Talking to Strangers: Holiday in Ghana
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
by Ruth Tam
What do you do for a living?
I teach French at a junior high school. I also am a sex-ed teacher for Planned Parenthood of Ghana, in Legon.
What's your relationship status?
I'm in a long-distance relationship. He's in the U.K. studying.
Do you see yourself being with this guy in the future?
I hope so. When you're in a relationship, you hope for the best. You have doubts. But in relationships, just like in life, anything is bound to happen. Once you're in one, you don't want to pray for the worst. You pray for the best.
How long have you been together?
How do you maintain a long distance relationship?
By emailing, calling, and such things. He comes once in a while. He was here for Christmas.
What's it like teaching sex-ed here?
It's so interesting. I've found that many of my peers in Ghana don't know much about sex education, and a lot of them feel uncomfortable when you talk to them about it. The males are better about it than females. Some people want to talk about it, but the way society is, people feel shy and they don't feel free to talk about sex. I've found that a lot of males don't even know how to put on condoms properly, and I have to teach them. The ladies should know too. Sometimes when I've talked to guys about sex ed and they find out I'm selling condoms, they're like, "Oh, what?" Meanwhile, they actually need a condom and some will come and buy them at night. They feel shy, so they come by late.
Why do you think Ghanaian women are more shy when talking about sex?
That's the way society is — our culture and our traditional beliefs. In Ghana, few parents talk to their children about sex.
Were you raised in a more open household, then?
No, never. I read about it in novels.
Like, romance novels?
I was curious.
How has your view on sex changed from when you first read about it to now?
I was so shy to talk about it, even with my close friends. Now, I realize that sex isn't anything bad. I think having the knowledge about it is better than not having it. Or someone will just mislead you. Now I can talk to anyone about it and not feel shy. I can gather a whole bunch of guys and talk about sex and they're all like, "Wow." I think it's 'cause of Planned Parenthood.
Do guys ever judge you for talking about sex?
Sometimes. When I first started talking to guys about the dangers of STDs and STIs, a lot of guys were like, "Oh." But they started to realize that there's more to it than they thought. So a lot of guys have sought me out to talk about it. If you don't know something, you feel shy.
Who gives you sex advice?
Most of it I learn from books and other media.
What's the funniest question someone's asked you about sex?
Some guys ask me "How?"
As in, how to have sex?
Yes. I tell them sex is nice — it's a good thing. But you have to do it at the right time, the right place, and with the right person. And I'll tell them now is not the right time. Sex is something that both partners should enjoy. Some guys will be like, "No!" But sex is for women, too.
Are you yourself ready for sex?
That's a difficult question. Because I have many things to think about. But when I'm sure I'm ready for the consequences, then I'll be ready.
So you give sex advice but you've never had sex before?
Yes. I encourage abstinence. But if someone doesn't follow that, I educate them on STDs, STIs, and protection.
So when your boyfriend visited over Christmas, he didn't get any?
No! I can only give him a kiss! You see, the way we look at sex is very different from the way Western countries look at it.
What do you do?
I am the director of the Dagbe Cultural Center and Arts Center in Denu. I am also a poultry farmer and a businessman.
How did you meet your wife?
At my dad's funeral. My dad taught dance groups all around Ghana and he had groups in Ho. So when my dad died, the groups from Ho came for the burial. My wife was pointed out by one of my dad's good friends.
Is a funeral a good place to meet somebody?
Yeah. Wherever there are good things, there are bad things. Wherever there are bad things, there are good things. When we have a funeral, it doesn't mean death is a curse. We believe that the dead bury the dead and people should continue with life. At a funeral, you can find someone to continue life with.
How do Ghanaians propose? And how did you propose?
It's very simple. In the olden times, there were no relationships before marriage.
You could just go from single to married?
Yeah. You see this woman and you're like, "Wow, I like the way she does," and you have to go tell your parents. Then your parents research the girl — the girl herself, the girl's background, the girl's family. Do they have madness in their family? Diseases? Witches? I mean, there's a whole lot of research. If they like what they see, they ask you if you really like her and if you're ready to marry. As time goes on, you can tell the girl, "Tell your people to come see my people." Then the parents will talk and the girl will prepare to become a wife and learn the responsibilities. Then, we pour libation and pray, and the girl's things are packed and sent to the man's house.
Is that what it's like now?
No. Now if I see you, I'm just like, "Hey, what's up, man?" Yeah, it doesn't even matter if she's a witch or not. It's like, all about the shape — guys from here like big butts. They just go in and propose. There are two different ways to propose. I'm bad at it; I'm very shy.
Only two methods of proposal? Show me both.
The people who aren't shy see you right away and they're like, "Hi! My name is Emmanuel, what's your name? So where do you come from? Do you stay around this area? I'd love to meet you again, 'cause I've got a crush on you. What do you think? What do you say? We're like, meant for one another." It starts just like that! Some guys are very strong and very professional in it.
They're pickup artists.
They can win girls' hearts in one day and they can, excuse my saying, have sex the same day.
Yeah! Sometimes, the main goal is not even marriage, but they just want to use you. It depends, but these days it's rough. The other kind of proposal, the one I did, starts with admiring someone from afar. Like, "Wow, she's beautiful. But I won't tell her."
I noticed you're not wearing a wedding ring. Why?
I had a traditional Ghanaian marriage ceremony, so I don't wear a wedding ring. If I had a wedding, I would be wearing a ring. In our culture, a man can get married to more than one woman. That's what a traditional Ghanaian marriage ceremony allows. If you have the ability to take care of more than one wife, fine. Once you have a wedding, though, you wear a ring and there's no way you can enter a marriage with more than one woman unless you get a divorce.
Are polygamous relationships common?
They're not common, but sometimes that's better than having a wedding and being with only one person. Divorce is more popular now.
Do you have a second wife?
Yeah. I met her when she was young and I saw a future with her. I talked to her mother and we worked something out. I supported them and paid for her education until she was about twenty-one or twenty-two. We got married. Now, she's with us fully.
What's the age difference between you two?
Twelve years. We met when I was twenty-four. Her mother and I talked about it in the family way and everyone accepted it. But we didn't tell her because she was only twelve. I told her when she was fourteen or fifteen.
How did she take the news?
She loved it, but being a woman, she had to pretend a little bit. There's a saying in our language, "Myunu me lorna ngorgbui nyaoh," which means a woman shouldn't accept the first word from a man.
How did you tell your first wife that you were getting married again?
Well, I informed her before the marriage. I didn't want to make her feel bad. I did it for our future. It's not only for me, but for her and our whole family. Our business.
How do you make time for both wives?
You see, naturally, Africans — especially the Ewes — we are born into that. We have that lifestyle in us already. We understand it somehow. It's the man's responsibility to make sure jealousy doesn't come. So I respect my first wife as the oldest wife. I made a house for her. And I don't take problems back and forth between houses.
Are they friends?
Yeah. They talk. Sometimes there are misunderstandings, but we solve it. I'll talk to them separately. And then they understand separately and then talk together in a group.
How many nights a week will you spend with each wife?
Some people split it up on calendar days. We don't do it that way, though. We're flexible. It's a lot of work, though. For a man.
What do you do?
I'm a waitress.
What's your relationship status?
I started dating when I was nineteen. I'm in a fresh relationship now.
How long have you been together?
Only four months. He's from England, so he comes and goes. He's in Accra now, though. But I see him on my day off, Tuesdays.
How did you guys meet?
At Big Milly's in Kokrobite, where I work. We met at reggae night.
Did he approach you?
When I first saw him, I liked him. He was my type of guy. But I didn't know how to approach him. I was shy. For two or three weeks, he would come here, but I never spoke to him. One time, I came to culture night and we were looking at each other from the back. Then he went to the beach and I followed him. He approached me.
What impressed you about him?
Everything. The way he talks, walks. And he's a footballer. I like athletes.
Do you normally hit on people while you're working?
No, no. I just let them pass and go. Unless I really want to get to know you. When I first started working here, a lot of people were asking me out. But you don't need to say yes all the time, because if you do, it might spoil your reputation.
So you could get a lot of dates working here, but you choose not to.
I did it just this one time, because I liked him.
He was the exception.
Yeah. His dad is Ghanaian, so he's staying with his dad now. He's leaving in January, but he'll back soon to work in Accra in four months.
Are you upset?
Yes, but I have to live with it. I've dated long-distance before, and it didn't work because it was for too long and he never called. But this guy texts me every five seconds.
That's not annoying?
I'm really interested in him, so it doesn't bother me.
How do you make it special when you only see him once a week?
We go to places where it's just us and we can be alone.
What's the nicest thing he's done for you?
Kisses. He's the romantic type. Every five seconds. I've never had a guy like that. The only thing I don't like is when there are a lot of other people around. He doesn't really care.
When you're alone, will you let him go farther?
What's your craziest hookup story?
It hasn't happened yet with this guy. But once, with my ex, we were outside my house and my dad was inside.
So you were doing it in front of your dad's house?
Yes, and if he were to come out, I would've been in big shit. That was the craziest thing. I knew he was inside, but I did it anyway. He still doesn't know. Anytime I pass by the gate, I remember that.
Would you ever do it on the beach at Kokrobite?
Maybe. It's all about feelings. When you're next to a guy and those feelings come up, there's no stopping it. If he's walking and he gets stiff, I'm not going to try to bring him inside.