Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Marrying Cousins

            I got back from Bambadinka and Marta Alice said someone had dropped of a letter. I was excited because I haven’t received a letter since being in the states. And the ones I’ve been receiving since I’ve been gone have been for jury duty (Thanks Mom for taking care of that for me!).
            I opened the letter and found a small, folded piece of graph paper that read:

“ Dear Kumba Baldé, 
         I hope that you are enjoying Guinea Bissau. How do you find Guineans? Would you like to live here for the rest of your life? What do you find very interesting about in this country?
         There is something very interesting in our ethnic group. Cousins marry each other or date each other. Will you marry me or just be my girlfriend for the rest of your life?  I’m sorry if it hurt you. I didn’t mean to. Call me on the 25th of  February.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                Lassara Gano    

             I couldn’t believe it. “This has to be a joke,” I thought, “A reeeally bad joke.”
I read it several times over because it was just too funny to me. I know cousins marrying cousins is a reality here. Even in the states I grew up with my dad telling me I was going to marry my cousin.  He had a cousin picked out for all my siblings to marry.  It was the joke between my siblings because we knew my dad was pretty serious, but that none of us could actually fathom that taking place. It wasn’t until I was 19 that he finally said, "Kumba, I know that if I set you up with a cousin you will refuse, so I wont make you marry your cousin.”    ****sigh of relief****
            Since then, we hadn’t talked about marriage until this past summer while I was living at his house. This conversation was brief, and it boiled down to the fact that I had just graduated from college and it’s about that time for me to get married. He said that a daughter’s right over her father is for her to have him find her a husband.  And that when I’m ready I can ask him and he will find me a good Muslim man. 
            Another quick example are my Aunt and Uncle who moved to the states 5 years ago from Portugal. They are both Guineen and are 1st or 2nd cousins. So the idea of marrying cousins is not foreign to me, but this letter was definitely a reminder that it still exists.
            Later that week I saw my uncle and I mentioned the letter. He just smiled and said he had told my cousin Tamba to bring it to me. By his smirk I knew that he knew what the letter was about, but neither of us brought it up.
    On the 26th I got a call from an unknown number. It was Lassara and he wanted to know if we could meet at my uncle Bacars’s house. (As you can tell I never called) My inital response was “Definately not!”. But he is my cousin, and at the end of the day I‘m here in Bissau to meet family, so I decided to go. 
            Before leaving, my step-dad gave me the run down. He said,” Be straight up. Tell him you’re too young, you didn’t come here to get married,  and you didn’t come here to get married.”
            I looked at him quizzically. What did he think I was going to do? Go there and  run away with the guy??  “ hahaha I know! I’m not trying to get married!”, I responded.
But he continued with something I didn’t know. “Make sure you don’t eat or drink anything they offer you. People here do voodoo to get people to marry them (or do other things). They put it in the water or in the food. If you start liking this guy I’ll know they did voodoo on you.”
            Now I was scared and off guard. How the heck can I protect my self from that??
            When I arrived, my whole family was there. Folks were sitting on the veranda and in chairs in front of the house. I greeted everyone and they gave me a chair up in front of everyone. I felt center stage and everyone was just looking at me grinning. I immediately sensed the gravity of this meeting.  I think they really thought I was going to marry this guy!
            Lassara was eating, so my uncle and I chatted for a bit about how we were planning to visit his and my dad’s village the following weekend. Once lassara was done they gave him a chair and he sat down next to me.
            It just started off weird. As soon as he sat down everyone cleared out to give us “room to talk.”  He started off saying he wasn’t Lassara, but that his name is Alberto, and Lassara left because I showed up late (10 minutes, give me a break). But my uncle had already said he was Lassara when I arrived, so I waited to see where he was going to go with this.  He put up a whole front about being 22 and a math teacher at a local high school. The whole time he talked I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking that made him choose to be “Alberto” at this moment.
            My uncle would come back every once in a while to check on us, a radio playing the local soccer game was in his hand.  On one of his rounds, for some reason he introduced Lassara to me again. Lassara realized his whole front was blown. After that he began telling me who he really was.
            Lassara is a 41-year-old air traffic controller at the Bissau Airport.  He speaks fluent English and is currently studying to become a lawyer. His grandma is my grandpa’s sister. That makes him my 3rd cousin? I’m not sure how that works, but he’s my cousin none-the-less.
            We chatted introductory stuff for maybe half an hour. The whole while he talked his pinky was in his nose, which made it hard to look at him during the conversation. Eventually I had to just get to the point.  
            I asked why he wrote the letter and why he wasn’t married yet. He said it was destiny and asked if I believe in destiny. I said No. I knew exactly where he was going with that. I was frank with him and told him essentially what my step-dad had said.
            His response wasn’t clear. It was almost like he was denying that he wrote the letter. That it was more a means to meet me; he wasn’t really trying to marry me. ( Then again, what do you say when someone rejects your marriage proposal?)  Then he said that you never know what the future will bring. “ VOODOO!” immediately popped in my head. I told him I hope he finds a great woman.
              It was getting dark and people had started to trickle back to where we were,. I said it was time for me to go so I said my goodbye’s and my uncle had Lassara walk me to catch a taxi.
            Hilha and her friend Danny were outside the house when I arrived. They asked where I went and I told them the story. Hilha suddenly said, “ Did you eat any of the food? Or drink the water?? Be careful of nhamijdodo (which in Fula means eat and sit). That will make you want to marry him.” 
            The voodoo again! I would have never thought marriage and voodoo could be so intertwined. It must be real and not just my step-dad being paranoid (which is sometimes the case).  I don’t have this voodoo consciousness, but it looks like I’ll have to get some. As for Lassara, I haven’t heard anything since. Hopefully he has moved on to the next.

NOTE: What I have been calling voodoo is the spiritual or ‘extraworldly’ manipulation of situations, people, and etc. and may or may not be related to what is known in the US as voodoo. I’m calling it voodoo because that is what my step-dad has been explaining it to me as, and for lack of a better word, I have continued to use it to explain this phenomenon.  

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