By Jack Toronto The Afro News Delta
Sex for sale. It’s everywhere but at age 22 I’d never seen it as openly before. In bars and night clubs, in the lounge of the Government Rest House, at the movie theatre, alongside the fresh vegetables hawked outside Kingsway Stores and door-to-door. Sexuality was treated openly and casually in Ghana, certainly more than in Southern Ontario in the mid-‘60s. Add widespread poverty and the prominence of female sex workers was hardly surprising.
Getting an honest-to-goodness date with a young Ghanaian woman was a completely different matter, at least for me. And I wasn’t alone in this. Looking back I can’t recall any white male in a dating relationship with a Ghanaian woman that was based on mutual attraction and respect.
But I tried… and I tried… and I tried…and I tried…
A waitress at The Café de France, a top-end chop house restaurant serving rice with great meat sauces, was cute, animated and petite. I chatted with her in my most congenial manner, I smiled at her when I saw her get on the bus that rattled around Tamale on its erratic schedule and I thought we’d reached the stage of exchanging names that day when she came to my Café table, leaned close and said softly, “You’re wasting your time.” I saw her with her Ghanaian boyfriend at the movies later that week.
A woman at an end-of-term staff party invited me to dance Kpanlogo, a dance that originated with the Ga people in the ‘60s and then swept the country. ”Provocative” is one word that could be used to describe Kpanlogo. “Raunchy” would be better. Would a woman invite me to do this dance without actually liking me? You bet. I never saw her again.
I first saw “Vanessa” at the Tamale polo field. She had accompanied a member of the Accra polo team on their northern excursion to play the Tamale squad. (I was not a member of the Tamale Polo Club but it was a good place to hang around in hopes of being treated to a drink.) I was enchanted and entranced but not too stunned to step up and talk to her. We conversed! We exchanged addresses and after she returned to Accra we began a regular correspondence. She asked me to send her a snapshot of myself and sent me her picture. Through Vanessa I came to know a bit about Ghana’s financial and cultural elite. Her father owned rental property in London and she had studied fashion design there. Quason Sackey, former Chairman of the General Assembly of the United Nations, was a family friend. No longer on air with Ghana Broadcasting, Vanessa worked in production at the GBC when I knew her.
We got together a few times when I made vacation trips to Accra – a movie, a few informal dinners and a visit to Broadcast House where I met some of her friends and colleagues. I was blithely unaware of the attitude of many people in the street when we were out together until one fellow’s scowl was too obvious to ignore. Could it be that many people who saw us together assumed she was a prostitute? Yes, it could. Our face-to-face time in Accra was never as relaxed and flowing as in our letters and before long the relationship was over.
The lesson? Full communication and understanding in a relationship is hard, doubly so when the two people involved come from vastly different backgrounds. That I was an avid student of Ghanaian life and that Vanessa had extensive knowledge and experience of British life were not enough to bridge the assumptions and belief systems of the cultural chasm.
It’s hard but not impossible. Kuk Yan, my wife, is Chinese.