People often ask me about the cultural shocks I've suffered in Gabon. I must say, I always have trouble thinking of something shocking enough... I suppose we have a tendency not to notice certain little things and as we get used to them, they cease to be differences to our eyes. However, there is one cultural difference which I find hard to understand and impossible to accept: the Central African concept of fidelity.
In Europe, being faithful to your life partner is the essential condition for a relationship to work. In Africa, being faithful to your life partner is not an option. The general belief is that all men - no exceptions! - cheat on their wives. Sadly, the more I talk to my African friends and acquaintances, the more true to life it seems. Clearly, the social permission to have as many lovers as you want works only for men. Women are supposed to tolerate their spouses' behaviour, and forgive, of course. Forgiveness and tolerance form a solid ground for a relationship, the Gabonese law teaches us. If, however, all women remained faithful to their partners, and all men cheated on their wives, who would the cheaters cheat with? But that's just a reflection of a silly European.
How did I arrive at the horrifying conclusion that all men cheat, though? Do not doubt me, my friends, for I have sufficient proof to support my case! Let me introduce you to several of the men I've met during my stay in Gabon. Read and judge for yourselves.
Jean is nearly thirty years old. He is still looking for his one and only. For now, he regularly sees two girls, claiming that he's in a relationship with a still different one. When asked about his bizarre relationship status, he tells me that men need their options, variety is a good thing and no man was made for only one woman. Does he intend to continue in this way for a long time? Of course. That's what it means to be a man.
Patrick is recently separated and has two kids. He continues living with his wife but they are both seeing other people. He doesn't like the fact that his ex-wife has a boyfriend. He intimates that all men cheat, they just hide it better than he did. At first he stayed faithful but in the end he succumbed to the laws of nature. His wife should understand and forgive him, for this is what it means to be a man. He hopes to get back together with his spouse.
Monsieur Mba is closing up on the noble age of seventy. Children? Yes, he has children. How many? Oh, well... With my legitimate wife, I have eight children. These are my house children (les enfants de la maison). Now, outside of marriage, I have... well, it's seventeen in total, so it means I must have nine. These are the outside children (les enfants de dehors). He stopped counting his grandchildren some time ago. You think Monsieur Mba is an extremely active exception? Think again.
Landry is a young professional. He adores pubs, discos and dancing. He pays a lot of attention to his appearance and likes to look at his reflection in the mirror. He has no trouble attracting female attention in the disco, and often ends up with a pretty girl on his lap. At such moments, he's greatful that his religious girlfriend - with whom he's in a steady relationship - doesn't like going out as much as he does.
And what about the female point of view? Meet Julienne, Jean's official girlfriend. She will inform you that she knows perfectly well about his affairs, so don't you dare take her for an ignorant idiot! And you can leave your shocked face at home, she will tell you. Life is what it is, and I love my boyfriend. He cheats on me, yes, but I know he loves me, too. What if I break up with him, and find another man? He will also cheat on me - they all do; but he might not be as nice as this one. So I would be much worse off than with Jean, can't you see?
For more information on how to deal with unfaithful husbands, I refer you to Amina, a popular magazine for women. Let me quote the opinion of Valerie, who sees eye to eye with many African women:
When I tell African men that my boyfriend is faithful to me, they laugh and wink at Jandro. Clearly, they think he's doing a fantastic job lying to me. And how trained I am to protect him, too! They seriously don't believe me. Instead, they offer Jandro to present him to their many female friends, if he ever feels lonely.
Forgiveness is the cement of your home. Of course I'm ready to forgive my unfaithful spouse! Yes, it's difficult but not impossible. Actually, I've already done it, and I'm ready to do it again. Where can we find a faithful man? We should ask ourselves this: if we leave our man, will we be able to find a better one? I think not. It is thus better to stay with the one we already know, the one we have kids with, and not hope to find a faithful man, a rare bird. I try to communicate with my husband. I ask him what went wrong, why did he end up in his lover's arms. I ask him to promise that he won't do it again, even though in my heart I know he will. And the most important thing is that he uses protection, especially against AIDS, so that he doesn't pass it on to me (Amina, issue 484, p.22).
So, dear male readers of this blog, do be honest! Are you or are you not big huge cheaters to remain thus forever and ever? The time for answers has come. I am waiting.