My First Time – This Thing Called Ghanaian Love
For me, it happened for the first time 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 an escape from our world. An escape into the 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. I fantasized about me doing it one day.
With all the movies I had 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 or excited 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 I was going to sneak out of bed at night and watch the same film on the VCR. I was not going to miss out. I was not going to be denied the pleasure. Sometimes, someone will fast forward the movie when it starts to happen. 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 now.
Suddenly, here I was. I was about to experience the moment I had replayed in my thoughts a thousand times. Moments before it happened, I braced myself for it. My heart was beating faster. My palms were sweaty. “Was this really going to happen? Do I really want to be here for this?” I asked myself.
And then, it finally happened. I saw my dad kiss my mom for the first time in my life.
It was my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary and they were renewing 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 erase the image out of my head. After that day, I never saw my dad kiss my mom 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?
We are creatures of emulation. We start emulating adults as babies and continue into young adulthood. Our ideals and outlook on life and love are shaped first of all, by what we see in our homes. We watch, learn and practice what we see.
Growing up in the eighties 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 couples 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.
That said, our African culture allows for the celebration of love during the traditional marriage ceremonies. The Ghanaian traditional marriages are very elaborate and rich with cultural rites. The white weddings take a back seat to the African traditional marriages. In my opinion, the traditional marriage holds more value than the foreign inspired white weddings. There is, however, a key component missing from the Ghanaian marriage ceremony. There isn’t a part of the ceremony where you have to kiss your partner.
The most affection I have seen displayed at a Ghanaian engagement ceremony is hugging.
Due to our upbringing, most Ghanaians may not be romantic or know how to express romantic love. A Ghanaian man will not be one to stand outside your window with a guitar on a full moon and sing his heart out for a woman. A Ghanaian may not be one to send flowers on every special occasion. A Ghanaian may go weeks or even months without uttering the words, “I love you.” Ghanaians speak 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, through 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 women 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 women, love may be expressed through cooking, keeping the house clean and decent at all times; and taking care of the kids. If you enter a Ghanaian couple’s house and the place is messy or the kids are unruly, the woman will most likely be blamed for the situation.
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. Comfort and material possessions were more important than love in this case.
I remember a scene in the movie where Joe surprises Aba by coming around with a guitar. He sits 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 that 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 only rich men capturing the hearts of the most beautiful ladies in town. Our movies are filled with women showing immediate attraction to wealthy men. 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 growing up? Is it fair to label a Ghanaian as unromantic? Surely, we can learn how to express romantic love in our adult years. After all, 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 teacher did not display or expose us to romantic love. Our first teachers’ definition of romantic love was behind closed doors.
This thing called Ghanaian love is not easy to figure out.