I met my husband about twelve years ago and just a mile down the road. We were here to work as public health instructors in villages.
He had just arrived in Senegal, fresh off the
boat plane that very morning. I had been here for a couple months already and knew the ropes a bit so was going to help him with orientation. (This is the part where he interrupts à la When Harry Met Sally and tells the story of how I almost got him pick-pocketed on day one. To which I reply, “Yeah, almost. Not all the way.”)
Anyway… In the time it took for him to walk down the stairs and across the parking lot to where I was standing and say hi, I decided he was:
a) not my type (although did immediately peg him as the kind of guy my mom would have chosen for me to marry).
b) out of my league anyway.
Perhaps one factor in this quick decision was that the ratio of guys to girls in this particular program for recent college graduates going to West Africa was about 1 to 22. I’m not even kidding. Those would have been my odds, had I decided to chase after him.
Which I didn’t.
I instead decided to spend the next two years finding him a wife because, as I’d first picked up on and was confirmed over and over… this guy was one of the good ones. The really good ones. So every volunteer team or batch of newbies that came over, I was scouring for the cream of the crop to set him up with.
Would you believe my persistent match-making never worked?
Over the next two years, we spent a lot of time arguing and disagreeing (terms such as “cat and dog” and “brother and sister” were sometimes used to describe our relationship) as we worked together.
We even survived Wolof language study together. I say ‘survived’ because I am one of those who does what she’s told and rolls her eyes at the ones who don’t and slow everyone else down. He, on the other hand, is the one who got tired of doing the same old language exercises in class every day so when the teacher asked him to say in Wolof what he did that morning, he replied in Wolof saying, “I’ve already told you that. Why don’t you ask me what I’m going to do tomorrow or next week so we can learn verb tenses.” Sigh. Eye roll.
Working together actually meant working apart. We were in villages about four hours away from each other, but we’d get together with friends and teammates in Dakar about once a month or to coordinate trips for volunteer medical teams. Occasionally my roommate and I would go up to his village or he would come to ours. I remember one time when he was going to be passing through ours, I pulled out the ingredients to make banana bread the day before. When my roommate asked what I was doing, I told her that Cheikh was coming to town and we always made him banana bread because it was his favorite. I distinctly remember her looking at my like I had two heads and mumbling something about, “Maybe you make him banana bread…”
So yes, as time went by… we became friends. Good friends. The kind that share the ugly stuff, the fears, the dreams and the really ugly stuff. It didn’t matter because he wasn’t my type anyway, remember? And he certainly wasn’t interested in me… or so I thought.
But that roommate that mumbled at me saw something we didn’t. Actually, a lot of people saw something we didn’t. Like our supervisor’s wife. And Cheikh’s sister in America who had never met me in person, but we emailed often. That’s another little part of the story. Since he didn’t have internet access and didn’t take pictures, I would often email his mom and sister in the US and send them pictures of his life in Senegal. So yeah, they saw something too.
When the time came for him to go back to the US at the end of his term, one of his last stops was my village. We were hosting a team of volunteers at the time so things were pretty busy. But that same roommate who mumbled at me pulled me aside and told me I needed to go talk to Cheikh. According to her, we needed to get some things worked out and in the open before he left. I had no idea what she was talking about. I mean I was operating at such a level of cluelessness that I invited one of the volunteers to come hang out with Cheikh and me on the roof while we talked. Insightful Roommate prevented that from happening. (Thank you, Jana!)
So for hours that night, we talked. Up on the roof, listening to waves, we talked about the most unromantic, but important topics under the sun stars. We talked about his upcoming move to France, where he’d been accepted into a six-year program, but had no idea how he’d pay for it or live. We talked about what he wanted in a wife. Well… to be more accurate, I babbled on and on about what I thought he needed in a wife. ;) He remained thoroughly uninterested in my attempts to marry him off.
The next night, I drove him to the airport, hugged him goodbye and watched him walk away with his one backpack. And then I sobbed the whole way home. But I had no idea why.
Ten days later, he called my cell phone. (Still phenomenally clueless, I wondered why he called my number rather than my roommate’s if he wanted to talk to us.)
An hour later, I hung up the phone with the room spinning uncontrollably and no words forming able my mouth. He’d asked me to marry him.
Well. Kind of. Sort of. Ish.
What he actually asked was if I would pray about us starting a relationship. In his mind we could at least ‘date’ over the phone until I came back to the US, then in-person for the summer maybe and he could come back at Christmas break and we’d get engaged and then we’d get married the following summer.
He didn’t say any of this, of course. I mean, at the time, I was actually dating someone else even. But I knew Cheikh and I knew his heart and I knew how he thought.
So I called him back three days later and said I would marry him, even though he never asked me. I knew that’s what he meant and I knew before even hanging up the phone on that wordless evening that my answer to him was and always would be yes.
Just to make things exciting and a little unorthodox, we decided to get married even faster than the one-year dating/engagement/wedding timeline he’d never actually laid out for me. We decided on a wedding at my church in Georgia six months later at Christmas and that I’d move to France with him then. (Like three days after the wedding.) But in order to move to France, I needed a visa as his wife. And for that visa, I needed a new passport and a marriage license.
Well, lucky for us, my dad is an ordained minister and could marry us right away. So a month and a half after that phone call and the day after I arrived back in the US from Senegal, we got married at around 9pm in the living room of my parents’ house, with me wearing shorts and t-shirts.
On September 1st, 2004. Ten years ago.
My answer to you, Cheikh, was and always will be… yes.