By Rohey Samba
Cowards and bullies have the same modus operandi. You are game until you learn to hit back. That’s when they know to whine and complain and seek for a sympathetic ear. There’s always that kind of bully/coward in all families. This is a suspicious character marked by his/her qualities of non-tolerance and vicious meddling into a couple’s affairs. It’s morally untenable to reach out to him/her by cautious dialogue and/or polite non-engagement. That person is normally a she, and wives, at least Gambian wives, have to tolerate her, because she is sister-in-law, hubby’s elder or younger sister as it is.
Marriage in small Gambia is hard. Heart wrenching and stressful. There is not a mock exam taken in advance to help you prepare for a lifetime of commitment to a man and his family. The ‘mourr’ as they call it, is a mere euphemism for coercing women into accepting the supremacy of the man of the house. ‘Norpil-norpi naa, Bul dem-tork Naa, Baayil-baayi Naa ‘ and so forth. You expect that at the barest minimum it is going to be a two-player game, where your husband will scratch your back as long as you scratch his; and that he will hold you upright when you begin to slip. But any husband who promises you that is serving you on a plate of empty promise.
Yes, his family is actually a main dish, not a side dish towards your marital success. You may be as selfless, righteous and upstanding as can be, but without the right temperament to fit into the in-laws established environment, you will be held forever as a pariah. At a moment’s notice, you are expected to be a perfect communicator with the right mix of personal traits and comportment. As if that is not enough, you must possess the charm to calm upset individuals and juggle your own emotions to suit every given situation. You are expected to also share your life and livelihood with those same in-laws. In addition to which, you must show respect and support your husband in every which way possible.
Either way, no amount of preparation can help you understand what your prospective family-in-law needs from you. You cannot predict with 100 percent accuracy, the challenges you will face and how to overcome them. You can expect a few common pitfalls, such as petty jealousies and unwarranted intrusions into your privacy. You may be able to formulate your own responses to certain infringements of your rights as a wife. But tell you the truth, many things are going to catch you off guard. Prime among them is the belligerent sister-in-law.
The woeful tales of the provocative sister-in-law is so common today that women just tend to ignore it. As men increasingly refuse to take sides with regard to what they commonly term, women issues, so they fail to address some of the profound issues affecting their relationships with their wives and their own family. Many women are too kind to cause a scene or they may be too battered to hit back, when slapped on the face by the overbearing sister-in-law. For some, that is a small price to pay for being in love with their husbands.
Yet the scars left behind by virtue of their husbands’ slights, in refusing to stand up for them certainly punches a gaping hole into their future relationship. What was a great opportunity to halt a wrong, that is, by addressing a personality disorder ones sister seem to suffer from, is the root cause of many a bad marriage in our society today. By refusing to say a word, husbands allow sour relationships with sisters-in-law to turn into toxic ones. While many husbands are disinclined to accept this, my experience as a wife for the past fifteen years has taught me to know otherwise.
The fact of the matter is that, they are the most dispensable kinds God has created, I mean sisters-in-law. Apart from their measly contributions on a wife’s naming ceremony, perhaps D500 or even less, many sisters-in-law (definitely not true for all families) contribute essentially nothing to a wife’s live or livelihood, or their nieces’ and nephews’ welfare. Instead, they retain the title of perpetual parasite, sucking blood out of one’s husband, who is expected to cough up any financial request from them as the main receivers of his handouts, to the detriment of his own family.
Once the husband refuses to accede to their requests for financial succour or otherwise, the blame is laid entirely on the wife. Thus the misplaced hate is transferred to the innocent wife, who becomes the enemy of the family. As the uncontrollable one in the family, the obnoxious character vents the family’s anger and/or disappointment – the butt of which is received by the defenceless wife. Unfortunately, most wives do not have the gumption to face down this sister-in-law. Instead, they transfer their hatred to the not-too-innocent-husband, who refuses to support them.
See, we are taught to be respectful and accommodating to our in-laws at all times. Our televisions’ series, I mean GRTS and Senegalese TVs, would have us believe that marriage is a simple game by two individuals in the case of monogamous marriages, and in polygamous marriages, one man and two or more wives, who work to keep things right between them, with the in-laws stationed at the back benches. From our couches in our sitting rooms, it’s hard to discern truth from falsehood by the 15-25 minutes takes per episode.
Many young women trivialise marriage, especially in the case of polygamy, based on what they view in “Pod et Marichou”, “Un Café Avec” or even our own “Nakala” aired over tfm and so forth. Sadly, more and more women are taking their ideas of ‘jongeh’ and ‘morkah porch’ from the series continuum, which unfortunately pushes the bigoted ideas of men like Cheikh Yerim Seck and co to achieve the same thing: the advancement of men’s chauvinist ideals about how women should and must act and behave.
For the past five years since Senegalese local series have taken a firm foothold in the Senegambia region with the huge success of “Un Café Avec”, men have colluded with increased intensity to remold the character of their wives to suit their ideas about ‘jongeh’ and ‘morkah porch’ without seeking to address the root causes of their wives deepest insecurities – the insecurities that emanate from their lack of control of their own families in the meddling into affairs of their own marriages, whether through financial dependency or attacks on their wives personalities.
Of course many men backed by their own egos have resorted to marrying other wives, ‘jongeh’ and ‘morkah porch’ wives at that; with a view to fulfill their marital fantasies garnered from TV series, supported by their families, who help them in their decision-making without the clouding lenses of human feelings … I mean if they have any human feelings at all, would they not caution their sons, brothers and nephews for that matter, about the perils and risks attached rather than anticipate the financial gains they would receive from new wifey. But no, their misplaced hatred for old wifey, and greed of course, clouds all judgment.
Yet many men have crawled back to their first wives as a last resort, for indeed the value of a wife is best known when measured against another. Naturally, where the fallacy of judgment comes from falling in love by proxy – from the television screen – with a personality’s potential only to get to know that it was just that, a potential, sailing through life with confidence becomes furtive for any man.
I’d like to posit here that we are Gambian women, born and bred. We cannot be Senegalese even if we try to be. We may share the same Wolof language, but that is where it ends. Our backgrounds are different, our environment is different… and so forth. If our men appreciate that, it’s a bonus. If they want us to be what the television screens show without addressing the fundamental issues within the household- such as the flawed in-laws that their wives have to contend with, then that’s their loss.
We are no nonsense people who don’t take slag or cut corners to reach the top. If our men or their families want us to be saints, they must first create a heaven for us to dwell in forevermore. Otherwise it is a death pronouncement on what was meant to be a loving marriage…and the cause of that death, for the most part is the Men themselves-whether by commission or by omission. If you would agree with me.
While it may take a man a split second to make a life changing decision, such as whether to marry or not to marry, it takes women ages to decide on the death of that marriage…but once that decision is made, there is no turning back.
I’d close today’s write-up with the popular song by Ismael Lo: ‘Jabarr yumbah nah..y bu baah bah jahfeh nah,’ meaning… Wives come easy, but a good wife is hard to find. Hold onto your wives brethren, if they are good to you…Kumba Banjul, Samba Banjul.
This is a mere fact of life!
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, specializing in maritime safety and environmental administration at Gambia Maritime Administration.