Reading time: ~8 minutes
Every day, I wake up a 5 AM. I have to prep everything at home so I can be out with my husband. He’s a clando driver and drops me off on his way to picking up whoever his first client is that day. For me, it’s best when I catch the early commuters coming from – or to – Dakar so I can make the most sales. I sell mangoes. I have been doing it for almost 8 years and it is my “soutoura.” I don’t ask anybody for anything. I work and bring what I make to the house. My husband does the same and we live a modest, but honest life.
Fallou: Have a good day today, sweetheart.
Codou: You too, cherie!
People laugh at my husband and I for maintaining our youthful spirits! We rarely call each other by our names, pet names only, even when we’re arguing – that’s a rule! I met him when I was 23 (I’m 46 now) and we’ve been inseparable since. Our families didn’t particularly like each other but we didn’t care. We knew it was just a matter of time but they would eventually support our decision to get married. He’s 2 years older than me and my sister tried to convince me he wasn’t “old older enough” for me.
Codou: How much older should he be?
Mada: At least 5 years! Men are immature and he needs to be more established so he can provide for you.
Codou: Hmm, okay. I hear you.
Mada: I don’t need you to hear me. I need you to do what I’m telling you. Let this go before you get deeper in. He doesn’t even have a steady job… what’s he going to do for you?
Codou: Maybe you can get a boyfriend first and then tell me how to pick ’em. Haha! Guenal si souniou diguantei [stay out of our relationship].
My mom had her own concerns but she wasn’t as crude about it as my sister. My dad is my friend so he stepped in to defend me.
Yacine: Codou, have you really stopped to think about what you want to do? Garap boula soutoul doula may kerr [if a tree is not taller than you, it cannot provide you shade].
Codou: I know what you’re worried about but he is ambitious! As long as I’ve known him, he’s never been jobless. Okay, maybe he doesn’t have the most glamorous of jobs but we have time ahead of us! Don’t complicate this please.
Alhadji Modou: Yacine, you know she’s always been hard-headed but never stupid. Listen to the girl.
Codou: Thank you, Papa! I’m not a little girl anymore. Trust my judgment on this.
Yacine: Hmm, wakhou mak dafay goudei rek mais dou fanane alleu [It might be long time but you’ll eventually see what I’m telling you. An elder’s word might be late but never lost].
Alhadji Modou: Don’t say that, Yacine. Your prayers hit her directly so just pray for her.
I knew they all wanted what was best for me but at the end of the day, the happiness I feel when I’m with him is indescribable. So I didn’t care what anybody had to say around me. I had my mind made up. We got married.
The first couple of years in our marriage was tough – much like our dating experience. Just trying to make it work. We’ve tried all kinds of jobs – I’ve been a maid, a vendor at the local market, even a laundry woman for a few families. He’s always done odd jobs here and there on top of being a taxi driver to provide for us. About 5 years ago, he saved up enough to get a small car that he owns and has been driving clando ever since. This allowed him to have more freedom and make his own schedules instead of paying commission to any boss.
We have 3 beautiful children. Serigne Modou is 15, Sokhna is 11, and Anta is 10 (she was a surprise HA). They are children of love. We can’t provide them the material world and that will forever leave a gap in my heart. As a parent, you want to provide them every comfort of life. But, and this is a big BUT, we have provided them with a good education and a strong base. No matter where they end up in life, they will be successful. In today’s society, success has a narrow definition but there’s so much more to it. It’s important to remember that. Fallou and I have inculcated a strong moral code within each of them and that alone is priceless. My mom always has a little reservation left given that she was “right” about how he couldn’t provide me the material world either. I don’t see our relationship as a failure for a split second. He’s been the best husband and father anyone could pray for and that’s enough for me.
I could mushy on and on about my family and my background but I think when you see me in action, at work, you’ll get a clearer picture of who is Codou! Follow me!
Codou: Sokhna si, lo waxx si mango yi? [Sir, how about some mangoes?]
Buyer: They’re beautiful. Niata [How much]?
Codou: Dieuleul ma defal la prix bou baakh. [Take what you want and I’ll give you a good price].
Buyer: I’d like 4 of them.
Codou: Take 5! 4’s not a good number! That’s how many wives our husbands claim they can have, sis. Stay away from that number!
Her husband laughed at my comment and shook his head. They were a young couple. I laugh as I brush the sound of the word “four” off of my ears! It’s bad luck!
Buyer: Haha! You’re right deh! Wa okay, make it 5 then.
Codou. There you go. See, life isn’t so hard. Gimme 2.000 rek.
Buyer: Shiii sokhna si, that’s expensive deh!
Codou: I swear it’s a good price. They’re big mangoes and I guarantee you’ve never had a better mango!
Buyer: Hmm, that’s what you all say!
Codou: You have my word.
Buyer: And if they’re not good?
Codou: Like I said, you have nothing to worry about! Na ress ak diam [bon appetit]!
I kept this up with every customer I encountered throughout the day, just like every other day. 7 days a week, more than 12 hours a day. I keep a smile on my face and joke with every customer. In my 8 years of doing this, and even with previous jobs I had, I learned that there is reality and then there is fantasy. But when you learn to be grateful and gracious about the hand that you’ve been dealt, the two start to merge. No matter what I encounter in life, I accept it as part of Allah’s bigger plan for me and I haven’t been disappointed yet. Many look at me and feel sorry for me but I can’t tell you how many cars have pulled up next to me and I could just feel the tension between the husband that’s driving and the wife that’s picking out mangos. Something simple as picking out mangos becomes a point of conflict and I in turn feel sorry for them. This is why I joke and try to lighten the mood. I don’t know what battles my customers are facing but I try to be a reminder that there is a silver lining in every situation and life isn’t so serious.
Codou: Today was a good day baby!
Fallou: Oh yeah? Kone deh dangua mako walleu [You must have rubbed off on me then]!
Codou: Let’s check our progress.
Fallou: Before that, I have a surprise for you.
This wasn’t anything new coming from him. He always brought me little gifts and I still act surprised each time.
Fallou: Close your eyes hun.
I closed my eyes and smiled in anticipation of what the surprise would be. Just then, I felt Fallou’s hands hover over my head and a cold object touch my neck. He clasps it on and turns me around.
Fallou: Okay, open your eyes.
He held up a small mirror in front of me and I was greeted with a beautiful gold necklace around my neck.
Codou: Woah! What is this?
I couldn’t help but smile.
Fallou: Just a little something I picked up after work today.
As quickly as I was basking in my happiness, I remembered our plans to finish building a new, better house, and how we had been saving up for close to 2 years now for it.
Codou: GOLD!? Honey, I really appreciate this, I do, but you know we have other plans lined up. How can you afford this?
Fallou: Yaw do nopi? [You be quiet (jokingly)]. I have my ways.
Codou: Tell me.
Fallou: Listen, our plans are still intact and on track. And we’ve saved up enough to finish the house. All that’s left is furniture and we’ll get there. But you know we’ve both been working so hard, we need to enjoy a little.
Codou: Okay, you said WE. Not just ME!
Fallou: Cherie, I have been saving up for this for some time now. I didn’t take anything from the money we’ve been putting away. It’s my personal gift to you. l’Honneur ne se refuse pas!
Codou: Waw, lolou yepp deug la mais- [Yes, that’s true but-]
Fallou: Amoul mais. Damakay dello deh! [There’s no but. You want me to return it]?
I immediately shut up!
Codou: Haha, no! I just don’t want to add another burden to your already hectic work. You’re tired.
We both paused for a second and stared at each other. 23 years with this man and he still amazes me. He’s much more quiet than I am. So focused. So driven. And always keeps his word. I wasn’t as happy about the necklace as I was about my luck in having a life partner who could stop and enjoy life with me.
Fallou: Never tired.
Codou: Hmm, never tired huh?
I smiled slyly as I slowly walked towards him, licking my lips.
Codou: Door, fayou lasi kham 😉 [Now you know I believe in payback]!
Ahem, the rest of this, you’ll have to excuse us for. We’ll catch up another time… mais boulen fatei ni kou KOU KHEBOUL SA NOSS KENN DAKHOULA NOSS [If you don’t underestimate how blessed you are, nobody is more blessed than you].