On a recent visit to an up country Gambian village, I got talking to a young woman who seemed particularly interested in me and seemed to be shocked at the fact that I didn’t have a wife or girlfriend in the UK. She suddenly asked me if I would marry her, which I took as joking around and replied positively, but in an equally jocular manor.
The next day, I found out that she had called our guide, and he had invited her to the lodge as there was a party that night for a tourist’s birthday. She arrived with her brother as chaperon and he was soon telling me what a good family she came from, what a great cook she was and that she would bear me many children. It was a bit overwhelming really. There seemed to be an expectation that I would propose to her there & then, which certainly wasn’t going to happen. We did seem to rather hit it off though, she seemed intelligent and educated (there was mention of training to be an accountant), so I'd be interested in at least staying in touch and seeing where it leads.
I’m not so naive to think that she was solely motivated by my decidedly average looks, and I should add that I'm very much older than her. I know that if this went any further, there would be an expectation of an improvement in lifestyle for her and her family from this arrangement. I made it very clear from the start that I am not wealthy by UK standards and wouldn’t be able to bring her to live in the UK, which they didn’t seem bothered about. From the conversations I had with the lodge manager (himself married to a European woman who has relocated to TG to run the business with him) the sort of “marriage” they were talking about is more of a local ceremony than an official legally binding contract, and they would be looking at small donations to the improvement of the village, gifts for the family etc. They reckon that about 50% of these relationship work out in the long term. There are obviously lots of cultural differences to be negotiated, expectations to be managed, long periods spent apart and some of course (especially in the tourist areas) who are entering into these relationships with the sole intention of rinsing their new partners at every opportunity, or to get an EU passport.
The tabloids (and this forum by the looks of things) are full of stories of African dating scams, but these are usually online and emanate from Nigeria. There’s not much online about men getting into relationships with Gambian women, but lots of references to women “sex tourists” getting involved with younger Gambian men, often with heart-breaking results. However, I did meet a couple of women in TG involved in these types of relationships who seemed quite happy.
The lodge are going to do some detective work for me to find out more about the family and their intentions, but in the meantime, I’d interested in hearing peoples thoughts on this, especially from those who are in or have been in relationships with West African women. How does Gambian/West African courtship usually work? Is it usual for a woman to propose to a man and to expect an answer so quickly? What are the main motivations in West African marriage? Is it love/attraction based, or are issues of financial stability, security and integration with, and care of, the extended family of more importance in poorer communities?