No. 4: A Dinner Table in Africa

“Your wife is lovely” I said to the man sitting across from me as I nodded toward his wife. She didn’t speak English so I smiled at her. Because we were now in the presence of other men, she had put down her traditional hijab that covered her face. I could see in her eyes that she smiled back in way that said she knew she had been acknowledged. 

The man thought for a moment while he finished chewing and said,

“Yes, she is beautiful and kind. Oh but she is a very jealous woman.” He lightly chuckled, silly jealous wives. Hardy har.

– – “Oh.” Dude. She’s right next to me. Not to mention: what.

“She is jealous because I am wanting to take a second wife now.”

– – “Mmhmm…” [For lack of a better idea I give a slow head nod.] May day, may day. Stop nodding why am I nodding.

“But it is time for a second wife. And my first wife, she should not be jealous.” 

He said the last part like a rhetorical question; he was clearly  keen on discussing this Second Wife Acquisition. His eyes glided back and forth from me to her, as if to say – surely, you can reason… 

Meanwhile, unaware of the conversation happening mere inches away, the lovely woman gracefully held up her hijab and navigated her fork underneath it to take a bite. We were sitting right next to each other and our lives were worlds apart. I wished she and I were the ones that overlapped with a language instead of me and her husband. I feel like we would have had some shared opinions about him.

I tried to think up something diplomatic to say.

– – “I’m going to have to side with your first wife on this one. Here would you like some more water? I’ll go get it.”

And that will be the last time I ever compliment anyone.


4 responses

    • Haha! Man, each day brings its own dose of culture shock around here. I might have done that if I’d thought of it…but by that point I’d broken so many cultural rules I doubt it would have surprised anyone.


  1. I once gave a lift to one of my male South African colleagues – who asked me whether I thought he should buy a car, or get a second wife… Apparently they are equally expensive to run!?
    I suggested he get the car… How can one woman suggest another woman be an object to purchase?
    It was the last time I gave him a lift!


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