Friday, July 17, 2009
In search of a Sugar Daddy...
Do you have a "Sugar Daddy"?
Or maybe you are a Sugar Mommy?
What? You laugh?
Maybe you haven't read the signs.
And by that I mean these signs...
"I don't sell myself"
"Accepting gifts does not mean you've accepted sexual relations...refuse the SHUGA DADI.
(or SHUGA MAMI as the case may be)
They are part of a recent campaign in Rwanda to cut down on "inter-generational sex"
The term is very amusing to me, as are the signs.
But the issue they are trying to get at is an important one.
Still, I have a question. Who is a Sugar Daddy?
In this case one assumes that we are talking about an older man "buying" a younger woman often with gifts or other financial incentives. I am assuming that they are suggesting that this Sugar Daddy is not an actual husband. If you marry her, perhaps you cease to be a "Sugar Daddy" and become a proper husband?
The problem is that marriage, like "Sugar Daddy"hood, is often a financial transaction here. It is not exclusively a financial transaction, but that is certainly part of it. Men pay a very real bride price to a woman's family. The process of gifts and payments is extremely long and drawn out, and is certainly seen as essential. While some men are too poor to make these payments, and so begin living with a woman without paying for her, they are usually deeply ashamed of this and it causes a rift in the family, only to be bridged by a belated payment. A young man I know recently made the mistake of sleeping with his neighbor, a young woman of about the same age as himself. They are both around 18 years old and the girl did not get pregnant. None the less, her family was outraged. They had the young man picked up by police and brought him to court. They may have been upset about several issues but the critical one was not that they was too young or irresponsible but rather that he had not paid for her. A goat and two cases of beer were demanded to settle the debt.
So the slogan of "I don't sell myself" seems like an interesting one. A prospective groom is expected to act as a suger daddy to his would-be bride's family. Here in Congo, in addition to the normal payments of goats and cows, a groom must give his mother in law other gifts such as expensive African cloth for her to wear.
I'm not necessarily opposed to the system. It is nice to see such a strong tradition remaining in a culture that often seems to be falling apart (I'm speaking of Congo not Rwanda). The elaborate process is also a way of protecting women from rash decisions and inappropriate behavior. It is a way of honoring family, and forces a man to prove his financial stability before embarking on the very expensive process of raising a family.
Of course it also has negative sides, but that is not my point.
It is just interesting to see Rwanda embarking on a campaign to discourage people from seeing male/female relationships as finacial transactions.
Because the reality is that nearly all relationships here have a financial aspect, in a way that makes me, as an American, a bit uncomfortable. I was raised to believe that "you can't buy your friends" and "the best way to lose is a friend is to lend him money". Relationships, whether friend or family or romantic, are supposed to be about love, and if money enters into that, it taints it. I am from the land of hollywood romance. Althugh I have no doubt that finances often figure into marital decisions, we all are supposed to pretend that they do not.
In Africa, the lines are not so clearly drawn. People seem to think "what is a friend, if I can't ask him for money" , and even more so for family members. Money seems to be a well-recognized part of relationships. Friends and family are expected to ask for money at any time, and they are expected to give it.
Sometimes this makes me nervous. I am prone to feel that no relationship is real if money is involved. I like the slogan "I am not for sale" and often find myself wondering if everything here is for sale.
But I must catch myself. I may be from the land of the hollywood romance, but I am also from a land where the size of the diamond in your ring still matters to a lot of people. It is a land where divorce battles are common,and the injured party is compensated with money. And it is a land where families often tear eachother apart over the money in their inheritance.
The reality, as Madonna once sang it, is that "we live in a material world". Both here and in America, money does enter into relationships, the question is simply how we deal with it.
Which perhaps is why the Rwandan sign does not suggest refusing the gift, which would have been the logical advice from my point of view. They simply argue that the gift doesn't obligate you. An interesting, and true, point.
And now that I have done all this thinking,
I gotta tell you...
my husband has been paying my bills for the past three years,
and he did give me some pretty nice gifts before we got married,
And he is older than me, if only by six months...
So maybe I've got my very own SHUGA DADI?