“Are you scared of me?”
“No. No. No.” I reassured the young man as he continued to grab my arm in an effort to take a selfie with me.
I lightly pulled my arm away and made excuses as to why I did not want to take a selfie with him. “I do not feel good, therefore I do not look good.” “I have to go to class.” “I have to eat.” But not, “I do not feel comfortable taking a picture with you, nor do I appreciate you initiating physical contact without my permission.”
Before I walked away from the shop, I naively gave him my Ghanaian phone number, American phone number, and the title “friend.” I left feeling uneasy, guilty, and questioning the meaning of friendship. I did my best to find a way out of the situation without hurting his feelings and without compromising my own comfort. Unfortunately, I compromised my own comfort to avoid offending the young man.
In the United States, I am used to men catcalling me in cities, walking up to me to strike a conversation, and even throwing a chicken wing at me when I reject their romantic advances. I am also used to men grabbing me at parties (without consent) to initiate a dance. However, I am not used to men grabbing my arm because they want me to get in their Trotro, putting their arms around my waist, caressing my hair, or lightly touching my shoulders after exchanging a few greetings. And this is all done as a friendly gesture.
Despite their hospitality and intentions, I am unwilling to overlook how the gestures make me feel. If I were in the U.S., I would not think twice about my reactions and the other person’s feelings. Once someone invades my personal space or my sense of security, it is up to me to protect it. So, what makes Ghana different? Why do I feel the need to censor myself? Should I censor myself?
My goal is to find a healthy balance between refraining from being offensive and being comfortable until I can internalize the questions above and find a solution that works for me. I look forward to discussing similar experiences with the women on this trip and Ghanaian women.