So.Many.Stories – So.Many.Proposals!

When I announced the So.Many.Stories idea as a celebration of Communicating Across Boundaries I did so a bit like one plans a party – excited but fearful that no one would come. But come they did! I am delighted to launch the series beginning today and continuing every Friday. Our first post is a delightful post by Amy Brown.

Amy is a self-professed white girl not just living, but thriving in SE Asia. She spends her time with Autistic children, baking things, and taking pictures of the aforementioned (and other things). Though she doesn’t know where she will be or what she will be doing in 4 months time, she is at peace knowing that God has something amazing in store. She also enjoys ending stressful days with a glass of chocolate milk. (Amy is also an amazing cook but that’s for another day)

Enjoy! 

I am no stranger to marriage proposals. But they probably are not the kind of proposal that you may be thinking of. No one is down on their knee, there’s no fancy ring, and definitely no romance. I’m talking about the kind of marriage proposal you get when you are a white woman living in West Africa.

Over the course of three and a half months, I received dozens and dozens of marriage proposals. From cab drivers to random men on the street to friends of my host brothers; it was hardly a rare occasion for me to hear “Will you be my wife” or “Marry me?” I don’t know if you have ever been proposed to by someone you would never ever consider marrying, but it leads to a very awkward situation. The first few times, I would stumble around for words saying, “Um…uh…no…?” To which I would have to deal with a failing attempt to convince me otherwise (most notably, one man spent 20 minutes explaining how he would make a living for himself and not bother me after I moved him to America and got him a green card).

Obviously a straight up rejection wasn’t going to be the best plan of attack, so I decided to take a different approach. Polygamy is quite common in Senegal. Many men have multiple wives and families, though it is strictly taboo for women to have multiple husbands. Luckily, Senegalese people have a good sense of humor, and it becomes a joke to talk about the possibility of a woman having more than one husband. In the face of a marriage proposal, my response soon became, “I’m sorry I’m already married”. When they asked about my husband I would tell them I actually had two, to which the response was, “It’s ok, I’ll be the third!” Then we both just laugh it off and move on with our lives.

As someone who generally likes to avoid awkward situations with strange men, I would try to avoid any situation that may end up in a marriage proposal. I must say that it is rather difficult to do this when you are constantly being thwarted by your own host mother. Yes, my host MOTHER. A vivacious woman in her late 40s, not married and with no kids, my host mother was amazing. But she spent about half her time trying to marry me off. In fact, by the end of the six weeks I spent with her, she had married me off seven times. SEVEN.

That’s more than one husband a week. The youngest was at the ripe age of six months and the eldest nearing 70. Somewhere in there was a cab driver.

I knew the mother of my youngest husband-to-be quite well, as she spent much of her time at our house during the day. On my last night in the village, she called me into the house to give me a gift. It was completely unexpected, so I had no idea what it was going to be. I went inside and was presented with a rather scandalous piece of Senegalese lingerie and bin-bins (strings of beads that are worn around one’s waist and only seen in private settings…). I was utterly speechless, trying to figure out if she was serious or joking. To fill the awkward silence, my future mother-in-law chuckles, “This is for your wedding night when you come back to marry my son.” We spent the rest of the evening laughing and they watched as I put the skirt on over my jeans and pranced around the compound.

As much as I appreciate the effort of my host mother, I think I will be just fine finding my own husband.

Amy and her husband-to-be (the 6 month old!) and his mom!

24 thoughts on “So.Many.Stories – So.Many.Proposals!

  1. So Amy, has this continued in Singapore?? What a great story, and so great that you found a way to get around the situation graciously and with humor. We had to learn that in many instances in Pakistan – for example, Q: how much money do you earn? A: enough for dal/roti (laugh)
    And Marilyn, we had another proposal for you from Ed’s friend in Hyderabad. He actually came to see us in Murree to ask in a very roundabout way. He ended up marrying a beautiful Pakistani girl, and they had 2 lovely kids, a boy and a girl. And his mother was very happy that he didn’t marry an American!

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    1. I am happy to say that it has not in fact continued in Singapore! Hahaha. One cultural difference that is apparent right away is in how men relate to women in Africa compared to Asia.

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  2. I remember hearing a story about an American doctor who visited a friend of mine in a village in Pakistan. When people found out she wasn’t married, an old, illiterate man with 2 other wives came and asked for her hand in marriage. He was shocked when he was turned down. Here she was, over 30 and unmarried. He was doing her a favor! As long as you have a strong sense of self and a good sense of humor, these things are more funny than they are insulting.

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    1. That is completely true, Anne, having a strong sense of self and a solid sense of humor is very helpful. My friends and I found that to be true in more than one way while in Senegal…there is a slightly derogatory term for “white person” that would be shouted at us as we walked down the street, and we started using it to refer to ourselves and Senegalese people would be like, “Wait…what?” We would just laugh it off!

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  3. Amy! You made me laugh out loud!
    When I was sitting in the interview for my green card the immigration officer asked me a whole series of very serious questions, had I ever been involved in a terrorist attack?, had I ever smuggled illegal substances or people into another country?…. her last question was, “Do you plan to engage in polygamous activity while in the US?” After I stifled a loud snort I answered the question, “No!”. My English Major husband leaned in and asked, “Don’t you mean polyandrous?”
    Not the time, nor the place to correct someone’s grammar…but I haven’t taken a second husband just to spite him yet!

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    1. Thanks Robynn! That is hilarious! I would probably not do so hot in one of those interviews, because I would either end up making a snarky response or laughing out loud….

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  4. I loved this. Now I know what you mean by stories, Marilyn. I kept thinking I have no stories that others would want to hear. When in Egypt, my husband and I spent some time with a young recently graduated college student originally from Mexico. The men thought she was our daughter, though we do not even remotely hispanic. Whether it would be shopping in the old part of Cairo, or on the street of Sharm el Sheikh, we were often approached asking for her hand in marriage. I can still see the Sudanese young man at a refreshment stand in Sharm, or the shop keepers who invited us in to sit and have tea and discuss the option of marriage, to name just a few. Looking back it was hilarious to us westerners, but gave us some good and fun memories with our “adopted” daughter.

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    1. Love this story! My parents often found themselves protectors of young single women in Pakistan while living there! At one point, I think my mom writes about it in her book, it comes out that everyone thought my dad had three wives!! Imagine telling their churches that?! Your time sounds amazing. It seems like you were able to have amazing experiences in Cairo despite the limited time. Amazing.

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  5. Good story Marilyn. We had a few proposals asking for Nancy! In the cultural context of Pakistan, I don’t think a suitor would have gone directly to her. I wish I could find the request by letter from one young man!

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    1. Oh I would love to see that letter!! Evidently someone came with a ring for me once. A Very Cheap ring but a ring none the less!! How did you and Hu respond?

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      1. Can’t remember, but probably told them that she’s much too young to even think of marriage. When that time comes, she’ll make her own choice!

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  6. This is a great story! I know exactly what you mean. This used to happen to me a lot in Nigeria. It got to the point where i just became quite rude because it was the only way i could get through to them!! Unfortunately many of them knew i was not married so couldnt use that trick but sounds like a good one!!

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    1. Thanks! Sometimes it didn’t work so well, and I would end up just walking away… We were actually warned about marriage proposals during our orientation, but it’s one of those things that even when warned it can take you off guard!

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