My First Time – This Thing Called Ghanaian Love

It happened when I was 16 or 17. It was my first experience and I was confused. I wanted to close my eyes the whole time. It was happening, I was shy, a little embarrassed. I had to keep my eyes opened because I wanted to see the whole thing. There was no way I was going to miss seeing this. I was not prepared for it. Nothing in my young life had prepared me for this moment. Well, I should not really say nothing had prepared me for this moment. I did find a magazine here and there in places I should not have been looking.

I loved foreign movies as a child. I saw dozens of them. We all loved foreign movies growing up in Ghana It was our escape from our world. An escape into a world full of beautiful places and magical people. In almost every movie, it happened. How come white people do it so easily? It comes naturally to them. There was no shame, no hesitation, it just happened. In every genre of movie, there was bound to be multiple scenes where it happened. I enjoyed seeing it happen. Of course, I fantasized about me doing it one day.

With all the movies I watched, I became very good at predicting the moment it was going to happen. I had to because I could not risk my siblings or my parents catching me smiling while it happened. I had to sit there with a stone face pretending I was confused. Pretending like I was not interested in what was playing out on the screen. Sometimes it went on for too long. You had to sit there and endure it. You are damned if you get up because you just announced that you knew exactly what was happening.

You are damned if you sit through it because you just announced that you are interested. Most of the time, I was asked to go fetch something or sent on an errand as soon as it started. I did not mind leaving the room while it happened. I knew how to sneak out of bed at night and watch the same film on the VCR. I was not going to miss out. Sometimes, someone will fast forward the movie when it starts happening. What was the point? I already knew what was happening.

That morning, I did not really want to get out of bed. I was not prepared for what was about to happen that afternoon. I was not sure how to feel. I got ready, went out and proceeded to the venue where it was going to happen. I resigned myself to the fact that it was inevitable. There was nothing I could do to stop it from happening. There was no turning back. Moments before it happened, I braced myself for it. I felt my heart beating faster. Was this really going to happen? Do I really want to be here for this?

Then it happened. I saw my dad kiss my mum for the first time in my life.

It was my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary and they renewed their vows in church. I dreaded hearing the words, “you may kiss the bride” that day. It was a short and quick kiss.  I did not look away. I watched the whole thing. It finally happened! I was stunned. I had a funny feeling in my stomach. I fought to get the image out of my head. After that day, I never saw my dad kiss my mum again.I keep hearing that a majority of Ghanaian men and women are unromantic. They do not know how to display affection. There is an absence of words of affirmation and endearment. How does Ghanaian love look like? How is love displayed or manifested in the Ghanaian culture. Most importantly, how is love portrayed to the younger generation?

I ask the question about how love is portrayed because we are creatures of emulation. We start emulating adults as babies and continue into young adulthood. Our ideals and outlook of life and love is shaped first of all by what we see in our homes. We watch, learn and practice what we see. Growing up in the 1980s’ in Ghana, I did not see couples hold hands or display affection in public. The married couples I saw with my parents or at church acted more like siblings. My young mind often wondered how the couple who barely looked at each other in public ended up with six children. Looking at them, I could not picture them kissing let alone, having sex.

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The Japanese are not big on body language or physical displays of affection. In their culture, touching is unwelcome during conversation, especially between a man and a woman. Despite this cultural norm, the Japanese have an amazing sense of love and intimacy. Public affection is not accepted. However, affection and sexuality is expressed in subtle ways. Their deep sense of love leads most Japanese women to a life of servitude to their husbands. Servitude is seen in the Japanese culture as a selfless act of love.

I find similarities in the Japanese culture with our Ghanaian culture. Most Ghanaians may not be romantic or know how to express romantic love. A Ghanaian may not be one to stand outside your window with a guitar on a full moon and sing to you. A Ghanaian may not be one to send flowers on special occasions. A Ghanaian may go weeks or months without uttering the words I love you. Just like the Chinese, the Ghanaian speaks a different language of love.

A Ghanaian’s love language can be seen and expressed in acts of service and in the case of the men, with cash. A Ghanaian man for example, will express his love for a woman through a monthly allowance or through the purchase of a house or a car. The more expensive the act or gift is, the deeper your love is for that person. On social media, I see lots of woman displaying pictures of expensive gifts they receive from men with the comment “he loves me so much.” I am not suggesting that giving an expensive gift to a woman is the definition of true love in the Ghanaian culture.

I am suggesting that we grew up with a culture that portrays love this way. For the women, love may be expressed through cooking excellent meals for a man. Love may be expressed by how well the house is kept, how the woman cares for the kids. If you enter a Ghanaian couple’s house the place is messy or the kids are unruly, the woman will most likely be blamed.The first African movie I saw was Love Brewed in an African Pot by Kwaw Ansah.

This movie came out in the early eighties and it was a big hit in Ghana. It was set in 1951 colonial Ghana. It is a love story between Aba and Joe. Aba is educated and she falls in love with the illiterate Joe. Joe is an auto-mechanic. Aba’s fisherman father warns Joe to stay away from her. Joe, an auto-mechanic cannot possibly love his educated daughter. Aba’s father wants her to marry a lawyer. Love in this case did not matter. Comfort and material possessions were more important. I remember a scene in the movie where Joe surprises Aba by coming around with a guitar and sings her a love song. This scene made a huge impression on me. It was a lovely moment.  I could clearly see that Aba and Joe were totally in love with each other.

I kept asking why the father could not see what I was seeing. Aba’s father ideas about love and marriage in the movie confused me as a child. I saw true love yet the adult and father figure was directing his daughter away from it. As a kid, you are often asked what you want to become when you grow up. Thanks to this movie, I started telling everyone I wanted to be a lawyer. Take a look at Ghanaian and Nigerian movies and sitcoms today. Has this message of how love is portrayed really changed? Our movies are filled with men expressing their love through expensive gifts and cash to women.

So I keep asking the question, how does love look like to a Ghanaian child? What did we learn about how to express love and affection? Is it fair to label a Ghanaian as unromantic? Surely we can learn how to express romantic love in our adult years. Sure, we have made a lot of progress over the years. We are however, heavily influenced and molded by our first teachers in life. Our first teachers in almost all most cases, did not display affections of love. Our first teachers’ definition of love was behind closed doors.

This thing called Ghanaian love is not easy to figure out.

Kwadjo Panyin……..

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