Stepping into New Shoes

One of the conversations I had at the village of Krofu was with an architect named Samuel. As we were building side-by-side, we shared bits and pieces of our lives. We jumped from present day studies and activities to future goals and plans. I explained to him that my current focus was education and that my future plans were career oriented. He understood my response, but pushed me to share my family plans. He was a little shocked when I said that I was happily single and that I don’t want to be married until I’m close to thirty.

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Me smiling in front of the construction of the library in Krofu. Photo Credit: Janet Kwami

Samuel’s next question is what struck me the most. He honestly asked, “Would you marry someone who wasn’t white?” I wish I could put the feelings from that moment into words, but no words exist to explain what I felt. I respected him for asking that question, but I was almost dumfounded. I responded, “It is the heart that matters. My husband could be White, Black, Asian, Mexican – any race – but I only care about the goodness of their heart.” I wish I had asked him the same question back because I am curious as to how Ghanaians, specifically Samuel, feel about marrying someone who is not a Ghanaian and of a different race. I think that conversations like this are important to openly and honestly have with each other: fostering a safe environment to discuss racial conflicts.

In relation to this conversation, at lunch in Accra one afternoon, a man at another table noticed “Pace Academy” on my t-shirt. It turned out that he was from Atlanta and that his niece went to school with me and I knew her. (It really is amazing how small the world actually is). I chatted with him for a while to learn what he was doing in Accra and vise versa. He had moved to Accra because he started a successful security company. He gave me his business card and we took a picture so that he could show his niece. This was a completely normal interaction for anyone and everyone to have. Although, the entirety of the conversation, I could tell from my peripheral vision that everyone in the restaurant was staring at us. Here was a white teenage girl talking to a fifty year old African-American. If only I could read their minds because I would love to know what everyone at the restaurant was thinking. I will never know, but being a minority in Ghana draws attention to me in a complexity of ways.

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Surrounded by the school children in Krofu. There was a language barrier with the little children, but our smiles created a universal language. Photo Credit: Janet Kwami

This interaction was just an example, but it is something that I have experienced throughout the entirety of this trip. Some little children love us and want to hold our hands: others cry instantly when they see us. As a redhead, I thought that I always stand out regardless, but I never knew that the color of my skin could differentiate me with such extremity.

A professor on this trip, Dr. King, shared with me that her son was the only black kid on his swim team. Not only did these boys already stand out in their skin-revealing Speedos, but the color of his skin directed even more attention to him. In school I learned from a young age that it is important to step into someone else’s shoes to understand their situation and perspective, but I have never taken that into effect when regarding race. As a majority in America, I guess I can honestly say that I have been oblivious. Stepping into Ghana as a minority has shown me another perspective. Sometimes the actual experience is needed to truly understand.

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