By Rohey Samba
A long time ago, I read somewhere that when a man says ‘no’, his word is final but when a woman says ‘no’, it prompts the beginning of a negotiation. I had brushed it aside then, not thinking about the import of the words or their meaning. Now I understand.
Long before anyone could reveal themselves to me, I knew the rift, the division and the talk, back and forth, that would come out of polygamy in our society. It is the dirtiest, most daring tool women use to subdue their fellow women, and actually get away with it. Complaints are rebuffed, laughed off and picketed in a package, dubbed ‘jealousy’.
I recall also, the advice of my sage Primary 5 teacher at Ndow’s School, Mr Oppong, from whom I learnt the proverb ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’; that the main casualties in difficult marriages are the kids. Clearly, I do not have the time or the patience to teach a boorish person to respect me, and definitely not the temperament to withstand the puns and artifices of my fellow women.
But no, it was not to be. Everyone thought I had temporary insanity wrought by having a rival or co-spouse, as they call it around here, when I said, “I am done – it is over – I will not stay in this marriage anymore!” Soon enough, my pronouncement was bombarded by a trove of parleys. People whom I respect and hold in high regard conspired to bar my righteous sleep. It seemed like a zero-sum game.
You cannot appear one whit less discourteous by rebuffing the persuasions of the elderly and respectable persons in our society. You will be forever marked as the insolent one. Hence after, whatever mishap or accident chances upon you or your children would be directly linked to one’s insubordination. “Nyaw. Defar daygayrr borpa!”
Our men effectively use these discretions to their advantage in retaining their disinclined first wives at all costs. It’s a loophole in our collective conscience as people of The Gambia. The right to decide for oneself should not be an option but a choice for each individual, male or female, to make in matters of life, marriage and so forth. Women are not children to be coerced and convinced into accepting subjugation by virtue of their sex.
Accordingly, like all Gambians, my respect for the elderly made it hard for me to stand by my decision and sleep the sleep of the righteous, even when I had a different take on my own life. Thus, I let ‘Salatul Fatiha’ lull me to sleep every night after I was reluctantly consigned to station of “Awo”. I could not allow my bitterness to gnaw away my faith, or mistake cultural contention for religious compulsion, could I?
Why did I strive to call it quits? This was not because I was afraid of the competition. Far from it. I am my own competition. As a beautiful, successful woman, that my husband was married to an attractive woman was not a calamity to me. I was just unwilling to let this sadly common event of infidelity determine the course of the rest of my life. My love had been too deep and too invested to be shared with another woman.
I recognised that I was ready to give up everything and walk away with nothing at all but my kids, without ever looking back. I know that I am able to accomplish this feat. All the long years I have spent as ‘dormi jamburr’ have taught me to be able to comfort myself. Either way, human wounds heal as easily as the seasons pass us by. Only our constant hold onto unpleasantness keeps us from moving on. I was willing and able to relinquish all unpleasantness and move on to greater things, unencumbered by the ties of marriage.
To begin with, I knew him as my devoted husband, the most disciplined man I have ever come across. A determined father to his kids, who endured long hours of work, forfeiting sloth and leisure to put bread to the table. This was a man who built his life, his success and molded his character on his own one step at a time. A man who did not care if I earned D1,000.00 or D100,000.00. He couldn’t care less. Come rain or shine, he was too busy being the sole provider of his family to participate in the pleasures or the fruition of his hard work. This was the man I wanted to remember him by.
If I had left, these were the things I would recall of the five-year-zone of our young couples marriages- that is, the amount of time that young couples are expected to stay together in a marriage according to my clever roommate in university, Laurice. Laurice who has never been married before but who has had more boyfriends than my fingers could count, was amazingly perceptive for her insight knowledge about marital issues. She claimed that her taboo was love, and marriage was a last resort to her ambitions. A decorated captain in her nation’s Armed Forces today, this girl was something else altogether.
Oh yes, we married young. I don’t think I was prepared for marriage. I just wanted to get married. The guy seemed right. We laughed, we cried and we joked together. For the most part, it was a good marriage. Best of all, I loved him and I know that with all my flaws, and they are many, he loved me back.
Fast forward a couple of years, and many things have happened that warrant the questioning of my own decision. Trying to save a broken marriage at all costs, is what I see women around me do all the time. In making a restitution to the man that defiled their marriages, I see women trade their health for the price of staying married. Goitre, high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension, not to talk of STDs, cervical cancer and hepatitis, are some of the health issues women face in polyamorous/polygamous relationships. Ah, before I forget… and the almighty AIDS.
Yet women choose to grind their teeth, swallow their own belch and stay put for the sake of remaining married. Some claim to stay for the sake of their children, some assert the pull of economic dependence, and others still talk of unrequited love. Summing everything up, I think many women are just too low in self-esteem, too high in self-reproach and way too lazy, to start all over again, for them to agree to a divorce. For the millionth time, I ask myself whether I am on track to shore up that same premise…
I know deep down that he admires my industry, my tenacity and my poise. But I am what the Frenchman would call, un garçon manqué. My tomboyish streak has embedded my feminism over the years, consuming me with certain principles that like a slow burning piece of firewood would widen the distance between us in this polygamous relationship he chose to foist on me.
I may be wrong, but I feel wronged by his actions in front of my own eyes, if not, in God’s eyes. And God knows, I am not going to make any concessions to make things work between us. The onus is left on him, and his. Thus a battle of principles rages on. He and his, believing in his right to marry up to four wives, I, believing in his affront of my faithfulness to him by marrying someone else in addition to me. What are the guarantees that that other woman is faithful to him, and would not inflict both of us with diseases? Smdth!
Somewhere in the fringes of their anger and the edges of my own stubbornness, I recall the distance created by mistrust and the persistent lack of communication in the various stages of what has become an insipid marriage. I was angry longer and more than they could ever fathom. Their anger is like a tiny flea at the tip of a cow’s tail. I am the cow whose tail is being tripped, and they are the flea, unnoticed and meaningless to me.
Let them be as angry, for as long as it takes. He is somebody’s child but so equally am I too. One is not more child than the other is, because he happens to be of a particular gender. I had neither volition nor choice in the matter of my own creation. If I did, I could allow myself to be penalised for being born female. At this juncture, in this forsaken annals of our collective experience, I am not going to let him dominate the narrative anymore, simply because he is husband and I am wife. The worst thing that can happen is a divorce. For me, that would be an answered prayer.
Women have been fooled into believing bogus propaganda about their marital roles for far too long. We must remove the scales from our own eyes. Respect is mutual, love is desirous and truth is sacrosanct in any given marriage. One cannot do without the other in this marriage triangle. Both parties, the husband and the wife, must hold each end of their triangle in order to have a loving, lasting relationship with happy blessed kids. No party must and should bear the burden of the other in the name of patience. That’s emotional suicide not sacrifice.
Rohey Samba is an award winning Gambia writer and author of 3 books, with experience working as a media analyst, press and public outreach assistant for the EU Election Observation Mission in The Gambia National Assembly Elections, 2017. She owns a publishing company and works as a maritime specialist, specialising in maritime safety and environmental administration at Gambia Maritime Administration.