Waiting for the men by Ndiaye, Katy Lena
Oualata, a red city on the far edge of the Sahara desert. In this haven, frail rampart against the sand, three women practice traditional painting, they decorate the walls of the city. In a society apparently dominated by tradition, religion and men, these women unreservedly express themselves. They comment freely on the relationship between men and women. In the red city of Oulata, on the far edge of the Sahara desert, an alien world exists. Men travel long distances for work and are away for months. But three women refuse to let their lives stop whilst the men are away. They paint beautiful patterns on the city walls, play games and speak refreshingly about what it means to be women waiting for men. Theirs is a magical world, breaking many of the stereotypes we associate with the region. Beautiful and haunting, like the vast desert that is their home. â€˜There is the bride, the book, the shouldersâ€™ - nicknames for the women sitting together in the moonlight, their white voiles flying up against the cityâ€™s red walls. â€˜When I want my husband I press him up against meâ€™, gossips Khady. She speaks of her fifth husband and Cheichs giggles in embarrassment. â€˜In our culture itâ€™s forbidden to express intimate thingsâ€™ Cheich says. She sees waiting for her husband as a sign of a womanâ€™s strength. But Massouda is content to be single after two failed marriages. â€˜Now that Iâ€™m divorced, my body is mine to do with what I pleaseâ€™. â€˜You look anxious. You must be thinking of him, a woman asks Khady. â€˜Itâ€™s been a month and a half since heâ€™s been backâ€™ Khady admits. She takes her mind off Mohammed by preparing for his home-coming. Henna patterns decorate her delicate fingers, whilst Massoudaâ€™s fingers etch equally intricate designs on the city walls. Women hoping to impress their husbands pay Massouda for this artwork that she puts her heart into, communicating the love that Cheichs would never speak of, in each one. â€˜Thereâ€™s a lot of decency in these paintingsâ€™ Massouda says proudly. The paintings divert the womensâ€™ minds from many things. Khady sometimes fears the man she loves so much will not return. â€˜My third husband promised me he would come backâ€™ she remembers, â€˜he never didâ€™. Whilst for Cheichs the threat of adultery is a womanâ€™s daily weight. â€˜If he stops giving me pleasure, there is no trust any moreâ€™. Massouda has a very different dependence on the paintings. They free her from the fraught experience of waiting for a man. â€˜Itâ€™s thanks to them that Iâ€™'m independent. Even alone I can provide for my own needsâ€™. Cheichs disapproves of Massoudaâ€™s work but whilst her husband is away, she cherishes quiet dreams about becoming a successful businesswoman. â€˜I dream about making a fortuneâ€™ she smiles in a rare moment of abandonâ€¦ Then one day, quite suddenly, the men have returned. â€˜Take some tea and come closerâ€™ Khady says playfully, trying to contain her excitement. â€˜Sheâ€™s not a womanâ€™ Cheichs says of the childless Khady, â€˜my husband has brought back enough and he has given me children- what more is there?â€™ With the men home, Massouda no longer has a market for her painting. â€˜Iâ€™'m not the patient type, with men who are not seriousâ€™ she smiles with sadness in her eyes, â€˜could you declare your love to a manâ€™s face?â€™ An often surprising and always spellbinding documentary, which takes a fresh look at female empowerment in one of Africaâ€™s most remote regions.