An American Couples' Therapist reflects on falling in love with her husband from Africa.
"I think I'm gonna marry you", he announced.
"Oh my goodness another crazy African", I thought (he wanted to be my husband the first moment we met).
I warned Cheikh Tall (my dear West African brother-friend) to keep him away from me all summer. "What are you afraid of?", he asked, "Perhaps Allah wants you to get a taste of Africa".
A few weeks later, I planned a movie date with several of my Senegalese friends. The 'Crazy African' joined us. One by one, each of those Wolof-speaking conspirators dropped out of the party. By the time we arrived downtown, it was down to an awkward three-some—me, Cheikh and the 'Crazy African'. His name was Serigne.
Cheikh looked at us, and yawned, "I'm going home now ... you guys go".
I glared at him, with fire in one eye, and fear in the other. "Go ahead", he smirked, "Give him some juice."
"Juice? What the heck are you talking about?"
I stormed out of the car, pausing (only for a second) to stare at that chiseled brown face. "This is not a date!" I announced.
"OK", he responded, with an overly confident grin on his face.
We could not find a seat on the bus home. After about 15 minutes, my long day at work caught up to me. I could not resist putting my head on his chest.
"You're a couple now", my inner voice whispered ...
"Oh crap!" I responded.
We were inseparable every weekend after that Friday movie night. After about six months of denying that I was dating, Cheikh called me. He announced that it was time for Serigne and I to either "get married or move on".
"What are your plans for my brother?" he demanded.
I didn't have a legitimate answer to that question. All I knew was that marrying a West African Muslim cook was not on my relationship "To-Do" list. No matter how kind he was to me. No matter how smart or beautiful he thought I was. No matter how happy he made me. No matter how thoughtful he was. I was determined to fight against this love at all costs. It was just too foreign. And scary as hell.
"I'm using him as a guide for my next relationship ... for the next man who I'm really gonna marry".
I imagined the look of disbelief on Cheikh's face when he responded, "Oh, no you are talking crazy stuff. We must ask Allah to bless this relationship. Marriage is the way we do this. You must marry him now or move on".
I whispered, "I don't want to move on yet".
"Then the marriage will be Friday".
I called Serigne. Cheikh had gotten to him first. He told me that he had been waiting to marry me since the day we met. I knew that ... but I was so afraid. Cheikh assured me that all we needed was two witnesses to our marriage. He gathered the witnesses during the week, and swore them to secrecy. It was agreed that I would not have to tell anyone until I was ready.
I arrived at Fatimah's house with Serigne and Cheikh for my "secret" wedding. Seven people, including a woman who I had not seen since college (3000 miles away) was there. So much for secrecy.
After the sweetly simple ceremony, we ate Indian food in the Village.
Then, I waited for him to change—to do something that would force me to break up with him, and end this game. Instead, he moved in. Rubbed my head and feet at the end of my long day working in community mental health. Took me out, fed me well, informed me of my beauty and announced his love daily. Dang!!
"I gotta go away", I announced one morning over breakfast. "I gotta go and decide whether this is right for me." I needed to know whether I should go forward with my plan to join the Peace Corps or stay in the States with Serigne.
Serigne looked in my eyes and said, "Go. I will still love you. If you come back to me, Alhumdulillah (thanks be to God)".
I went on a silent retreat in the mountains, determined to find the answers within. I called him daily. And missed him terribly. Who was I kidding? The answers from within were out before I left Manhattan.
I returned home three days later, and informed my beloved that I was staying in the States.
Then I had to call my mom. "Hey Ma ... I'm married".
She responded with classic Black Mama flair: "You must be outta your damn mind."
She stormed into our apartment and declared, "I don't know about this marriage under the stars, but you're gonna have a real wedding with my daughter"
With his usual good-natured smile he responded, "Whatever you say, Mom".
In the midst of the wedding plans, I wondered whether I could love him as much as he loved me. I often re-played a scene in my mind in which I called off our "real" wedding and resumed my life as a single social worker in search of the perfect mate.
The scene shifted when he told me to bring my maternal grandmother to live with us in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. Forty years earlier, she had suffered a debilitating stroke, which left her unable to speak or walk. She required assistance in every area of her life including feeding, bathing, and most other forms of self-care. I had been protective over her since I was a toddler. As a young woman, I had written, "Must love my Grandma" on my requirement list for my husband. I was floored when I realized that he had arrived.
I arrived home one day, from a grueling day at the clinic, armed with a throbbing head, and constant pain in my left foot ... all I wanted from him was to stroke my feet.
As I stepped into the apartment, I could hear them both cackling, eating his homemade stew, and watching an afternoon talk show.
"Oh my God! This man loves my grandma! He really loves my Grandma!" I never imagined that I would be sent a man who could be so kind to my vulnerable, sweet, disabled, Big Mama.
My headache disappeared ... the throbbing in my foot, shifted up, stretching and expanding my heart. In that moment, I was so full of love for him, that I thought I might fall.
No more need to question ... no more requests for "signs" from Above.
I knew he was my man.
Sabrina N'Diaye, PhD, is an integrative psychotherapist and the founder of the Heart Nest Wellness Center, in Baltimore Maryland. For over 25 years, she has served as a guide for countless women, couples, and healthcare professionals.
Sabrina can be reached at email@example.com