Africa is for Lovers

BATA, Equatorial Guinea — It is a favorite pastime for every adult man I encounter to chastise me about finding Equatorial Guinean girls to help make my time here more “justified,” as they say. (Literally, “Hay que buscar una mujer guineana para justificar su viaje.”) While these comments can be laughed off casually the first four or five hundred times, after a while it really gets obnoxious. These incessant “jokes” reflect a culture towards women here that is far from desirable, at least from my Western perspective.

It literally follows me everywhere. My contacts all offer me their sisters, nieces, friends, anyone they know, in a playful but actually serious manner, and casual encounters seem to be all the rage. I even get it with strangers: In a taxi yesterday, I was sitting in the front seat as we stopped to pick up a crowd of people. The driver made sure that a young female took the seat next to me (read: on top of me) and asked “¿Buena chica, no?” nodding his head furiously. He tells me I should take her home with me and that she’s a very beautiful girl (and she was). Talk about awkward. So I throw out my now-usual excuse: “Ah, amigo, lo siento, pero ya tengo una novia,” (I’m sorry but I have a girlfriend.) It works this time; he asks me if my girlfriend is black or white and I say white, an American girl. To which he responds, “Ah, eres Americano. ¡Obama!”

The “I-have-a-girlfriend-back-home” excuse can sometimes backfire, as happened in Kogo in the south of the country last weekend. Suffering the usual barrage of offers and cat-calling to nearby females, I confidently apologized with my “already-taken” status. The men I was with simply replied, “So what?” I went on to explain that in America, it is not considered appropriate to cheat on one’s significant other (explaining the concept of “cheating” is another long story). This did not faze them: “But you are in Guinea Ecuatorial, not America.”

A man I know here told me the following story, which he was very proud of:

He was coming home from an evening drinking with friends, and got into a taxi that already had a pretty young woman in the backseat on the way to her destination. He got to his stop, paid the driver, and turned around and asked the stranger “Do you want to make love to me?” (That’s the tamest way I can put the translation.) The girl thought for a moment, and then shook her head as if it did not matter either way, then got out of the taxi and went off with him. He said that they spent a passionate night together and that he was very lucky because this woman had a very, very nice house (electricity and running water) and a comfortable bed to sleep in. The next morning, he paid her 12,000CFA as a gesture of thanks. Did I mention that this man is married and has four children? And that said wife knows very well of these exploits?

As an American raised in the post-feminist world of women running for president and a generalized ideal of social gender equality (more or less), this story sounded ridiculous to me. And ready for the icing on the cake? This man did not even bother to use a condom. So, that was it. An unprotected sexual encounter between two strangers in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the mere fate of taking the same taxi. And this man was proud of the night he was privileged to spend in better accommodations than his own. I did not know how to react appropriately, given his obvious pride and my obvious shock and concern.

Naturally, America is nowhere near perfect when it comes to gender equality and any sort of idealized notion of fidelity. But regardless of whether or not it is followed, everyone in the U.S. generally accepts that it is “wrong” to be unfaithful to one’s significant other. In E.G. this is not the case.

Basically, the male population here loves the beauty of women. All women. And that is to be commended. Sure, using women merely as objects or a means to an end of satisfaction is deplorable, but if the men here truly appreciate the importance of the experience in its fleeting magnitude, I don’t think I can blame them, given their circumstances. I do not know the true feelings of the women on the receiving end (and whether or not they have the luxury of sleeping with whomever they deem worthy, just like the men). But if they do, it is hard to argue for a rigid moral code of fidelity in this fourth-world context (and especially given our own cultural shortcomings in this arena—I’m talking to you, Governor Sanford!).

Looking back on what I’ve written, I hope that I do not come across as defending male chauvinism. It is certainly not my dream to find an attractive girl in a taxi, take her home, and pay her $24 the next morning. But in a world where tomorrow could mean jail time for your mere thoughts, spending a night with a beautiful woman is hard to criticize.

James A. McFadden ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Kirkland House.