It all started yesterday, under the mango tree.
Jack Johnson likes to sing about sitting under mango trees, but the cynic in me wonders if he’s ever actually done it.
However, this story is not about Jack Johnson. This story, I’m sorry to say, is about my derrière. [Badonkadonk, for the southern demographic.]
My derrière, and how I found myself sitting mortified under the mango tree, wondering why on earth I hadn’t decided to become a dentist instead.
You see, I hadn’t exactly planned on talking about my tookus. [Not that one is ever truly prepared for that sort of thing.] Yesterday afternoon, Michelle and I trudged through the blistering, African sand to campus to meet Miriam, Fatou and Coumba under the mango tree to talk about Jesus. Which, by the way, we did. However, the conversation took a startling turn for the worse when Miriam started talking about boys.
Miriam: Ashley, Senegalese men think you are very beautiful.
…well, bless. Merci, Miriam. That’s sweet.
Coumba: [chiming in happily] Oh yes, very beautiful! You look very, very nice to Senegalese men.
…okay, now I’m uncomfortable. I don’t want to look very very nice to Senegalese men. In fact, I go to great lengths to not look very very nice to Senegalese men. Or any man on this continent, for that matter. When was the last time I brushed my hair? Do I still own a hair brush? Is this real life? Help me, Rhonda.
Miriam: [Reassuringly] Yes, Senegalese men, they like you very much because you have a big down.
A big down. A big down. A big d…
I would later discover that “down” is Wolof for “hiney”.
And apparentment, I have a big one. Someone should have pried the hohos away from me back in November. Friends don’t let friends eat hohos!
Write that down.
Miriam: Senegalese men, they like big downs. And you, you have a nice, big down. It is bigger than all the other downs-it is bigger than Michelle’s down. Her down is good, but you have a very good down.
Michelle, mind you, was unsuccessfully trying to suppress raucous laughter whilst determining how long she could egg the girls on before I clobbered her with a chimichanga.
She has since been upgraded to a queen-sized bed, jacuzzi tub junior suite in hell.
Fatou seized the opportunity to render her opinion on the matter. “Oh yes, it is the Tiebou Dienne! [Senegalese rice and fish.] The rice gives you a big down.
Yes, Fatou. Your stupid rice in this stupid country has gone straight to my butt. Who moves to Africa and GAINS weight!?
And so there I sat, feeling for all the world like the pathetic “before” picture on a Jenny Craig commercial, surrounded by mountains of chocolate cupcakes and greasy fast food bags. Oblivious to my inner turmoil, the women regaled me with stories of why a behind like mine is a veritable gold mine in Senegal, while my flustered mind raced to determine how I could squeeze in a run before dinner time.
Because sadly, this wasn’t my first rodeo. On a sun-streaked afternoon last March, my friend Aida looked at me with an air of deceptive charm, and sweetly commented: “Ashley, you are très belle. You should enter the beauty pageant to become Miss Senegal!”
Be still my beating heart-it was the most precious thing I’d heard in a month of Sundays. Wildly amused, I fleetingly pictured a white girl running for Miss Senegal-but then quickly dismissed that particular entertaining mental picture.
Merci beacoup Aida, but I don’t think I can enter that pageant.
Aghast, she looked at me with all of the indignant fervor of tie-dyed hippie chained to a tree, and exclaimed, “Mais, Ashley, c’est absolutement parfait! It is for women with, how do you say, …big a**.”
[You’ll have to excuse Aida. She’s learned most of her English from MTV.]
And I died a thousand deaths.
Sometimes, Africa just kicks you when you’re down.
Or in the down.
I’m off to find a hoho.