SPOILER ALERT: This is probably not the most "politically correct" blog posting you have ever read - so be forewarned.
I have not always been bothered by polygamy. Growing up as a child in Africa, it seemed "normal" - at least for our national friends - and from my view as a little girl. I never really gave it much thought. This is chief so-and-so and his four wives.... OK, whatever. Even as a teenager who was slightly more aware of the world outside the US than her friends, it seemed like it was just an accepted way of life.
Then I got married - and occasionally I would read or think about polygamy and think - I can't imagine. But beyond that, I didn't really give it much thought.
Then I moved to Africa, and I saw it face to face - and I understood it in a different light - at least understood it to the best of my ability as a bystander and observer and I see a different side. It isn't just a cultural norm - a way of doing things - an accepted path in this part of the world. It is painful and heartbreaking and it nearly kills me.
On the surface, of course, things can seem ok. It can even seem good sometimes - for a woman whose husband has died - and needs someone to care for her and her family. Women alone in this culture have no standing - and like it or not, they need to be associated with a man for protection, and provision. But there must be another way. Certainly, there are unmarried men around who are looking for a wife.
I talk to the men - they tell me that it is ok... that the women like it ......that the women need each other to help each other with chores.....that it shares the work load.......that if your father had more than one wife, then you will too..... no problem - they say.
And then I watch the women interacting and I hear them talking - I see the glances and I hear the whispers and I see them taking note of the gifts their husband gives the other wife or wives.....I hear them taking note of their co-wife entering their husband's hut at night. I see the pain in their eyes and I hear it in their voices. I don't care what culture you are in - I believe that God created women with a desire to be first in their husband's heart and mind - an IMPOSSIBILITY with polygamy.
I know what the women say with their mouths - Well, if my husband wants another wife, that is his decision. I am fine with it. He has already decided. But when pressed, and in the quiet where no one else can hear - they confess - NO, I don't want him to take another wife. But what can I do?
We are currently dealing with a couple who are good friends of ours. He has had 4 wives total - 2 have died, 2 are still living. At most times, he has had 2 at a time. Most recently, an older widow in the village said that she wanted him to take her as a wife. So he arranged it and then went to his wife - my friend - and said - this woman wants me to take her as a second wife - you ok with that?
Apparently, my friend K said yes. So he did too.
K is heart broken...and angry. She said - I am the old thing - now he has a new wife.
I was confused. I said - I thought you agreed with it.
Her response - Listen, by the time he came to me, he had already made up his mind. If I said no, it would shame him in the village. He should have known I didn't want it.
So we sat down with the husband S and we asked him what happened. I said to him - You have always said that 2 wives are hard - there is always fighting. What happened?
His response - well, now when K is gone for a few days to another village, someone can cook for me and she doesn't have to worry about it. It can help her. Plus, I asked her permission and she said yes. It is all ok - I took an older woman as a new wife - not a young teenager. That would have caused problems. But this is ok.
I was speechless - I wanted to ask what color the sky was in his pretend world where everything was ok. Is he really that clueless and out of touch? Actually, he probably is - it is not typical here to consider how a woman feels about things. The fact that he even asked his wife K is unusual.
So here we are - stuck between a wife who was unable to say how she really felt - and a husband who was unable (like most men) to read his wife's mind and who grew up with the misperception that women were ok with polygamy - that in fact, it was a good thing for them.
And I can't even touch on the issues of STD's that occur here.
(I realize that it is not just here......women in other countries suffer with polygamy - or, as in the US, serial polygamy - where a man marries and divorces and remarries and divorces.)
And so I sit watching the whole thing from the sidelines - hurting and wanting to fix it all.
I want to shake the men and say - GET A CLUE! This is not a gift to your wife. She wants to be first and ONLY in your life.
And I want to shake the women and say - STAND UP AND TELL THE TRUTH! Help them to see and understand.
But I know it isnt simple - it will take generations. I do what I can - I speak truth to the men on behalf of the women. And I talk about my husband and my marriage - how thankful I am that Jim honors me as his only wife. And I pray that the tradition changes.......