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Personal Touch

Words & Photo | Kezia Setyawan

I don’t like touch. There are only five people who come to mind that I willingly initiate hugs for. Through the years, I’ve learned how to deal with other people’s expectations of shaking hands, pats on the back and whatever else people want to show affection with me. Passive touch is okay. I’m fine jostling with others for over an hour in a hot and sweaty trotro or moving through crowded events. I’m not to used how casual and expected touch is in Ghana, and it’s been one of the hardest things for me to adjust to. I always jolt when there’s a hand on my back moving me aside, or people reaching out to grab my arm. Marriage proposals and catcalls are nothing new and most of the time I’ve been able to shake it off with either a laugh or by ignoring them. A side note, the best thing about not even being viewed as an American is here I can pretend my English is bad. 

However, as the days count down, I’ve been reflecting on all the unwanted advances made to me by people here, almost exclusively all men. 

Do not hold my hand tight five seconds after I’ve met you asking to be my friend, and then demanding me of my number, saying that you want to hear my “pretty” voice later. Do not tap my back and give me a wink when I’m literally just listening to the live band at a restaurant. Do not put your arm around me as we’re walking to the trotro. Do not leer and stick your finger out trying to touch my colleagues and I when we were just trying to walk into a store. Do not greet me, and then as a stranger, place your hand on my
thigh proprietarily.

I wonder how I would’ve experienced Ghana if I was in a body that was male-presenting, tall, and taking up a lot of physical space. I think I would feel invincible. I dream about walking down the streets of Accra near dusk alone when the sun isn’t showing its oppressive heat. That will never be a reality for me. I’m tired of men taking up space on my body like they’re entitled of something from me. 

At Wli waterfalls, I was sexually harassed by the tour guide. When we reached the foot of the falls, he approached me, repeatedly saying how nice my appearance was, how we should exchange numbers since I did take photos of him explaining different plants, but also just to stay in touch. 

I shrugged it off, annoyed but this was no different than other previous incidents. I wanted to swim, and shortly after got into the water the tour guide went in as well approaching me, grabbing my arm saying that he wants to swim with me. I yank away. He grabs me again, so I dive, kicking away, the brown muddy water blurring my vision. In my head, I wonder what if I just drowned here to get away. I surface, and he tries to grab me one last time when I say I don’t feel like swimming and leave.

I’m angry at myself for leaving my peers in the water, not telling them about him, as a threat to safety until after. How hypocritical of me to leave them vulnerable, and that they don’t deserve to have similar experiences to mine. I’m grateful that Sonny told him to leave the water after I told him what happened. 

However, I’m disappointed about his return when we were walking back to the bus, and how so many people stayed with him under the shelter as heavy rains came down. I couldn’t stand to be in that space anymore, so I walked alone, trudging through water above my ankles. 

Ghana, I love you, but I need to leave, at least for a little while. This incident eats at me, it makes me irritant at my coworkers, ruder when I walk through town, and I feel as though I’m constantly on edge about to cry. Right now, for myself, I need to stop putting down my experience compared other people who have also experienced harassment. I need to allow myself to take time to see how this has traumatized me and work through it with support. It’ll be nice to decompress and be back in a place where I’m not as overtly seen as a foreigner, where I can navigate through daily life without being pointed out as “other” every 5 minutes. 

So this is to you Charles, the Wli waterfalls tour guide, congratulations on harassing me and making all my peers uncomfortable. I hope you die in a ditch.

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