Who is Babah Tarawally?
After fleeing Sierra Leone for the Netherlands 17 years ago and spending the first seven of those years filing an asylum application, Babah Tarawally began working for independent media outlets in Africa. Alongside this work, he contributes stories and columns to several newspapers. His novel De god met de blauwe ogen (‘The blue-eyed god’) was published in 2010 by KIT. Babah lives with his partner and two daughters in the Netherlands, though is currently working on a project in Sierra Leone.
In Africa, a man spending money on a woman is seen as noble. It is a way to show affection, to show you are a responsible man and a caring person. And in Africa we believe that the way we act towards one another should be of vital interest to us all.
By Babah Tarawally
When I was visiting Sierra Leone recently, a song promoting this principle topped the charts. Called ‘Chop my money’, it is sung by apparent big spenders, the Nigerian group P-Square. The lyrics invite girls to come “chop” – meaning spend or waste – their money because they have it “plenty”. I was in a pub when I first heard the song playing and, to my surprise, the ladies were inspired by – and adhering to – its call. Girls I had never met before approached, requesting that I buy them drinks. I marvelled at the ease with which they asked. Of course my recent life experiences made me hesitant.
In the Netherlands, I have had to learn to split the bill. Even if am taking a lady on a date, I can expect us to share its costs. In most cultures, this would not be seen as a positive thing because it implies that the guy is too cheap to pay for his date. For me, it is not a matter of being cheap. It serves as a courteous display, signalling that I guarantee the other individual’s independence in any future relationship.
But I was not like that when I first came here. Back home in Sierra Leone I was the guy who would take a lady out, pay her entrance to the club and buy her drinks throughout the night. All this, because I was confident that at the end of the evening, my generosity would be amorously appreciated.
With this in the back of my head, I once hit on a Dutch girl. She was not amused by my seemingly trying to “buy her over”. I was totally surprised by her reaction because I thought it was expected of me as a guy – a truly noble one at that – to pay the bill. After my encounter with this lady, other dates followed the same pattern.
Finally, I realized that when dealing with the Dutch, I should drop my noble cause. I have accepted that allowing the other to pay his or her own tab is what a responsible man does. In fact, going Dutch is caring in its own right.