping about his relationship with this girl. Solo tells me nothing is going on; he said he was trying to help her because she married a man from a different tribe, who in the future could treat her bad. I ask, how so? He said that these particular tribes of mandinkas are known to only give their tribe money when they have it and would forget about anyone else. Since this girl is not part of that mandinka tribe, she would be forgotten if he ever got rich. Now this girl, Anta, wants a divorce and the rumor is that she wants a divorce because her and Solo are dating. But Solo says no, he is just helping her with her situation. So Solo has been trying to help her by talking to her parents because according to him, “they are sleeping” – translation, they are doing nothing about this situation.
All I do in these conversations is listen, and try to determine what the heck is going on. These problems are so culturally different; I am more interested in the problem than giving any advice. The obvious thing to us is yes, that is why 16 year old girls shouldn’t get married. After it’s already been done, I don’t know what to tell ya. Now Solo says that he feels sorry for her and that they are now ‘used to one another’ and he can’t say that he loves her but he can’t say that he will never love her.
Every story like this helps us understand our village and their culture. For example, when I explained to solo how Americans often date for some time before deciding to get married because most people don’t want to rush into marriage. His response was ‘Oh, how civilized’. Now, I understand that response, but at the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. Now, we hear that a lot – civilized or uncivilized. She’s not civilized, he is civilized, etc. It makes us smile because it’s just not used too much in our American vocabulary – calling someone uncivilized would be a pretty lame insult in Texas. It may even be a compliment, but here - Oh it is not good. Another bad insult is to tell someone they are ‘born for nothing’.
Our host moms also have some gossip. Apparently wife number 1, isatou, is talking about Sibou behind her back because Sibou isn’t going out into the rice fields yet. Sibou came last year when they had already started working in the fields so she didn’t go and now she has a month old baby so she has been staying home. Apparently, Isatou is talking about Sibou to a lot of women in the village, all except for Sibou. I asked Sibou why it is bad for her not to go to the fields (never in her life has she grown rice), and she says its bad to not help out if you eat the rice. I ask her how long last years rice harvest lasted the family, she said – one month. One month of food for 5 months of work. The rest of the year they eat rice imported from Thailand or America.