Michael, 25

What do you do?
I'm a graduate student in classics and a basic school teacher. I also write about Christianity. I've published a book, Are You Cold, Lukewarm, Or Hot? It's about commitment to God.

Busy guy! What's your relationship status?
I'm in a very committed relationship. We plan on getting married in three or four years.

How did you meet?
I first met my girlfriend in October 2009. I was fulfilling my national service by working at the University of Ghana's classics department. I was in my office when she came in to collect her interim assessment script. When she entered, I just had this feeling. I don't know where it came from. There have been occasions where I've met people and I've had those feelings. Normally, I'll try to talk to those people.

Did you have a line?
She said she was coming for her script, so I told her I hoped she had done well. But she didn't want to talk. I tried to ask her her name and she said, "Why do you want to know my name?" I was like, "Oh, I'm just trying to get to know you." I told her anytime she has a problem in Classics, she could stop by and I'd help her. The next day, I was going to visit one of my uncles in the political-science department. I heard someone call my name — "Michael!" I saw this smiling face, and it was her.

Well, that's adorable. What's your technique usually?
I always initiate and then I sit back. That's the advice I normally give to other gentlemen. When you make the lady feel like you can't live without her, then she gets the upper hand.

So do you think you have the upper hand?
That's not actually my idea of a good relationship. It's not about having the upper hand. It's about respecting each other and about seeking the welfare of each other. It's not about being bossy because you're a man. Just loving each other.

Have you proposed yet?
In our culture, we have two stages of proposal. The first one is where you make you intentions known to the lady. Both of you need to know where you're taking the relationship to. Are you in a relationship just to fill up time while you're here in school? Or, are you in a relationship so that both of you can know yourself better and get married and have children and have a family? We decided on the second one, to have a family and a future. The second stage comes when you are now really prepared, and that's where you propose and you go and see each other's families. We have a traditional marriage and then a church marriage. The traditional marriage is still very important. Without it, you won't be ready for your church marriage.

What characterizes a traditional marriage?
Now we're talking about "bride price." When you take a girl out of her family, that means her family loses the services she was rendering to her parents. So you need to pay something.

Like a dowry?
Yes, but it's the man who pays it to the family.

Do you have any idea what your fiancé's family will request from you?
Generally, families will request clothes, textiles or prints. Sometimes luggage. Family stuffs like cooking utensils or toiletries. They will list the items. It's negotiable, though.

In the Western world, bride prices are associated with objectifying women.
Some husbands see it like that, and that's a problem with Ghanaian marriage. Some Ghanaian men assume that just because they've paid the price, their wives are their total property, and they treat them like that. That isn't the essence of the bride price. The meaning is that you are taking the daughter of a man away. The father will miss her, the mother will miss her. The daughter probably cooked for them, helped them take care of the house. Now that she is gone, the family will have to go outside their house to find someone to do those things. So by giving the bride price, you're just trying to help fill that space that has been left by your wife.

Why is it paying the bride's family? How come the woman never has to give anything to the husband's side of the family?
Because the woman will continue the line. Ghanaian society is matrilineal. It's the woman who carries your family, so she has that power. You need to give her that needed respect. And in Ghanaian society, that respect is manifested through the bride price. If there's a divorce, the family would have to give the bride price back.

How did you know when you were ready for marriage?
Well, I wish I were ready now. Why waste time?

So you're talking about your finances.
In my case, the main obstacle is that I'm not financially ready. I'm a graduate student and I have one dependent, my sister. My mother is deceased and my father has been jobless since 1998. He had a stroke and he just recovered. I'm the first born and I have responsibility over three siblings, mostly my sister. I look after her and pay my own fees. The burden is a lot on me. Marrying at this time wouldn't be good because I have to consider her, my wife, and the children we plan on having. I'm not prepared financially. But emotionally? In maturity? In physical features, everything is developed! So I'm ready in that sense.

Keith, 30

What do you do?
I'm an American student studying abroad for a year.

What's your relationship status?
I guess you could say it's complicated.

Story of my life. What are you usually attracted to?
My grandmother says I'm attracted to "crazy," which I've learned over time is true. I don't want to sound like a complete romantic, but people's inner beauty is really important to me.

How do you define "inner beauty?"
There are people who are counter-dependent, co-dependent, and dependent. When I meet people who are extremely self-absorbed, it turns me off. I'm a codependent myself, so if people have other codependent tendencies, I'm definitely more attracted to that. I've been in relationships with dependents and that's bad. Give, give, give, take, take, take, and then you burn out.

But you said you used to be attracted to crazy. Who's the craziest person you've been with?
I dated a Swedish girl, and she was straight-up mental. Very, very dependent individual. She tried to commit suicide four times. I spent a lot of time mopping up blood off the floor. I moved with her to Sweden in 2008. Her family met me at the airport and told me to get lost and find a hotel. Apparently, she had told them that I was stealing money from her and holding her passport ransom. Not true at all. It was at the visa office being processed. I ended up couch-hopping for four months with what limited friends I had in Sweden. Oh, and I became an au pair.

Were you still with her this whole time?
Well, I found out she was seeing two other guys besides me. And one of them flew to Finland, and she met up with him there while I was still in Sweden.

Good lord. How did you get a job as an au pair?
That was my own little revenge. Her older sister, the family member who told me to get lost and die, had a partner named Petrus. They were in some kind of domestic partnership. He thought I was a cool guy, so he let me live in their basement and gave me a job watching their son.

Wait a second; you became the au pair for your ex's nephew?
Yeah. And man, did it piss her off!

Nice. I notice you're wearing a ring on your wedding finger. Mind explaining?
Oh, you get to hear my depressing story. I met this perfect girl and it was probably the most idealistic relationship I've ever had. Before we started dating, I knew she was going into the Peace Corps, so it was going to be temporary — not even a year. Anyway, before she left, I gave her a ring. A promise ring. I tried to be really sentimental and romantic about it. There were two open hearts that made the infinity symbol. Two days later, she dumped me.

Did she give back the promise ring?
No, she kept it. And then she wrote me a three-page letter saying how I was a bad person. But it was really shallow shit, like "Oh, you're no longer funny," and "I don't find our relationship stimulating anymore," and "I don't think you got along with my brother." 

What's the deal with your ring, then?
Well, the breakup was a really painful experience for me. The hammer of life came down on me and I ended up in a mental hospital. And when I got out, I was talking to my counselor and we had this idea that I would wear a ring to keep myself celibate for a while. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't see anyone for six months. The ring kept women away and it served as a reminder to me. But whenever I told other guys about it, they'd be like, "No, man. Girls are looking for married guys!" Too bad I haven't encountered any of those girls.

How did it go?
It was supposed to be six months, but it ended up being eighteen months. I was happy and healthy, so I took the ring off. But while I was packing for Ghana, my sister's like, "You know what? You need to bring that ring. Avoid girls."

Why did you extend your six-month commitment to eighteen months?
In my support group, there was this girl who knew about the ring. And she waited exactly six months for me. It was kind of fun having a stalker. Someone a little emotionally damaged. She was already crazy and bipolar. She was the complete opposite of me. Tattoos, piercings, death metal. I'm a bon vivant; I like to experience life and all its lovely things. So when she approached me, I was like, "Yeah, fuck it. Why not? A new experience!" That was a bad idea.

So, hold the phone, a depression support group isn't a good place to meet people?
Definitely don't use it as a dating service. I put the ring back on after that.

What's your craziest hook-up story?
I don't even know the difference between crazy and normal at this point. When I was in my twenties, I went through this "whoring myself out" phase. And, uh, there was this African-American girl. And she just sent me these crazy-ass texts. One of them was like, "I'm in the shower. Come join me." And I'm like, "Okay!" I had never even met her or talked to her.

So she texted you the address and you met her there and joined her in the shower?
Yeah, first and last time meeting her.

Was it any good?
Yeah, but it's bad because it's insanely awkward afterwards. Having to be like, "Oh, who are you? Where are you from?" Those personal questions always kind of odd. You know, when you said you were going to ask me personal questions, I thought they'd be more scandalous.

Like what?
Like if I have any ethnocentric tendencies.

Well... do you?
No, I've hooked up with every ethnicity besides Asian. I think it's because my aunt is from Beijing and when I see an Asian woman, I think of her as family.

So you don't think that of white women?
No, I have no respect for white people.

Jina, 29

What do you for a living?
I'm a waitress.

What's your relationship status?
Married with children. The first one is four-years old and the second is one-and-a-half.

How did you meet your husband?
We met in Kumasi. But we're not legally married. There's this distance between me and him. We have a problem between us actually, and now we're solving the problem.

Oh, so you're taking a break. What attracted you to him initially?
He's a really nice guy, really good in... everything. If I ask him for anything, he'll give it to me.

So you two weren't married when you had kids. When you found out you were pregnant, how did you tell him?
It was difficult for me. But when I told him, he said I was his wife. And he knew my parents and I knew his parents and it was okay.

What's the most romantic thing he's done for you?
He built a house for me, where I stay now. But I came here to Kokrobite to work so I don't have to think about what happened. If I were in Kumasi, then I'd just sit there and think and think about it.

Think about what?
There is a problem between me and him. He's a chief and I'm his second wife. His wife and I don't get along. So I'm here. If we solve that problem, then I'll go back and see him. He's living in Kumasi and I live here with our children. He comes and visits every two weeks.

Are you happy with that set up?
No, I'm not happy. I'm thinking about what I can do. But I still love my husband.

You love him enough to take the second place?
Yes. Because of my kids.

How do you get involved with someone who's already married?
At first, I didn't know anything about her. But before I had our second child, he told me.

Wow — he waited that long? Were you mad?
Well, he said he loved me and didn't want to tell me because he didn't want to lose me. I was mad.

Does he make time for his kids?
Yes. He takes care of them. Schooling, everything.

But you're still with him. How do you stay in love with someone who's already with someone else?
You understand each other.

The first wife is a nasty lady?
I hate her. She hates me, so I hate her.

Want to talk to strangers in your town? Email submissions@nerve.com.

Commentarium (57 Comments)

Jan 26 12 - 2:23am

Michael seems like a top lad

Jan 26 12 - 2:44am

I love Yvonne. she's so sweet!

Jan 26 12 - 3:38am
One Flew Over

Wow. Keith. Just... wow.

Jan 26 12 - 5:40am
Lorenzo Valdez.

I've been to Africa. many times, the people are wonderful, warm and friendly, let me first say that. When coming to personal matters though i think they do it a little different from people in the west, as culture and corcumstance lend to different liberties and precautions.


Jan 27 12 - 8:45pm

yeah because Africa is one country?? douche

Jan 26 12 - 6:53am

This might be my favourite talking to strangers ever.... more of this please!

Jan 26 12 - 2:06pm

international talking to strangers. this is awesome. i feel like i'm actually learning something.

Jan 26 12 - 2:22pm

Agreed, best one so far.

Jan 26 12 - 7:51am

Keith is the best hot mess we have seen in a while. Brava!

Jan 27 12 - 6:26pm

i like keith being so candid about the hot mess that he is. you can do it keith!

Jan 26 12 - 9:33am

I love this quote from Emmanuel,

"Do they have madness in their family?"

I bet you wont hear that from any marriage counselors here in the States!! Should be a required question before any marriage!!

Jan 26 12 - 5:41pm

Soo true!

Jan 26 12 - 7:55pm

or witches.

Jan 26 12 - 8:54pm

questions relating to epilepsy,witchcraft,crime,infertility etc are asked of as these are considered to bring shame to the family.

Jan 28 12 - 6:27pm
Scott M.

I am reminded of the musical Brigadoon. In our culture, we spell that a little differently.

Jan 26 12 - 10:54am

This is so interesting! A Mini Ethnography! I'd love to see more TTS like this.

Jan 26 12 - 11:41am

This one was simply awesome!

Jan 26 12 - 12:14pm

Thanks for something interesting and very different. I enjoyed this piece a great deal.

Jan 26 12 - 12:49pm

Awesome. Michael is amazing!

Jan 26 12 - 1:31pm

The best "talking to strangers" ever

Jan 26 12 - 1:57pm

i call bullshit everything that crazy dude ketih said

Jan 26 12 - 6:30pm

You'd be surprised, HUH. Don't be so quick to call B.S. on someone's social-massacre story; some of them are really screwed up, but true...

Jan 30 12 - 7:36pm

you might not like to hear it but the truth is you should assume anything anyone who spent time in mental hospitals for "relationship" issues say to be absolute bullshit until proven otherwise... unless you know the person really well. I wish it wasnt like this but it really is. Some people are borderline crazy and those around never really notice it until something makes them explode. On top of that, white guy studying in africa, feels to need to point out his racial history even thought he wasnt asked and out of the blue takes a piss on his own heritage... that's the kind of guy who will lie through and through in and interview like this, about everything

Aug 29 12 - 11:41pm

you guys are so quick to judge! it's so sad. 1. you get one someone for sharing. if only we could all be so comfortable with sharing our feelings. 2. he didn't write it so therefore you do not know how accurate it is. 3. you assume his comments about white people was real. ever heard of sarcasim?

Jan 26 12 - 2:10pm

Best Talking to Strangers ever!

Jan 26 12 - 2:20pm

best talking to strangers ever!! i <3 michael

Jan 26 12 - 4:50pm

Favorite line: "It doesn't even matter if she's a witch or not."

Jan 26 12 - 6:22pm

I wonder if he meant witch as in magic or witch as in the local colloquialism for bee-yotch.

Jan 26 12 - 8:50pm

as in black magic. we believe in witches and no one wants to get married to one.

Jan 26 12 - 5:10pm

Yes, this whole TTS was awesome! Michael & Keith especially. Great stuff.

Jan 26 12 - 5:12pm

Kape doesn't look 28. Not nearly.

Jan 26 12 - 8:08pm

Agree with many of the other commenters, it was refreshing to see something different and to get some perspective into how people around the world (specifically in a significantly different culture) approach sex, dating, and relationships. Thanks for this one, Nerve!

Jan 26 12 - 8:40pm

Most Ghanaians would never not freely open up their love lives so i'm wondering if Ruth drugged them. hitherto, i only know the abridged love life of my parents. its nerve racking how kape happens to teach people the 'hows' of sex when she herself is a virgin plus am i the only one who thinks jina was in her relationship for the money? keith makes my love life seem like a fairy tale.
Kudos nerve. Kudos Ruth tam for letting us have a glimpse into a hidden world.

Jan 26 12 - 10:28pm

Keith is off his head!

Great TWS though!

Jan 27 12 - 12:50am
hearts and darts

As someone who grew up in West Africa, I've got to say I love this tts. And the two wives things, spot on - polygamous marriage causes sooo much drama there. I couldn't believe the first guy's two wives got along. The more common story is Jina's - the wives fucking hate each other. The first wife is always slighted because her husband takes a younger girl (and if he's rich, another younger girl a few years after, another a few years after that...) all the marital 'visits' i.e. which wife's house he is spending the night at, are known to everyone because they often live just across the courtyard from each other. The younger wife often gets more attention, yet the first wife is the most powerful and can make life a living hell for all involved.

The jails are full of spurned wives who poisoned rival wives, hexed them...

Jan 27 12 - 1:30am

Michael sounds great! Keith on the other hand...not so much.

Jan 27 12 - 1:43am

I was about to give up on this feature because the string of endless New Yorkers is boring, and then this came along. I loved that you did an international piece and didn't just interview backpackers! Please do more of this if possible, it's great.

I lived in a country where multiple wives were common, and I second the big drama comment. I could never do it, and deal with the bickering and backstabbing I saw in most of those arrangements. Highly mature people can make it work, but there seems to be an inherent inequality in the situation and most of the wives end up hating each other.

And umm, Keith...you're not just attracted to crazy, you ARE crazy. It's all good though.

Jan 27 12 - 2:52am

As an African who reads TTS religiously, this made me very happy

Jan 27 12 - 10:18am

Yep. Hands-down the most engaging, insightful and kinda daring thing I've read here (or elsewhere) in a long damn time. Kudos, Ruth.

Jan 27 12 - 11:21am

Oh please TTS, come to Kenya?

Jan 27 12 - 4:44pm

Michael is awesome, I wish him to reach a large audience with his book even though I'm not christian

Jan 27 12 - 5:32pm

Fantastic TTS

Jan 27 12 - 10:14pm

"I have no respect for white people."

Keith, honey, you are a white person.

Jan 27 12 - 11:54pm

Wow, these people are lovely. Well, I only read Kape and Michael's, but they are lovely.

Jan 28 12 - 10:43pm

Beautiful ladies, all, but soooo glad I live in California.

Jan 28 12 - 11:57pm

Weird comment..?

Jan 29 12 - 4:12am

No, idiot comment.

Jan 29 12 - 4:27am

Best talking to strangers ever. I've been reading this many people here and it was a surprise to see the caption, talking to strangers Ghana.
I've been away from home a while and really enjoyed reading this .
Kudos to whoever is responsible for bringing this.....

Jan 30 12 - 7:39pm

Great work here, you finally got this piece right. A lot of trash had been made here with the exception of the seattle ones here and there. Stay away from america for a while, you've covered it enough aye.

Feb 01 12 - 8:45pm

Yvonne, who describes her love affairs in a way that indicates she is a free person, and Kape, who through sex education makes Yvonne's life style possible, are social revolutionaries. I'm going to send 3 $100 checks to Planned Parenthood: one for reading about Kape, one to honor Colbert's destruction of John Kyl's "factuals", and one in reaction to the ridiculous cut-off of funding by that foundation for breast cancer prevention. I have no affiliation with Planned Parenthood, but what kind of a world do I want to live in?

Feb 03 12 - 7:26pm
Al Dente

Bravo! Good edition! Differences and similarities between Western & Ghanaian cultural values are astounding and interesting!

Feb 08 12 - 1:40am

Weighing in a bit late here, but I really enjoyed this. One of the most informative and fascinating in the series.

Feb 08 12 - 3:59am

Keith is freek'en strange and not in a good way! Love YVonne on the other hand

Feb 29 12 - 4:52am

I love these! They need to do more international talking to strangers, this was a very interesting insight into a culture people don't know a lot about.

I'd like to see some for Japan and Egypt, that would be interesting.

Mar 18 12 - 6:23pm

Figures that the one who comes off like the biggest piece of shit is the white guy studying abroad.

"I figured you'd ask me if I had any ethnocentric tendencies."
"Well, do yo-"
"Absolutely not! I sleep with all kinds of different races!"

Seriously, Jesus Christ.

Jun 25 12 - 11:27am

This is really cool. I'm Ghanaian and I loved this!

Aug 29 12 - 10:50pm

Holy shit Ruth, that article got a bit twisted. I had someone from Spring Semester send me this article after googling "Ghana Holiday" and wrote me to say they found me on the internet. And yeah, I agree with most of the comments on here about me, that article was pretty brutal and even I would say I am insane after reading what was written. Shocking, misquoted, out of context, etc, but makes for a great read! Thank you again for meeting up with me, though more accuracy and use of better judgement would have been appreciated. The embellishments made me cringe, but c'est la vie.