When I came here I at first thought there were no big gender differences, maybe some men were a bit more sexist than in Australia or France, but truly I couldn’t see anything.
That is the thing with living in a complete different culture. Culture is something so complex, it takes so much to understand, to comprehend its multiple facets. I am sure I would still be learning even after years of living here.
The thing is, as a woman in Senegal you are scrutinized all the time. If you live in the ghetto everyone knows everyone so…. Whatever you do can never be secret, it goes from mouth to mouth, from ear to ear.
If you are a woman, it is so important to keep your reputation and to make sure that not too many stories are told about you. Gossip is something inevitable. It is something of the everyday; when women go to the market, when they visit their friends, their family, they are sure to talk about everything and everyone.
Every step you take will be spoken about, even more so if you are the only white person in the surroundings. People love to talk about things that have nothing to do with them.
Criticism is something one hears every day.
In a certain way I think that women here are not completely free in Senegal. When I am in France, I don’t need to think before I go out, I don’t need to refrain from my actions, I don’t need to be careful not to go out ‘too much’, I don’t need to be careful at what time I come back home.
In western (egocentric) culture, everyone acts for themselves, therefore what you do is your problem. And nobody will judge you…
If I go out too much, if people see me walking the streets at night, if I laugh too much with guys, if I hang out often with men, if I come home late at night- and all this on my own, then people will begin to talk. Not directly, but behind your back people will say all sorts of things. Some will say you are ‘lose’, some can even treat you as a prostitute.
When you hear these people you feel so unjustly judged. What have I done?
Does friendship between a man and a woman even exist?
People who are your good friends start advising you:
“You shouldn’t go out too much.”
“I know you aren’t that sort of person.”
Sometimes I want to scream towards injustice. Do guys ever have to look after their reputation like that? It is so important for a woman to have her virginity when she marries, but what about the men?
I want to just not care. I want to go to a reggae concert if my friend asks me. I want to go to sleep at 6am and I want to talk to whoever I want..
I have come here to Senegal not to continue to live in my Europeanized ways, but to adapt completely. I want people to say: “This girl truly understands my country.”
I want people to continue to tell me that I am “not a Toubab”!
I do think that one shouldn’t care about what others say, but I also want to keep a good reputation. I want people to see me as I really am, not as the image of a girl created by gossip.
I also don’t want the next ‘naïve’ volunteer (because when it is your first time in a foreign country, one is always naïve), to be stereotyped negatively through my actions.
And maybe in an egoistic thought, I hope people to remember me for the person that I am.
So that is why I have decided I will have to change my attitude towards going out… 🙂