Mallory Primm
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When the Man's Tired, the Forest Gives

May 7, 2009 @ 5:52 AM | Permalink

Being hit on is absolutely unavoidable in Swaziland. I would like to think that I’m sought after for my good lucks, charming wit, or unique personality, but the truth is I could be covered in warts with a crocked nose as long as I’m white and female I will have African men coming on to me. What at first may have been flattering has become increasingly irritating and its omnipresence is taking its toll. Here are a few recent examples:

1. I’m sitting at the internet café where I always go to do my interneting and a man comes up to me and begins speaking French. “I don’t speak French,” I say, not lifting my eyes from the screen. I hope my subtle I’m-preoccupied hint will cause him to desist. He proceeds to tell me he’s from Congo, has seen me at the internet café before and loves my eyes. “Mmm hmm,” I mumble, focusing all my attention at the email I’m writing. He wants to go out sometime, he wants my phone number. I tell him I have a fiancé and that I’m pretty busy (both of which is completely untrue). He wants to meet my sisters, my friends. He asks me how many white friends I have and when he can meet them. And then, he gets my number.

The problem with giving a man your phone number in Swaziland is this: you can’t say no. First of all, they use your phone to call themselves, ensuring that the number is correct. Second, it is totally normal to exchange numbers with almost everyone you meet, so to deny such an exchange would be a gross societal error. The next day he calls me nonstop until I finally have to turn off my phone.

2. Often I go to the offices of an attorney friend, for help with my research. One day when I’m pulling in the parking lot, I stop to let another car out. The car stops ahead of me and my lawyer friend gets out, waves and walks into the building. The driver of the car then pulls forward to let me pass, stopping by my window. I roll down the window to greet him, as is standard protocol in this incredibly friendly Kingdom.
“Kunjani,” (How are you) he asks?
“Neyapela. Kunjani?” (I am fine. How are you?)
“Neyapela.” (I am fine.) Are you married? I would like to marry you.
Just like that. We have literally only said “Hello” and I have never met him before in my life. I just shake my head and pull into the parking lot. Thankfully he drives off.

3. One of the first nights I was in Swaziland, I went to the new Café Lingo for some music and a bit of dancing. I’m sitting at a table laughing to myself as a American girl, about my age, attempts to politely get rid of a persistant suitor. The next thing I know, she has left, and her suitor is sitting next to me, coming closer, whispering “I’ve loved you since the day I was born.”

There are many things wrong with this statement. There’s the fact that he just said these same things to the other white female who had recently left. There’s the fact that he just met me, thus was unable to love me previously because he didn’t know of my existence. And there’s the fact that he was born before me so its literally impossible. I tell him I’m married, but he doesn’t care. The rest of the night he finds ways to poke me on the shoulder or nudge me under the table and mouth the words, “I’m thinking of you.” Creepy!

Its frustrating that no matter which tactics I try and use – preoccupation, engagement, marriage, disinterest, straight refusal – there’s no way to slow the advances. My Zimbabwean friend summed up the attitude nicely in an old Shona saying which goes: When the man gets tired, the forest gives. In Shona it’s a hunter’s saying to encourage hunters to keep going even when they are tired, for it is then when they will find their prey. But I think it is easily transferable to the persistent attitude of African men. Somehow they feel that if they just keep pestering you, you’ll give in.


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A good lesson for us all

Nicolle OConnor on Country Western and other Music in Swaziland 2009-06-11

just wondering if you have published any results?

David Broska on Into the Field 2010-06-19

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