“You don’t discover yourself by sticking to well trodden paths, you do so by embarking on your own personal odyssey…” – Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah from The Sex Lives of African Women.
It’s a warm January evening somewhere in Nairobi and I’m sitting with a friend, skimming through the pages of The Sex Lives of African Women, a compilation of stories literally about the sex lives of African women, by the amazing Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah.
After a few minutes of perusing the pages, I land on the first story of the book, about a woman named Nura. I’ve read this story before, but I decide to read it out loud to my friend who’s sitting across from me in order to get his reaction and opinion. Hi friend, if you’re reading this! :). I ask him if he’s ready to listen to the story, he says he’s all ears.
Nura’s story goes a little like this: she’s a forty two year old Kenyan woman who recently converted to Islam, and subsequently went on a dating site to find Muslim men who were as worldly and as well traveled as her. Sure enough, she met Ishmael, a six-foot-something, strong, dark-skinned Senegalese god, I mean, man, who was something out of every woman’s late night fantasy. My friend motions me to pause as I seem a little too excited *aroused* from reading Ishmael’s description. This is my kind of literature right here, I can almost feel Ishmael’s muscles through the book. * I have a theory that being sexually attracted to men is the bane of my existence, but we can talk about that another day. I digress.
There are many intriguing details about Nura’s story, many of which I won’t dwell on, like the fact that after chatting on the dating app, they got an Imam to marry them online even before they met in person for the first time. My friend doesn’t find that plausible; liking someone so much via text that you’re willing to marry them. “Unless we’re doing video chats everyday, maybe”, he says. I think it’s possible to fall in love and get married solely based on texts, it even sounds a little cute.
Months after their first meeting, Nura packed up her life in Nairobi and moved to Senegal, where Ishmael lived with his two other wives. This is the part I found particularly interesting, when Ishmael married a new wife, he would build a new storey in his house for her; such that the ground floor belonged to the first wife, the first floor belonged to the second wife, and now the second and newest floor belonged to Nura. Neither of us can help but be in awe of what a seemingly perfect arrangement this is.
I pause the reading and I say, “you know, I actually wouldn’t mind being a third wife to someone. As long as he’s financially and emotionally able to provide for all the women in his life, why not?”.
“Of course”, my friend replies, “I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a man building a penthouse for you in Senegal”. We both laugh.
A penthouse in Senegal, so far, Nura seems to be winning at this life thing. A few paragraphs later however, Nura reveals that despite the glitter, all is not gold. Nura is a Kenyan woman, and so in Senegal she is on foreign ground. She neither speaks Wolof, nor is she familiar with their culture, traditions, or even food. The food is important here because every other week Ishmael stays in the house of a different wife, and whichever wife he is staying with is responsible for cooking for the entire household. Nura has been met with indifference and borderline condescension from her co-wives due to her foreigner disposition. Still, she tries, because she loves Ishmael. When they are together, she says, they are happy. They are playful with each other, they have conversations about faith and politics, he teases her about being an artist, and their sex life is thriving. To quote Nura, she says, “sexually speaking, it seems to me like this is the best chapter of my life. I am the most self-aware I have ever been. I am flexible. I am juicy”. I see why she would be willing to stay in this predicament. When Ishmael goes to stay with another wife, she has free time to read, study, and create art. Her basic needs are taken care of, and she knows where she stands.
Nura, like me, comes from a society where as women we are empowered to be whoever and do whatever we want. We are no longer bound to being subservient, however, we are also coming to the realization that feminism is really the fight for the freedom of choice. Some women want to work and break the proverbial glass ceilings, some women want to be wives dedicating their lives to catering to their husbands, and both are OK. There’s no formula to life, you do what works for you as long as you’re not hurting anyone in the process, and let other people do the same.
“Personally”, I say to my friend, “I’d love to meet Ishmael. I’m ready for my penthouse in Senegal”. He laughs. I’m serious.
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One thought on “A Penthouse in Senegal”
I think I am going to finally pick up the book, something has always told me it is a book club material
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