Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cross Continental Flirtation

Hey guys,

So a lot of people, myself included, made the assumption that I would remain very single and very very abstinent well I was here in Africa. Unfortunately, depending on your view of dating and relationships, this has not been true.

I am actually seeing someone here. His name is Wilson.

But this blog isn’t about him, it’s more about how dating works here and the difference between courtship here and back in Chicago.

How I met Wilson is probably the first glaring difference between courtships on our respective continents.

I was standing in the market smoking a cigarette yelling at an old drunk man to leave me alone (which is something quite possible in the USA). I had just pushed him down when Wilson sauntered on over.

Now back home is a guy checks you out he tries to hide it. He focuses on his drink or his friends or his whatever and stays in one spot well he tries to watch you without being seen. Here a guy will blatantly stare at you, unabashed, and might circle you a few times to check out all your angles.

This is what Wilson did about three times.

Now I am not used to being “picked up” most of the time any coquettish conversation I have had have begun by one of the parties finding a common ground- the same drink, a need for a light, liking an article of clothing- and striking up a conversation. Here the flirtation began with Wilson walking over and saying

“Hey girl I just wanted to let you know, you’re pretty fly”

Now the equivalent of this line in the USA might be a compliment on a girl’s hair or eyes or some other feminine feature. This is our cue to giggle and shake out hair a little bit well we lower our eyes.

Instead I kept my eyes level and said “gee, thanks”. As far as I can tell most of the girls here act as if you just stated an obvious fact- imagine a guy walking over and saying “hey the sky is up!”- And react with a polite smile.

After my attempt at a rebuff I grabbed my friend Lydia and tried to walk back to the mission. Now back home this sort of snub would cause a guy to go back to his friends, sip his drink, and complain about bitchy girls or claim I was gay. Instead Wilson followed me- or “escorted me” as he claims- and continued trying to talk to me, at one point introducing himself to Lydia as my future husband.

Alright so I can hear some of the girls back home going “ugh” from here. If a guy had done it in the U.S. I would probably be retching along with you but its different here. In Chicago a phrase such as that would drip with insincerity and probably beer and reek with a desperation covered by false confidence. Here it was actually quite smooth and stated like another fact, “you are fly” and “future husband” being equated with “Kenya is in Africa” or “I have two eyes”.

Wilson followed me back to the mission and asked for my phone number which I refused. He asked for my name to look me up on facebook and I told him only if he could spell it without my help.

Now most guys would have considered this a “shut down” and moved on, here this is considered normal practice for the girl. Girls are serious about playing hard to get here.

Anyway he ended up getting my number from Lydia and has sense called me every day seemingly never doubting the fact we would end up together. I of course acted like it would never happen up until the day it did. Which was three months by the way. Maybe this happens elsewhere in the states but in my neck of the woods I have never heard of a guy chasing a girl for that long.

The differences between the actual relationships astound me though.

Now again maybe this has to do with the weird town I grew up in but to me it seems like guys often don’t even like their girlfriends. They seem to avoid their calls, moan when they have to hang out and do something the girl likes and are often busy looking for a replacement. (That also might have to do with the age…)

Here Wilson calls me everyday at least twice…plus I call him, this is something I always thought I would hate but it’s actually incredibly nice. The security of knowing he is thinking of me is a nice comfort.

Guy’s here are also old fashioned in the way they take care of their women. The old rule of the girl pays for nothing is alive and well here. This extends not just to your girlfriend but to anyone one with the XX chromosome in your area. Wilson always brings me some small sweet when we see each other- which kind of makes me feel like a child- and he holds open doors and pulls out chairs.

As much as we girls in the USA say we don’t need these things it is very nice to have them even if the first time Wilson pulled out a chair for me my heart skipped a beat from shock.

The problem with all of these old fashioned manners is they come along with some old fashioned ideas. As the girl friend I am expected to clean up after the meals, allow myself to be pulled along by my arm, and happily sit in the chair that was pulled out for me even if I wanted to sit somewhere else.

The most infuriating thing is that men will often talk about you like you aren’t there and as if you aren’t capable of doing things yourself. For illustration- once I was with my friend William in Nairobi on my way to meet Wilson (I got a thing for Ws) and on the way their William spoke to me as an independent adult; this changed when Wilson arrived. I was passed off like a child between divorced parents. William informed Wilson that I had not eaten yet and that it was now Wilson’s responsibility to get me fed, ignoring my insistence that I wasn’t hungry, and then it would be his responsibility to make sure I could get to a Matatu safely.

Now can I get around Nairobi by myself? Not that well, so it is nice to have someone come with me to help me out. But feed myself? That I can do.

So I can get frustrated when I feel like guys aren’t listening to me. But I think I get the point across when I grab Wilsons face and speak clearly and slowly about how I’m feeling. Then he clues in that he might not have been listening.

Now I don’t mind carrying a plate to the kitchen but I think anyone who knows me can say I’ve never been much of a domestic and I’ve defiantly never taken on traditional female roles before. I mean I’ll make breakfast bust someone else is sure as hell doing the dishes.

So this is where our cultures clash.

And this is why Father Patrick has offered us a house.

Another thing about dating here is people don’t really believe in “casual”. All relationships should be working towards marriage to be working towards babies to be working towards more people to get married so they may have babies etc. etc.

I suppose this is why Father Patrick wants Wilson and I to move in together into our own “house”, meaning room, and live together to make sure we are compatible. He also made us promise not to get married until I was out of college.

You might be wondering how this conversation came about. You’re probably asking yourself “now how does a priest encourage two youngsters to live in sin on a catholic mission? And how would that conversation go?”

Well I will tell you.

Father Patrick called me outside to sit on the rectory steps well I smoked a cigarette. I could tell the conversation was going to make me extremely uncomfortable when it started with “Aliya is Wilson a serious man?” when I answered yes he asked me how serious. My brilliant response was

“Well he wants me to meet his mom…?”
Father declared that very good and that I should go meet his mom tomorrow if possible. He then talked to me about how whites really love people but Africans don’t so he wanted to look out for me and such. At this point I began to relax and asked father if it was alright for Wilson to visit me on the mission.

This is when the bomb was dropped but like the silence before a storm I had no warning.

“Aliya I want you and Wilson to live in a house together here on the mission. The problem I see is how will you cook?”

“That’s the problem you see?” I asked incredulous.

Father called Wilson to come sit outside with us and after a few invasive questions told Wilson his plan.

By this time I was chain smoking and was close to offering Wilson a cigarette even though he hates when I smoke.

Father Patrick gave us a week to think about it and talk to our parents but seem very keen on this plan.

Wilson and I are less so.

But if it does happen you guys will be the first to know!

See you guys soon,

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