– Joel Parthemore, RPVC
Author’s Note: All names have been changed: both those who would not wish to be named and those who wouldn’t care.
The last time I came to Ghana, I was still employed with Peace Corps Washington. I used the excuse of a few days’ work in the Lome and Accra offices to travel on my official passport, which saved me the headache of getting a visa. I don’t remember who, precisely, met me at the airport any more, but I can think of who was probably there: my brother Josh, now completing a master’s degree in Trondheim, Norway; my friend Tony, one of the first people I met when I took up my station at Gbledi Gbogame in the Volta Region; and Kwesi, my friend and more than a friend: still the only man I’ve ever proposed to.
I had not heard from Kwesi for several weeks before traveling, so I was not necessarily expecting him at the airport. I was, however, expecting Tom (American expat who’s lived in Ghana since time before when) and Tony.
In the end, there was no welcome delegation. I went to the hotel desk and had them book me a room at the Hilltop Hotel (130 cedis, USD $65) and arrange a taxi (25 cedis).
Kwesi came by the hotel in the morning and stayed until evening. It was an oddly bittersweet reunion: his words said one thing, his body language quite another. It was he who brought up the matter of my marriage proposal, saying that he was heterosexual, that nothing I could say would make him a homosexual, and that I had lured him into our former relationship. I said only that I did not remember things that way. I could have added, and didn’t, that we had both been adults; that much of what happened between us was very much on his initiative (I think of the time we were traveling and, without fanfare, in not the most private of locations, he gave me a most revealing view — with only a comment that “oh, I forgot and left those at home”); the rest was at least as much on his initiative as mine; that he had once answered a woman’s question whether he was, to use the quaint Ghanaian phrase, “walking with me”, in the affirmative; that he had, indeed, taken my proposal seriously, going as far as asking his minister what he thought of same-sex marriage (to my surprise). His minister had nothing good to say about it (no surprise).
He says he wants to “just be friends”, the way I’m friends with Josh and Tony. I wish him the best with his marriage plans (sincerely) and tell him that I will always think of him the way we were when we more than friends, that nothing can change the past.
In the months leading up to my visit, Kwesi had assured me, repeatedly, that he would have no trouble at all getting the time off to travel with me throughout my visit. Now he said he would be able to spend Sunday/Monday with me, but that Tuesday he would need to ask again about the leave. We arranged to meet at Tony’s place in Tema on Saturday night.
In the end, he did not make it to Tema, nor did I see him Sunday or Monday. He called on Monday to say I should precede him to Anamabo (where I wished to greet my brother Paul, whose family hosted me in pre-service training) and that he would join me en route to Wenchi (my second Peace Corps posting).
I traveled on my own to Wenchi and saw the computer lab I had helped set up, still running though facing some very critical issues. I was happy, at least, to see it finally on broadband, after the dialup connection I had established ended pretty much with my departure in 2001. I strolled the campus taking photos with which to update the school website, and met one of the campiest students I have ever met, trying to be quite macho about disciplining one of his juniors and somehow failing miserably. I greeted Kwesi’s father, a lonely old man on retirement, spending his days at home while his wife is away at work. By this point, the plan was for Kwesi to join me for my final excursion, to Gbledi. But on my way back through Accra, we met up for dinner; he introduced me to his latest fiancé, and now the plan was to join me in Hohoe and travel together back to Accra via Tema. Of course, that did not happen, either.
Now it is the next to final night, and I sit in a hotel room in Hohoe, looking back on the past two weeks. More than my previous visits, this time I have felt out of place, awkward, unsure where I fit in. Where before I traveled with more companions than I knew what to do with, this time I have done all my traveling on my own – except that Tony will likely join me from Kpeve (where he is running a computer lab of his own now) to Tema.
I have taken fufu and banku with both palm nut and ground nut (peanut butter) soup, eating them with my hand (right, of course; no spoon) in the proper local way. I have had jolloff rice and fried yam with hot pepper and “meat pies” with not a trace of meat to be found in them, and beans and gari (with fried plantain where available) nearly every morning. I have listened to “Touched by an Angel” more times than I care to count. I have spoken by phone with my former headmaster (who went on to be the director general of Ghana Education Service for a while) and talked over beer with my former paramount chief. I have promised to do what I can for Chris, my former student, for many years now helping oversee the computer lab, to help him further his education. I have re-established dormant contacts and, perhaps, made a few new ones. I have met some incredibly beautiful men; but then, I seem to manage that wherever I travel in the world.
Still, I am left with the question that, I suppose, we all must face sometime before we die: what difference have I made; what have I left – what do I leave – behind here: surely something, yes, but what? …Hopefully more than a computer lab always on the brink of falling down; hopefully more than a mural I and the students painted on the wall outside the lab years ago, part of it since re-painted, the rest peeling away badly. (The world map we also did has long since been painted over.)
That Kwesi should consider my former proposal and his entertainment of it as a youthful whimsy is no surprise; his feelings on the matter have, over the intervening years and emails and phone calls, ranged all over the map. He is, as Josh says, a conflicted individual; and I should well know, from my mother’s experience with my father, the impossibility of changing someone you love. His fiancé may strike me as an improbable match, but she is intelligent and educated and, as the saying goes, has her heart in the right place, if our dinner conversation is anything to go by.
Ah, Ghana: you stole my heart, years ago, and yet I ran away, back to America. I suppose I cannot complain at your present seeming ambivalence.
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