We got to Danlare a little after 7am, and knowing I had one household on my list with about seven different eligible women to interview, I headed there first. It was a slow morning for me, and sitting in one place for a while was going to help me.
When I got there, all the women were in the front of the house – some stirring pots of what looked like soup, some grinding herbs on stones, some cleaning fish, some smoking the cleaned ones, and others washing utensils and clothes. The landcrete house was shaped like an L and mats at the front of each door, with children either asleep or seated on them, playing. To the other side of the compound was a tree I couldn’t identify, but looked old, with its roots gnarly and large, protruding out the wet earth. The men sat there, the sheep idling with them.
Learning from past unpleasant encounters, I approached the men first, greeted and told them why I was there (yes, I was driven out of one household because I talked to the women first). I also learnt soon enough that asking permission from the men made the women more cooperative. They gave me a seat and I started my interviews.
The fourth woman I started talking to had not been outside with the other women when I got there. She was called from inside when I called her name next. She wore a straight face as she sat down, avoiding eye contact. When I asked if she was the only wife, she sat still, not answering. An older woman seated not too far from us called her name, asking if she wasn’t going to answer. “No,” she said under her breath. Then I asked how many other women there was, and she lifted a finger. “Are you the first or second?” and there was silence again. The older woman then parted the curtain covering the door behind us and said in twi, “look, there she is. The new one. She just came today. The ceremony is later today.” It explained the cooking and frenzy from the women. It explained my present respondent’s mood. It all felt awkward. The new wife was seated on a mat in the middle of the room, wearing white lace alata kaba and wrapper. Her face was heavily made up and sweat was making it run, and another lady carefully finished a floral designed on her with henna. She looked older than the first wife I was talking to. She didn’t look happy either, and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the first wife’s obvious displeasure, or it was something more.
When I asked the woman how long she had been married, what stood out for me was how she put it. “I had my first child a year after I was brought here.” Brought. Brought. Her first child was almost four. She had three children. The last barely a month old. She was beautiful and her mood understandable. She must have known that day will come when she’d have to welcome another wife into her home. She must have known more of such days will come, when over and over she’d have to give a nod to something that all of her opposed, but what gradually a façade of acceptance will equally wholly grow to cover. It was hard to keep going with my questions. She was clearly distracted. I asked if she wanted us to end it and she shook her head and smiled briefly, as if to say that stopping the interview was going to do nothing to change her reality. It was unspoken, but I understood it well. When I finished interviewing all the women, they served me some rice and unable to refuse, I washed my hand and ate a little, committing my bowels into the Lord’s hands.
Later that day, when the sun was going down and I was done with all my interviews, the ceremony had started on the park behind the village mosque. We had hired a Peugeot which was waiting for us, so I sat in it, waiting for my team mates to wrap us so we could go. The people that had gathered on the park started cheering and I turned to see the bride being led by the first wife to the dance floor. They started to dance and the cheers grew louder. They were both smiling, holding hands; nothing showed how they truly felt.
It turned out one of my team mates had lost his way and an announcement had to be made through the mosque’s p.a system, rounding up a few men to go search for him. It was past seven before they found him and brought him to us. And as we drove out from there, leaving a cloud of dust behind us, I wondered how the two women were faring.
It was a peculiar wedding night.