My parents always told me not to stare. Apparently that is not a common lesson in Ghana. Which is fine! Different parenting techniques are expected in different cultures. I just don’t know how to respond sometimes when I glance at someone and they are blatantly staring at me.
Here are the possible reactions I’ve come up with:
- Smile: Sometimes I rely on a grin because it shows that I see them looking at me, and most of the time I get a smile in return. Sometimes the men want to strike up a conversation, though. Then I just keep walking.
- Wave: I use this technique with the kids. It seems to make them happy, sending them in fits of giggles that the Obruni responded to their shouts.
- Look away: Probably my most frequent response. Sometimes it can just be overwhelming that I stand out so much. The good thing is that I’ve never felt threatened by anyone’s stares.
- Stare back: This could get awkward and possibly send unintended messages, especially if it’s a man. I have yet to try it.
Curiosity is natural, I guess. I know I like to people watch (more specifically, marvel at the women carrying items on their heads). It can just be unnerving when it seems like everyone is ‘person watching’ and that person is me.
I’ve had one marriage proposal since I’ve been here. It went something like this: ‘Are you married?’… ‘No.’ … ‘I’ll marry you.’ At which point I started laughing because I had no idea who the man was and I was feeling slightly crazed because I’d been getting my hair braided for seven hours.
Another time, while waiting for my friend at the ATM, a guy asked me if I was waiting for anyone. Obviously my answer was yes. He then asked, ‘are you waiting for me?’ Smooth.
Before I came I was told by multiple people to wear a wedding band and tell people I was engaged and that my fiance was in town, or something similar to that. My culture guide even suggested it.
Most of the time I’ve just kept the simple gold band on my middle finger because I haven’t seen a need for it. Occasionally I will slip it onto my ring finger, though. Just for extra emphasis.
Just typing that makes me hum Lady Gaga’s song…but it was an odd feeling when I realized that a teenage boy was taking a picture of me on his cell phone the other day. I did not look nice; was just wearing a t-shirt and shorts to go on a walk around the neighborhood. He and his friends got a kick out of it, so whatever. No harm done.
The kind of attention that I like the least is the request for money. The majority of the times it’s cute little kids asking, too, which makes it even harder to turn away. I was told that if you give in, you’ll never hear the end of it.
When I was at the castle in Cape Coast, trying to listen to the tour guide, one girl boldly said to me, ‘Obruni give me monies.’ The other day, walking through Osu, a few kids started following us and grabbing at our hands. The one could not have been older than two. I did my best to just keep walking, but I felt guilty.
Maybe next time I’ll try explaining to them that I have student loans to pay back when I get home. And I have to find a job. Think that’ll do the trick? I’m open to suggestions.