Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Let me tell you about the time I brought a prostitute home.

I went to a spiffy dance.  Actually that may not be an accurate description.  It was far too much like a high school dance.  Or with the way kids are growing up today, maybe it was more like a middle school dance.  Except no one showed up on time.  We got there about two and a half hours late and were basically the first to show.

No one danced for probably almost two hours, which was odd because it was clearly a dance floor and they were blaring dance music.  The chairs were all lined up around the walls leaving a gapping floor clearly meant to be danced on.  Eventually, they did some speeches honoring whoever was supposed to be honored and then they lined up some honorary men and paired them off with the few women who were there.  There was an incredibly awkward slow dance that lasted maybe thirty seconds before being broken up.

Then, finally, real dancing began.  I'm in super conservative ville, so there were an slim number of women about.  I'm not sure that would have mattered much as in the south I ran into very similar numbers a few times.  It doesn't matter here because men love to dance and they really don't care if there are women to dance with.  They have zero problem dancing with each other and are essentially just trying to show off.  I don't know what it is in me that says I am not supposed to dance unless dancing with a women, but they certainly don't have it.  And it is a fun show to watch.

The show got more highschooly as the night went on.  Some of the girls actually joined in the dancing.  Where there had been clear separation, the lines were beginning to blur.  At the same time, booze showed up.  People had smuggled it in.  This was the first time I had seen any drinking in Bogo with my own two eyes.  Now we have women dancing and drinking.  I naturally took this opportunity to join in.

I was clearly being set up with this lovely lady in purple.  This was fine with me, as I said, I don't like dancing alone.  And I really love purple.  We danced the night away, though there was a lot of trying to figure out exactly how you dance here.  It's not half way between arms-length high school and booty bouncing clubbing.  It's some weird mélange of the two.  There was literally a guy who would separate couples if they were risqué for too long.  Though he never touched me; meaning I either was following the unwritten rules or they didn't apply to me as is often the case.

To be honest, I wasn't really sure what to do with myself.  From my vague understanding of the culture here, you basically buy a wife and marry her as soon as possible.  My friend would explain it the following day as "you meet her in the morning and you marry her by the evening."  Not exactly something I'm into.  I wasn't really sure how these girls were allowed to be out and at a social event anyway.  After enjoying myself plenty, I wanted to quietly escape and attempted to tell my friend this.  He explained that I shouldn't walk home alone and that he should go with me.  Cameroonians here are super protective of me and also kinda thing I'm a weird idiot who probably wouldn't make it out of my home in the morning if someone didn't come and check on me.

I said goodbye to a couple other people and went to leave only find that he had grabbed Purple and they were waiting by the door.  Not really sure what was going on, but not super mad about it; the three of us walked to my home.  When got there, and they both let themselves in, sat in my living room, and drank water.  And I had no idea what was going on.  People often talk in front of me without me comprehending a word.  They were happily speaking Fulfulde and I was just wondering what the hell was going on.  All the millions of questions were flying through my head wondering what I had gotten myself into.  Particularly there was the question of why exactly was my friend still sitting there.

Then they said goodnight and left.  And I wasn't sure if I was relieved or just confused.

It was only the next day that my neighbors basically sat me down and gave me the birds and the bees chat.  We had some difficulty confirming that prostitute meant what I thought it meant.  There is a small cultural barrier in that I've also been told that any women selling wares in the market is a prostitute.  Well, if she is Muslim; Christian women are allowed to sell things.  Oh and married, it is ok if she is unmarried to sell.  A married Muslim.  I think that's the rule.  There are lots of rules.  Anyway, we established that Purple sells her body for money.

Honestly, I'm still not super sure.  From what I've gathered from all of the people who find this very interesting to talk about (everyone), if you are an unmarried woman and you date men, you are a prostitute.  If you go out at night and visit a man's house, you are a prostitute.  Apparently there are a number of women here who find themselves with a man, don't marry him, but still go home with him on the occasion, and sometimes he will buy her gifts.  These are prostitutes.  It sounds a lot like dating back home, but that's perception for you.  Ladies, how many dinners can a man buy you before you are pretty much obligated to?

The short of it is that I'm going to basically have to be celibate for the next two years, because I've no idea how to navigate that mess.  I'm certainly not sleeping with anyone who could, possibly, maybe be a prostitute in a country riddled with AIDS.  But we can thank the gods that I have such practice and self-control in that arena.  Wait...  Shit.


  1. Okay, I'll supress my instant feminist rage at reading this post and leave it as a comment instead of a rant. Seems like a woman can't win in Bogo! Either you're property or you're a whore.... and whore is sounding pretty darn good in comparison.

    In short I think you have the right idea about not risking AIDS. Enjoy the next two years, man! It could be worse. You could be a woman in Bogo.


    1. Part of the job is trying to empower women. I have LOTS of talks with men trying to get them to rethink female roles here. It's a bit daunting and... well, if it does change, it is sure to be a slow one.

      Pointing out that there isn't a developed country anywhere in the world with gender roles like this helps a bit.

  2. I sense some distortion between the purpose of Peace Corps and those that serve under it, and the interactions and inner perspectives between those that serve with those that are being served; that is..the indigenous humans whose culture we infiltrate. While no person who serves is a saint, nor expected to emanate some halo of morality or 'goodness', it does beg one to determine how they are perceived when they serve. I would suppose that each Peace Corp person, unto themselves, feels fully their own culture when exposed against another. And so, 'hears' their own inner noises ever more strongly...the good..the not so good...and thus perhaps grows/matures, enhances their own lives as much as those they have come to serve.

    Care must be taken, or at least it is my opinion, that every moment when the Peace Corp servant presents themselves, it to the tribe they visit or their own at home...must be honed to emanate a quality of thinking...a presentation of goodness...not some 'sailor in the harbor's bar'.

    Knowing that when each of us sneezes, the universe enough of a reason to be careful with every word, and every thought we to leave only strong footprints in others well as our own.

    :-) Keep up the good work...

    1. Thanks, stranger. I'd have to say that the hardest part of the Peace Corps is being on the job 24/7.