I have decided that this post will serve as an extension of my somewhat controversial and disturbing post on strangers. For those of you who haven’t read it, I explained that I have no hope in ever meeting a stranger who doesn’t want something from me: be it money, “friendship,” or a US visa. Although I still agree with many of the feelings I expressed in that post, I had an experience with a stranger two weekends ago in Northern Ghana that proved to be surprisingly soothing.
Every semester, NYU Accra organizes a weekend trip to Tamale, a city in Ghana’s Northern Region, so students can see what the North is like. Although it is still the same country, a great deal changes during the twelve hour drive: the temperature rises, the level of development decreases, and the cultural values shift. One morning we took a trip to Bolgatanga, a city near the border with Burkina Faso; while there we stopped at an arts market for 30 minutes to shop around. Well, 30 minutes turned into an hour because somewhere along the line our bus got a flat tire and had to find a shop that could fix it. Then an hour turned into three because on the way back from fixing the flat, something went wrong with the brakes.
So here we are, waiting at the arts center for our bus to return. When we first arrived to the market, I befriended a shop owner because he liked my necklace. Later on, he was sitting in the open area near the shops with some friends and invited our group over to chat. I learned his name was Ibrahim, and he made a big deal about me sitting down in the chair closest to him (which was, of course, the most removed from the rest of the group). As we spent more time chatting, he grew very protective over me. When someone wanted to sit near me, Ibrahim told him to sit across the lot and behind a building because he shouldn’t be near me. When Will, one of the students here, asked if I wanted to go to a bar and grab a drink while we waited, Ibrahim told him that he wasn’t allowed to talk to me because I needed my rest. Normally I would be upset by a man taking control like this, but at the time I couldn’t have cared less.
In fact, the entire situation in the market was one that I normally would have hated for many reasons:
- I do not like when plans and schedules are not followed
- I do not like when men act as if they know what is best for me
- I do not like being stranded in an unfamiliar place when it is ninety degrees outside and night is approaching
And so on. But this was different. I was weirdly at ease: I didn’t care that no one (including NYU staff) knew where the bus was. I spent most of the three hours sitting with my eyes closed, eavesdropping on conversations, and making casually chatting with Ibrahim. He even asked for my contact information……and I willingly gave it to him. I don’t know what it was, but I was content with just sitting under a tree and taking in my surroundings.
Now that I have had time to reflect on the experience, I think it was most likely a result of being too exhausted to care. But in the moment I felt as if I could finally grow to like the country I am living in. I can, in fact, slow myself down to match “Ghana time.” I can make friendly conversation with people who show a genuine interest in who I am and what I am doing here. These feelings were fleeting, however, because as soon as the bus showed up I was back to my normal self. I enjoyed having a bit of time to zen out though, and I hope that in my remaining weeks here I can find this carefree feeling at least once more.