It happened that I had recently descended a Maersk line vessel whilst undergoing on-the-job training under the instruction of a Senior Pilot at the Ports. I was walking next to my superior as we headed back to the Pilots’ Office when I met with a dock worker who was loitering around with some of his friends. Even though I did not know his name, he was someone I saw often at the wharf and sometimes exchanged greetings with as a gesture of familiarity when we met in the streets of Banjul, outside work hours.
When the Senior Pilot stood to greet a Shipping Agent he met with at the wharf, the dock worker approached me to exchange some banalities. In my typically reserved mode, I tried to ignore him at some point when his intentions to me became clear that he was trying to woo me. “So nakam nak… Nga neh lan nak, sis…?”
First of all, I hate this listless way of speaking Wolof. For my love for the language, I cannot bear to hear it patched up in crude, unsophisticated statements, ridded of all its beauty and eloquence. ‘Belie, cool lout dara!’ I just wish we all took a little more effort to polish the way we speak in our respective mother tongues, in the same way that we try to be ‘correct’ when speaking English or other foreign languages. The syntax and semantics should be just right… Well, that is just my wish.
My clipped tones and silent stares in response to his enthused statements however served to increase his aggressive streak rather than drive him away. It soon became a one-sided conversation as he prolonged his welcome, which was long overdue in all respects by my standards.
As the one-sided conversation progressed, the guy became more belligerent. The poor guy thought that I was condescending on him, and rightly so too. He got frustrated with me and rather than walk away feeling rejected, he hinted to everyone else who cared to listen, that I was stupid. Thankfully, the Senior Pilot finished chatting with the fellow from the Shipping Agency and we continued our walk towards the Main Administrative Building.
When we were far away enough, the dock worker yelled at me to be more creative in my choice of dressing. I was in a Pilot’s uniform and I did not see any reason why he made that rude statement. But…He progressed in increased intensity to blurt out that how ever many degrees I was able to amass in the future, the best degree I could ever possess in the world was be married to a guy I called my husband.
Ouch! That hurt…
At nineteen years of age, those words hurt deeply as intended. With the knowledge of hindsight, those were just the foolish statements of a jilted boy. But when you are young, you inveigle on your own reaction to events by your shortcomings, whether perceived or real. Unless for the narcissist among us, very few young women at that age are comfortable in their dress sense or style. You are at the experimenting stage in life, where you learn by default what suits you and what is in fashion at that moment. It’s the period of life, where the flower of experience is budding but the seed of insecurity is planted in your mind longer than the blossoming flower. In fact, girls grow up so fast, people tend to lose track of their immaturity despite their projected adulthood. Thus, him hitting the boot at my dress sense, was pinching where is was meant to hurt.
My initial reaction when I heard his extreme utterances was extreme embarrassment. If I were white, I would have blushed pink all over. It took all the self-control in the world not to turn around and give him the sharp side of my tongue. How dare he pick me out and humiliate me? What gave him the audacity to approach me and utter such nonsense in the first place? Was it because I have been kind and greeted him occasionally?
The reason I did not retort with virulent steam however was simple, I had deep respect for the Senior Pilot and the constituent of that respect was shyness around him. That devolved to further aggravate my embarrassment. Every corrupted thought came to my mind except for the fact that I had a hand in his insults.
It never really occurs to us all that we are the very reason why we receive certain reactions from other people. By allowing myself to be open in previous encounters with him for example, I was creating a leeway for him to approach me; and when he finally summoned the nerve to make advances towards me, I condescended on him. Poor boy. It is not an excuse for him to have insulted me the way he did, but then, I had no control whatsoever over how he would react, thus the tirade of insults that came on my way.
Aware that the guy had hurt me by his words, my superior, the Senior Pilot, tried to apologise on his behalf which turned my embarrassment into shame, and subsequently into suppressed anger as I walked ahead. ‘Bul kor faaleh, nyee aiy doff lan rekk,” He tried to console me.
It took my last nerve not to explode in my anger. But I knew it was my issue. I needed to deal with my own issues on my own. I needed to deal with my deepest insecurities, even though the most latent of them all was just resurfacing, prompted by the guy’s unkind use of words.
That insecurity was that I was going to achieve all my worldly ambitions, have a good job, become rich etc; without having a man by my side. And then everyone else and everybody in my life would secretly laugh at me because of it. Quite honestly, this is the clanger of one too women out there.
Up till then, the last thing on my mind was marriage. But that day, awakened the fear that yielded to transform that notion in my subconscious mind. Hence the resulting obsession with marriage as an escape route became my prerogative; a means to feel secure from unwanted advances by all kinds of men, old men, younger men, ugly men, despicable men, well-to-do men, haves and have-nots etc… among others.
Awakened was the insecurity that I needed a man by my side to safeguard me from such infringements on my privacy as many men deemed their right, just because I was a single woman. Erstwhile, it had not occurred to me that as a young woman, I was desirable, let alone marriage material. But even though the dock worker was the belligerent one, other undesirable guys had made passes before then.
The reality was that, hard as I tried to resemble men as best as I knew how, by stooping whilst I walked and dressing like a man for the most part, these unwanted advances were there to stay. For I was not a man. When they looked at me, they saw a young woman. And who was I to change that?
That day, right after work, I joined the GPA staff bus and alighted at Bundung where I met with my friend. When I finished narrating everything to her, in the most stoic manner of expression, for I hate to indulge in self-pity, I told her I was on a mission and as she had the street smarts, I was counting on her to coach me. That was the reason for her ‘ice-cold’ comment I mentioned earlier on.
Unfortunately, this is the mistake too many young women fall prey to: Vying to get married for all the wrong reasons. For every cause has an effect. Marriage is the most critical decision any man and woman has to make in their lifetime. Marriage is not a rushed decision to make to safeguard against unwanted advances from undesirable men/women; or because everybody else you know is getting married.
Marriage to the wrong guy or girl can have ricocheting effects that may come to haunt you for a lifetime. It is not so much about love as it is about compatibility and complementarity. Nothing lasts forever, not even love. If you can’t stand each other now, you may not stand together for long. If you argue all the time now, you may never see eye to eye for the rest of your life. If you are unable to convince him or her now, you can never change him or her ever. It is all in the mind…
Rohey Samba is a Gambian writer and publisher of three anthologies of poems namely, Mother Gambia…Beats, Behind My Back and Heart Songs.