I arrived in Ghana with little mindset of falling in love. At this point I’d been single for almost two years and I can’t stress how much I enjoyed it. At a younger age I’d experienced a very unhealthy, you could even say toxic, four-year relationship. As soon as I found an escape, I had no intention of relinquishing my freedom so easily. During those two liberating years I went through a streak of casual dating, valuing the ability to keep my options open and guiltlessly concentrating on my needs. It was during this time that I discovered my self worth and developed an understanding of my likes and dislikes as an individual.
I maintained my usual behavior at the beginning of my study in Accra, Ghana. I never pass up the opportunity to mingle socially and I quickly began enjoying the nightlife in Accra. I became entranced by the fluidity that the locals possess in their dance moves and I soon learned about azonto, alkayida, and hiplife (you can’t say hiplife without mentioning the Godfather, Reggie Rockstone). It was songs like Aye by Davido, Adonai by Sarkodie ft Castro (may he rest in peace) and Million Pound Girl by Fuse ODG that really gave the nightlife in Accra its lively and carefree vibe. Seeing everyone jamming to this music at weddings, birthday celebrations or in their dorm rooms really made me feel like Ghanaians must have been born dancing straight out of the womb.
They say chivalry is dead…
I was very impressed by how forward yet respectful many Ghanaian men were in their approaches. Unlike many of the encounters I’d experienced in LA and Brazil, although persistent, Ghanaian men were very conscious of personal space. Many of them engaged in pleasant conversation – inquiring about what courses I study, what I’d enjoyed about Ghana thus far and asking my birthday in order to give me an Akan “day name” (I am Wednesday-born, me din de Akua). Potential suitors attempted to woo me through invitations to dinner, rides to class and even having food delivered to my dorm room. It was refreshing considering that we now live in the era of “Netflix and chill” and I came to realize that I preferred this more traditional way of dating. I watched as many of the other girls in the program fell into relationships and I came to the conclusion that for many of the local university boys it was a scramble to snag an obruni (local word for “foreigner”) early on in the semester.
It was no different for my floor mate and also best friend. She became fond of one boy in particular who lived in the International Student Housing dormitory, informally known as ISH (located on the University of Ghana, Legon campus). And I slowly began to focus my attention on his best friend. We were introduced on a rainy Sunday when a bunch of us decided to have a movie night in the TV room at ISH. Beyoncé had recently released her self-titled album (also what I consider to be the soundtrack for my entire Ghana experience) and the girls and I were binging on Beyoncé music videos and pizza. I was outside the TV room when a group of boys approached and asked if there was a party happening. Although I dismissed the encounter as casual and friendly, I did exchange numbers with one of these boys and this is how it all started…
At first, we began seeing more of each other socially. Usually it was a friendly encounter in the hallways, at a soccer match or out and about in town. And the fact that his best friend dated my best friend only facilitated these encounters. It became all too natural for us to hang out together, most frequently sharing meals with one another.
In the dormitories on campus we lived a very tightknit lifestyle. Exchange students and local Ghanaian and Nigerian students live harmoniously (with some occasional Nigerian vs Ghanaian rivalry) under the same roof and naturally these people became my family. As inherently communal people, Ghanaians normally sit in a circle and share their meals with one another from a large bowl whilst conversing and joking around. This usually includes typical dishes like waayke, fufu and banku. It’s the simplicity of these moments that I miss most. Hearing the phrase, “you are invited”, while being handed a spoon to share in the meal was one of the most comforting sensations. It helped me feel closer to home, even from the other side of the world. I found myself craving these interactions more so than the idea of being anywhere else.
I caught myself spending more time at ISH than my own dorm – a women’s dormitory called Volta Hall. After some time, I subconsciously began to suspect that my feelings for this boy were becoming deeper and perhaps the reason behind my desire to linger around ISH for longer than usual. We had a conversation once to clarify our intentions and I insisted that I didn’t want the commitment, reluctant to acknowledge any of his objectives to be anything more. As the days passed, I realized how much time we were spending together.
Looking back, I am able to pinpoint the exact incident where my feelings became all too apparent. My crush had fallen ill to a severe case of malaria and I made it my mission to nurse him back to health. I went out of my way to sneak food into his dorm, made sure he drank all his medication and stayed hydrated and even watched over him while he slept so I could be there to readjust his blanket if he got cold. It was in this moment that I found myself feeling vulnerable. I didn’t like the feeling of being exposed to any possible injury and I reminded myself that I shouldn’t get so attached, especially since I was unsure if he reciprocated my feelings.
Knowing that my days in Ghana were numbered, I desperately grasped onto every moment. And although I was completely breaking my own code, which was never to focus on one boy for too long, I reassured myself that it was okay for him to receive my affections as long as it made me happy. And he did, in fact, make me happy. We spent a lot of time watching movies on his projector, eating and laughing. And he took care of me. But he took care of me in a way that didn’t feel like he was bending over backwards to cater to me, but in a way that made me feel safe.
And then, love happened. It crept up on me so unexpectedly that after two years I couldn’t run from it anymore. And although I tried extremely hard to fight it, I finally succumbed to its beauty. I realized that my past relationship had left me with a very bruised idea of what love should feel like. I knew that it wasn’t loneliness or lust that lead me to falling in love. Instead, I’d found someone who is humble and genuinely regarded me as an equal, gave me all the patience in the world, someone who looked at me as if there was no one else in the room.
So there it is.
I fell in love 7,558 miles from home on a continent in another hemisphere of the world. Not necessarily the ideal conditions to fall in love. And even worse that it hadn’t really sunk in until the day that I was leaving. From one moment to another, I felt like somehow my lungs lacked oxygen and the ground under my feet was splitting in two. I felt faint at the realization that I would no longer have the luxury of seeing this person everyday or steal kisses in the staircase or share a coke and Pringles while intertwined on a couch.
Simultaneously, I had also fallen in love with Ghana. And I realized that this boy embodies everything that I love about Ghana as well. And although the heartache that I felt when I left Ghana was one of the most difficult I’ve had to endure, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for any material possession or amount of money. In fact, as I replay certain moments in my head, I would give anything to relive it again. Would I recommend falling in love abroad? Most definitely. There is something very beautiful in leaving tiny pieces of yourself and your heart scattered around the world. Most importantly, falling in love abroad isn’t just limited to a person or a place but it begins with falling in love with yourself, sometimes over and over again.
A few more local songs to get your hips moving! I have an entire playlist when I work out.
Some local songs featuring foreign artists…
A few other songs that remind me of my study in Ghana..