It is my last Wednesday in Kumasi, around 9 am. Ellie and I walk through the roundabout, looking for a tro tro. As usual, we hear the cat calls that we typically encounter when we move through the streets alone together — Ellie and I walked 2 miles to work every week and have become familiar to the attention we receive. We find a mate willing to take us and follow him across the road, where a few other tro tros are waiting. Two other mates approach us, and we brace ourselves for the familiar “Where are you going?!” chaos — we were used to the mates’ methods by now. But this time, one particular mate wouldn’t take no for an answer. I felt two strong hands grip my ribs and yank me toward the tro tro, away from Ellie and our original mate. He pushed me up against the door of the tro tro, attempting to shove me inside. I saw angry faces and heard loud yelling in Twi, each passenger clearly as upset as I was about the behavior of this mate. I felt utterly helpless, my weak muscles no match for this man’s grip. Luckily, a couple other mates stepped in and pulled the man off of me, and Ellie and I quickly jumped into the next tro tro and drove off. I was shaken and upset, and I could feel a lingering ache in my ribs from the force of his hands.
The next day, we had to make another trip to campus for class, meaning I would have to grab another tro tro in the same spot as the day before. But today, it wasn’t just two women moving alone — it was a mixed-gender group. I consciously walked between two male students through the roundabout, and the mates asked them “Where are you going?”, ignoring me entirely. I followed silently behind, and was not once touched or called at the entire journey.
There are radical differences in the ways I have been interacted with here, depending on the perceived gender of those around me. I won’t pretend not to notice how the old man at the bar smiles lewdly at me from a distance while I watch a game with my friends, but only pulls up a chair beside me to comment on my beauty when my male peer is in the restroom. The arm that reached through the window of my moving tro tro to squeeze my thigh, or the man who shouted “White bitches!” as Ellie and I walked home from work. This dynamic exists in many parts of the world, including the United States, but it has never been emphasized to me the ways it has been here.
As I leave this country, I am taking home with me experiences that are both positive and negative. Memories of bonding with my wonderful coworkers at the clinic, laughing at dance practice, and beautiful sunsets on the roof of our guesthouse coexist with realizations about my identity as a woman, my identity as a white person, and the vast inequalities that exist in our world. I take all of these things home with me to continue to grow as a scholar and a human being, and I am forever grateful to Ghana and my peers for pushing me in ways I had never imagined.
Tro-Tros and mates: “Getting Around Ghana by Tro-Tro: A Complete Guide” https://www.tripsavvy.com/tro-tros-in-ghana-1454315
Women in Ghana: “Ghana – The Position of Women” http://countrystudies.us/ghana/49.htm