save me your daughter – in chaa Allaah

Emerging into the shadows off our front stoop, we were suddenly faced with a smiling apparition – a teenaged wandering tea seller with the ubiquitous coal-fired portable kettle.  What wasn’t standard-issue was his impressive grasp of English.

It isn’t every day that we meet people who speak more than a few words … this conversation started with pleasantries but progressively became … WEIRD

Since he materialized out of the darkness our first reaction was “oh crap” … don’t talk to him, don’t say anything.  He was persistent though.

Tea seller: “Where are you from? England? France?”  No answer. Looking at Caroline: “Is this your husband?”

Seeing this as a way to end the conversation, Caroline quickly answered: “Yes!”  In Maroua, this loaded question is a staple pick-up line among men seeking a Nassara bride.  A myriad of proposals forced our friend Catherine to invent a husband – a spy who secretly travels the globe – to rebuff the unwanted attention. <click here for Catherine’s blog post>

Tea seller: “Oh good!  Then you must do me a favour, in chaa Allaah.  Do you have children? No? Then when you have a daughter, you MUST save her for me!  I love girls from your country!  Please, please, you must save her for me, In chaa Allaah.”

In case you’re wondering… In chaa Allaah means “God willing”.

We don’t have kids. Try explaining that to people here in Cameroon where very large families are the norm!

When we first arrived in Maroua we tried to explain why we don’t have children.  Not a good idea.  No one understood.

As one local traditional leader put it, “Oh come on, you can just have one or two, in chaa Allaah.  That many is no trouble at all!”  In this Muslim area a man doesn’t chose how many kids he’ll have, he chooses how many wives he’ll have kids with… in chaa Allaah.  The more the better.

We tried explaining that we wouldn’t have been able to come to Cameroon if we had kids.  That didn’t fly either.

We thought that our very open-minded counterpart at work would understand.  Apparently not… he nearly fell over and had to sit down when we told him how long we’d been married (without kids).

We eventually got tired of explaining and being viewed as weirdos by people here.  We had to find a way to make the questions – and raised eyebrows – stop.

Some other volunteers suggested we just “invent” kids that we’d left behind in Canada.  Wealthy Cameroonians often send their kids to live with relatives when they emigrate overseas making it acceptable for us to have done the same.  But, that would have been a lie.  Instead we took another page from the local culture.

Now, when someone asks whether we have kids, we answer with a single phrase…. in chaa Allaah!

So, that night when our persistent tea seller pitched his proposal, we replied with the only possible answer…

In chaa Allaah! –  God willing!

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~ by Greg Spira on April 18, 2010.

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