Friday, October 8, 2010

Taxi Man

10 September 2010
Bakau, The Gambia

For the record, my trip hasn't only been about Gambian men. I've also spent lots of time with Senegalese men. Kidding! Well, actually I'm not, but that's not what I mean. I have been learning Wolof, spending lots of time along, hanging out with some women (though mostly ex-pat women, as all the Gambian women are at home, married, and working hard to feed their husbands and children), and working. But, Gambian men make the most entertaining stories and, as a solo toubab woman, constant male attention is the one thing that I can be certain each day will bring.

Yesterday, I took advantage of a free morning to head to Latrikunda to visit a friend. When was time to head back to Bakau for language lessons, Kebba took me to the Brikhama Highway to catch a cab. It had taken me almost an hour to get to Latrikunda due to heavy traffic and full cabs. I was slow leaving Kebba's house, of course, and was eager to get to Bakau and not be too late for Baboucarr, so I was hoping for a fast trip. I get into a cab, in the back seat, with four other me. The cab driver starts chatting to me in English (no surprise) and I respond in English. Mistake #1.

The cab driver asks me the standard suite of questions: What's your name? Where are you from? How's your vacation? How is The Gambia? I am panka (Wolof: sassy) and confident and shoot back my answers. He eventually gets around to asking the most important question: Do you have a husband? "Yes, I am married. I have four Gambian husbands." The man beside me had been enjoying my sassiness but, until then, had stifled his laughter and remained fairly calm and reserved. My declaration of four Gambian husbands, however, was enough for him to let loose his laughter.

I establish that I have four Gambian husbands and the cab driver, of course, wants to be my fifth. I insist that Islam says that I can only have four husbands, so he cannot be my fifth. At this point, I've been in Africa for three weeks and been solo in the city for nearly two of those. I have enough Wolof under my belt and am sassy enough that I think I know how to handle harmless but persistent men. And I'm still confident that I do, as long as they back off eventually.

The driver asks me where I am going. He's only going to Westfield Junction and I have to transfer there to get a five-five (a shared cab) to Bakau. I tell him I'm going to Bakau and he insists that I'll have a hard time getting a car from Wesfield. "There are no cars going to Bakau." I'm pretty sure this isn't true. "Coming, yes, but going, no. It's almost prayer day. Everything's full. I will drive you to Bakau, 60 Dalasi." I am pretty skeptical about the Westfield-Bakau car situation, but Africa is full of ridiculous logistical surprises and I am in a rush. So, I haggle, in English (Mistake #1.5) down to 40 Dalasi (less than $2 CAD).

Once it's established that the driver will take me all the way home, he continues his inquiry:

"Are you fasting?" No, I'm not fasting today. I have fasted some days, but not today.

"Are you Muslim?" No I'm not Muslim.

"Oh, I that that the man you were with was your husband." No he's not my husband. Mistake #2.

We get to Westfield. Everyone else gets out of the cab and the driver invites me to sit in the front seat. Still comfortable with the situation, and aware that it is common for passengers to sit in the front seat, I oblige. Mistake #3. We head to Bakau along major streets (i.e. paved) but don't take the usual routes -- we drive along streets that I don't know. I start to feel a little nervous, though, granted, we did miss all the traffic along Kariaba Ave and made great time to Bakau. Nonetheless, we're following routes that I don't know, I'm in the front seat, and the driver has seriously cranked up his persistence.

He wants to be my friend. He wants my phone number. He wants to call me. He wants to see me. How can he see me? He wants my number. He wants me to call him. He's tired. He wants to come to my house and lie in my bed. And he wants to -- and does -- touch my arm. Repeatedly, despite my insistence that it's not okay.

He also starts to make a dopey-eyed kissy face and flick his tongue in my firection. I haven't seen this facial expression before, but I know exactly what it means. I start to get seriously uncomfortable, but at this point we're close to Bakau and back on routes that I know.

We reach the Romana and I get him to drop me off. Mistake #4. He now knows where I live, though I'm not sure that I could have done much to avoid this at this point. I try to pay and he refuses my money, preferring to come lie down in my bed. "No, we had a deal." He gets out my change and I had him 100 Dalasi.

"You're just going to leave me? You're going to leave me like this?" Kissy face, kissy face, kissy face.

"Yes, I'm going to leave you just like that!" And I slam the door.

I was livid. I paced back and forth along the empty path of the Romana until I calmed down. I felt totally frustrated and violated. How can some people think that it's okay to treat others like that?!?! Just because I'm a solo white woman doesn't mean that I should be a target for persistent sexual advances. But I am, and they're mostly totally harmless. Mostly.

Lessons learned? See Mistakes 1, 1.5, 2, 3, and 4. Also, call Baboucarr, my anytime stand-in Gambian husband and have a chat. And I can always use the "I forgot that I have to run some errands, please drop me off at the supermarket on Kariaba" line. And, I can also write down his license plate number and threaten a police report. Gambia's pretty serious about non-harassment of tourists.

So, don't worry Dad. I am safe, cautious, streetwise, and I have a good group of trustworthy Gambian men that have my back. The same thing could happen in Vancouver except, at home, I don't need a cab driver to help me ride my bike!

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