Monday, January 14, 2008
Maty and I: how it all came about
Today is the second anniversary of my wedding with Maty Bombay Cariaga (nee Diop). I can't believe that she and I have been traveling this road together for two years already. And, believe it or not, I owe a debt of gratitude to none other than the cretinous Junior Bush for bringing it all about.
Our story, the story of Maty and I, if not interesting, is at least unconventional.
I have a friend, Stewart King, with whom I share the pastime of playing military simulation board games (Advanced Squad Leader, to be specific). (Something of an incongruity for an avowed pacifist, eh?)
One day, in the spring of 2005, Stewart told me about a young woman from Africa who had come to the United States on a tourist visa.
The woman, Maty, came to America in July of 2003 from her home country of Burkina Faso, to work as a nanny for a family in Tigard. (Out of respect for the family's privacy, I'll refer to them as the "Joneses.")
The Joneses were an interracial family: the husband was from Idaho, the wife, from Burkina Faso. They had two children, one of which has Downs Syndrome. Well, Mr. Jones was a member of the Idaho National Guard and was called up to serve in Iraq. Mrs. Jones, faced with the daunting task of raising two children (one of them developmentally disabled) by herself, turned to her family in Burkina Faso to find someone that could come to America to help her.
That someone was Maty. In one of those tangled and complicated chains of connections, Maty's sister, Mariatou, was the coiffure for Mrs. Jones' sister. Mariatou learned of the need for a nanny and alerted Maty. The opportunity to come to America is quite a boon in impoverished Burkina Faso, and Maty immediately sought to take advantage with the blessing of her family. Within two weeks, Maty was on a plane, bound for Portland, Oregon.
I learned most of this much later. But Stewart, during our conversation in the spring of 2005, told me that Maty's tourist visa had expired and she faced deportation unless she could find some legitimate legal grounds for staying.
If there was some implied suggestion in Stewart's story, I chose to ignore it. But, I was single at the time and looking for a partner, so I expressed an interest in meeting Maty and Stewart arranged for it to happen at an informal gathering at his house.
When I first saw Maty I ruled out any possibility of a romance. Firstly, she was 17 years younger than me. And, although she was 26 at the time, she looked all of 18 or 19. Further, living in a French-speaking household, her English speaking and comprehension were virtually nil. At the King's house that day, our interactions were limited to a few stolen glances and virtually no verbal communication.
So, I was a little surprised when I got a call from Maty about a week later, asking me to take her out. I couldn't imagine that she was interested in me, romantically. The poor thing is lonely, I thought. She wants to get out and make some friends. Well, I couldn't very well say no to such a request. So, we went out for a walk along the river at Waterfront Park and I bought her an ice cream cone. It was an exhausting date, since we had to struggle to communicate. But it was a nice time.
Over the next few months, we went out semi-regularly. Honestly, I viewed the relationship as a friendship. I even introduced Maty to some of my friends in the hope that she could develop a social circle. Then, one day, at a barbecue at the Jones' residence, I overheard one of the guests refer to me as Maty's "boyfriend."
I was a little puzzled by that, but I shrugged it off. Then, sometime in September (or was it August?) Maty and I were watching a movie at my house when she asked me, in her vastly-improved-but-still-shaky English, "Do you love me?"
I was taken aback by the question. And I answered honestly: I said no. In the American courtship process, it seems outlandish that one would claim to love someone that he/she knows so little about. But, I later learned, love is different in Africa. There, to love someone means to see the potential in that person as a partner and mate. It is different from the American view that love is something that grows by itself, that sweeps you off your feet and overwhelms you.
Maty later told me that she cried that night, after I took her home.
Nonetheless, Maty and I continued to "hang out" together for another month or so. Then, in another startling conversation, Maty related to me her tenuous immigration status. Her tourist visa was expired, and, unless she found a legitimate means to stay in America, she would be deported. Bluntly, she asked me if I would marry her so that she could earn her "green card" and remain in the US legally.
I didn't answer her that night. I had to think about the whole thing. My first thoughts were suspicious. Was this some kind of scam? Was I being manipulated? But I had known Maty for a while and from what I did know of her, she was honest and honorable and decent. I asked Stewart about it, and he confirmed my feelings about Maty's integrity. Still, I didn't want to marry someone just as a means to changing her immigration status.
After a lot of soul-searching and consultation with friends and family, I told Maty that I was interested in marriage. But not in a sham marriage: I wanted the real thing.
From my perspective, I was 44 years old, divorced and single, and facing a life more or less alone. And suddenly I found myself presented with an opportunity to have a young, beautiful, honest, and honorable wife. And as for love --well, it wasn't love in the traditional sense. But my previous relationships had taught me that being "in love" only went so far. Love is easy, but dedication and commitment to shared goals are the things that really make a relationship work.
When Maty consented to my proposal, I told myself "I am going to love this woman." And I set about doing it. Even though the feelings of being "in love" were not present, I behaved every day as if they were. I served and honored and cherished Maty as best I could. And guess what? After a time (and it wasn't long), love came. Now, I can't imagine life without Maty.
The supreme irony of the whole thing is that it was Junior Bush's war, which I reject with every fiber of my being, that gave me the best thing I've ever had in my life: my wife, Maty Bombay.
And, here we are, two and a half years after we first discussed being married. Together, we've set up our home, traveled to Africa, and started our life together. I'm as happy now as I've ever been in my life.
Merci, mon dieu. Merci beaucoups.