Thursday, August 12, 2010

Got to Have Faith: A Story About a Girl and a Ghanaian Boy…

Marriage proposals are timeless romantic vignettes that all girls, no matter where you fall on the romantic continuum, tell with a blushing smile. On my 68th day in Ghana, just two days before I had to reluctantly step onto a plane back to the US, I received my last ill-fated Ghanaian proposal.

I was briskly walking out of the Clinical Students’ Hostel on a mission to find a Ghana Black Stars Eissen soccer jersey that would fit me rather than swallow me whole in its size. The sun was particularly vicious that mid-afternoon, so I had my hair pulled into a messy bun and was unashamedly wearing my oversized sunglasses. I knew exactly where I had to go: the soccer jersey stand directly across from the National Cultural Center. It had rained the previous day, so the nice gentleman selling jerseys did not set up shop. This was my last night in Kumasi, so I was holding my breath that he’d be there sitting among his cornucopia of multi-colored jerseys.

Just as I a turned the corner to walk down a relatively steep road nearly tripping on my AADT yoga pants that I’ve neglected to hem, I see a brawny Ghanaian step out of his parked car. With over 60 days of Ghanaian experience, I knew that I had no choice but to spend at least 5 minutes making small talk with this gentleman since my path would pass right by his car. “εte sεn?” he says. “εyε” I reply, “How are you?”

After exchanging the ubiquitously used greetings, he wastes no time to ask where I’m from and where I’m going. It turns out that he is a lab technician who works at the teaching hospital. If I wasn’t in a rush to find my elusive soccer jersey, I probably would have slipped into what I’m sure the Ghanaians think is annoying when I ask unending questions—it would have been a golden opportunity to find out more about the lab facilities at the teaching hospital. As I was explaining that I was here in Ghana doing research, my new Ghanaian friend adeptly transitions into a Ghanaian suitor as he interjects comments and questions like, “I’ve seen you around the hospital”, “You must be as smart as you are pretty”, “Do you have a boyfriend?”, “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?", and “I like watching you.”

He then asked with a smile one of the most common questions I have received in Ghana, “Are you a Christian?” Religion does not play a very large role in my life, if at all. Consequently, I was not prepared for the religious fervor in Ghana. Nearly everyone in the southern half of Ghana is Christian, while the north is predominantly Muslim. Although I don’t subscribe to a particular religious faith, I sometimes believe that some sort of organic higher power exists--the spirits of my ancestors, Mother Earth, Father Time, I’m not sure what to call it and this ambiguity has never been a concern of mine. Because Christianity and Islam dominate the spirituality of the Ghanaians and few, if any, are non-religious heathens like myself, most Ghanaians don’t understand my stance on faith.

To truly immerse myself in Ghanaian culture, I’ve made an effort to understand religion in Ghana. During my stay here in Ghana, I have had the fortune and pleasure of attending several different Sunday church services with colleagues and on health fair trips with the medical students. Attending church in Ghana is an indescribable experience that I highly recommend to visitors. If you thought Southern Baptist church services were high energy, just wait till you walk into a church that can seat more people than a high school football stadium with large movie screens on all sides of the room projecting the word of God. Every church service I have attended has not only a church choir with record-label worthy leads, but also a complete band including guitar, bass, piano, and drums. I couldn’t help but stand up and clap my hands with the church in enthusiasm for the dramatic performances. What was more impressive than the musical spectacle was watching each and every church attendant’s public display of their deep personal relationship with their faith. The word passion came to mind as I watched people raise their hands in the air to praise God, squeeze their hands tightly to their chests as if trying to pour out their love directly from their hearts, and simply look up with their eyes closed enveloped in serenity.

My exposure to the Muslim population of Ghana has been limited to my few excursions to the north where I’ve seen the oldest mosque in West Africa at Larabanga and several other beautiful mosques dotting the roads. At sundown, around 6PM, it is not uncommon to see mosques and other community centers filled with people praying on oriental rugs. My flatmate, Shy, is Muslim and I think he has been warmly welcomed by the Muslim community here in Ghana.

Unlike some of the previous suitors, my answer of “no” to the question, “Are you a Christian?” did not deter him. The persistent Ghanaian lab technician then asked if I was Muslim. My confidence that our conversation would end with my answer of “no” was shattered when he laughed and said that it was not possible for me to be neither Christian nor Muslim. Time was ticking and the image of my jersey vendor packing up his shop flashed violently in my head like a pulsating aneurysm ready to rupture. It was time for me to whip out my impatient American attitude. Even though we have no established relationship, it was time for me to dump my Ghanaian suitor.
    “I’m sorry for cutting this conversation short, but I really need to go. You are a very nice guy, but today is my last night in Kumasi and I have a lot of things to do in town before the sun goes down…”
Just as I was about to say, “It was nice meeting you,” he swiftly and smoothly interrupts me and offers to drive me into town. The preschool rule to never follow a stranger into his car is very relevant in Ghana and I was not going to “hitchhike” into this gentleman’s car to get to town. As if anticipating my refusal, he said that he has not finished getting to know me. Beads of sweat were now dripping down my face from the heat and weariness of this long and now unpleasant conversation. I decided to try one of the last tricks in my bag: outlining the infeasibility of us being friends given that I was leaving the country TOMORROW.

Usually, this statement is enough to prompt a retreat by the Ghanaian suitors…but not this one! Like an experienced Don Juan he explains that he does not believe that I am not religious because it is clear that God brought us together this afternoon, on my last night in Kumasi, to meet, to chat, and to fall in love. He argued that I could not leave because this act of God should be enough for me to believe. More importantly, how could I be so sure that he is not the one—my future husband and soul mate?

This silver-tongued Ghanaian suitor’s presumptuous flirting was really too much for me. If only circumstances were different: if we met in the US, if he was driving a slick convertible, or if he had a huge diamond ring and was ready to drop down on one knee, then maybe he’d be the one? No, under any circumstances within the realm of reality, some stranger I meet on the street for a brief conversation is not going to be “the one”. It took me a few milliseconds, but I thought of the perfect suave response that would give me the opportunity to leave him on the street and resume my jersey searching journey.
    “Then, don’t worry. If you are the one, then I’m sure God will find a way for us to see each other again. It was nice meeting you. Bye-bye!”
I gave a hurried wave, and was on my way. I even took the more precarious, unsuitable for flip-flops, cobble stone path to ensure that he would not follow me. I didn’t look back.

The end. My last Ghanaian marriage proposal. Will I miss these flattering street proposals from strangers when I’m back in the US? No, I don’t think so. Though hopefully the next time I decide to write about a marriage proposal, it will be of the sweet, romantic, and blushing variety.


  1. Eva am really falling in love with ur blog. . . . and dats a pretty interesting love story.

    Such''Die-hard '' suitors are really common out here but i honestly think that he was pulling your legs cuz u r an obronie.

    Hope to read the sweet, blushing and more romantic variety soon. Mabs

  2. Eva, will you marry me?!!

  3. OMG Eva! i can only imagine ur frustration. lol. i agree with Mabs though...he was definitely pullin ur legs... he must have bn havin fun whilst totally annoyin u... :)