There is a man in Tokoye-Bungou named Tobako. Yes, it’s pronounced “tobacco,” and the name suits him — he’s a bit unpleasant. One of those men who thought it was entertaining to ask if I wanted to marry him (3rd wife to a man 25 years older than me? No thanks.), and then following up the request with some eyebrow flutters and flirty, icky smiles. I wasn’t too sketched out, though, because anyone who happened to be nearby during Tobako’s proposal would support my rejection, and join me in teasing him relentlessly. And here’s why.
Tobako has two wives, one of whom is biologically disposed towards conceiving multiple babies at a time. I asked once about how many children she’d given birth to, and it was impossible to keep track: twins, then twins, then a single, then twins, then a single, and on and on. When I lived there, she was nursing a set of triplets. Or, I should say, attempting to nurse them. In the poorest country in the world, and the place with the highest infant mortality rate, these identical triplets were an eery sight to see. They had the same face, but their body size ranged at least a year. Put them in a row and one might have appeared 18 months old, the next a year, and the next a 6-month old baby. Yet they were triplets.
I say “were,” because none of them ultimately survived. In fact, I’m pretty sure none of the woman’s multiple births have made it past the age of two. It’s just too difficult for a woman to produce enough breastmilk, or for a family to have the means to provide sufficient weaning foods and medicines for one baby, let alone three. So even though her body prefers to conceive multiplies, it is the singles who have the best chance at life.
Tobako, though, was very proud of the multiples because he believed it demonstrated his power. Surely it was because he was such a strong man that his wife birthed so many twins. I asked, if that was the case, why didn’t his other wife ever give birth to twins? He discarded my question as nonsensical and insisted upon his manliness.
One afternoon when we were repeating the same dialog — Tobako flirting with me, me rejecting him by saying he was too old — I took it to the next level. People aren’t very self-conscious, so I decided it wouldn’t be over the cultural line to emphasize how old he was by teasing him for not having any teeth (they’d all fallen out a bit prematurely, but what do you expect when your name is tobacco?). Which is when he leaned over towards me and his toothless mouth delivered one of the most shocking and funniest lines I’d heard while living in Tokoye-Bungou, and affirmed for me that I’d come a long way in my comprehension of Hausa:
“Balkissa, you don’t marry the teeth. You marry the penis.”
Perhaps. But not yours, Tobako.