2011-05-19 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Every woman’s dream

I once lived in Africa. It’s the wild west of world travel, a kind of final frontier. Still untouched in places, still dangerous. A continent where you can die from basic illness, diseases that have long since been wiped out in the developed world, not to mention war or other violence.

I had a beautiful life.

My friends were smart and sophisticated, and we had candlelit dinners during the nightly power cuts. In dusty 4x4s, we visited animal reserves where giraffes gazed serenely from heads set adopt long waving necks. Water buffalo lounged in the distance and quick, nervous gazelle picked their way across the sparse grass.

In the capital, taxis honked day and night, and women sold bags of sugared peanuts on street corners. I lived in a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. Bougainvilleas bloomed out the front door and a hibiscus tree flowered on the terrace in the back.

But all of it, the whole adventuresome ensemble, was not enough.

Near the end of my stay, I met my friend Mamadou for coffee. He was from the capital, a pharmacist who played left field on his company soccer team. He liked to wear tinted sunglasses that made him look like Usher, and he walked around with a set of headphones covering his ears. He watched American T.V. piped in by satellite, and his sister lived with her French husband in Paris.

Though he was from a country where men have multiple wives, Mamadou was in many ways a man of the world. I was surprised, then, when he unthinkingly dismissed the last 50 years of feminist progress.

“As you know,” he said, “every woman’s dream is to get married and have children.”

I thought he was making a joke. “Is that right?”

He nodded soberly and took a sip of coffee. He had stated a fact, not a point of contention.

Later, I told my roommate about the conversation. We stood in our small kitchen and laughed. But a reflective silence followed. We were, after all, two women in our early 30s, unmarried, living in a place far from home. Our circumstances were fun and exciting but ultimately temporary.

Not long afterward, I made plans too leave. I hosted a grand going-away party a week before my departure, and I invited - all my similarly transitory friends. The power was cut the night of the party, and we talked and told stories in the low light of candles.

I stood to pour myself a glass of champagne — we were celebrating, after all - and my friend Will came to stand beside me. We turned together face the group of people spread across the garden, and he put an arm around my shoulders.

“Look at this,” he said.

I looked at the women dressed in colorful silks and ornamented with dangly earrings, at the handsome men who carried on about international politics.

“How could you leave this?” Will said.

I gazed at my friends, the glowing terrace, the vestiges of my exotic life. I smiled and turned back to the drinks table. What I couldn’t say was that Mamadou was right.

To find what I was looking for, I needed to go home. ¦

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