The call seems to follow you everywhere. In your head, you have created a hierarchy of what you have to answer to. For example, most Ghanaians assume that a tourist won’t know her day-name, and feel comfortable calling her by any one they choose. You know your own day-name–“Akua,” Wednesday-born–and feel no need to respond to the cries of “Akosua!” “Adjua!” that pile upon you as you walk by.  You have no obligation to answer to “Sweetheart,” “baby,” “Hello, my wife!” or the copious kissing noises; the hiss that Ghanaians make to call people over could be addressed to anyone, leaving you free to ignore it even when you know you’re the intended target.  Still, your head always turns in response to “obruni.”  It is, after all, what you are.

You visit a school, sitting in a classroom to watch.  Five-year-olds peer around the door to catch a glimpse of you, running away as soon as you look up.  Occasionally one of them gathers the guts to scream “OH-BROO-NEE!” not even looking at you as she does so; it’s the word itself that takes courage.  She runs away before you can respond, which is probably just as well.

“What country?” people ask.  The only possible options are Germany, England and the United States.  “Do they do this at your place?  Do they have that at your place? What kind of work do you do?  What church do you attend?”  You recognize the questions are perfectly natural, but you wish that just once, somebody would say something you hadn’t heard before.

After three months of living here, you have deluded yourself into thinking that the knowledge you have gained is relevant.  But still, every day, at the same station, the tro-tro conductor demands, “Obruni, where are you going?” grabbing your arm as if it were helpful, as if he had the right to do so.  “This way,” you say, pulling your arm away sharply.  “This way” has become your default answer to that question. You are angry enough to hit him with the same arm; you barely resist.  You wonder why this simple action, day after day, causes such fury.  You wonder even more on the days when you go somewhere new, when you actually do need help from the mate.

“OBRUNI KO-KO!” the children shout.  “It’s a tautology,” Priscilla explains to you, “it’s ‘white white.”‘  You are startled to hear her use the word “tautology,” but why should you be?  You keep walking.  The children continue to scream behind you.  One runs up to touch your skin, as if dared.  “Don’t they have something better to do?” you ask Priscilla.  Maybe they don’t.  Maybe you really are that exciting.

At least you show up in the dark, a relief to you as heedless, careless Ghanaian drivers sweep by you on the roadside, alarmingly close.

Advertisements