To Past Lauren:
“It looks like you’re having the best time!!” “Hope you’re enjoying your experience!”
All well-meaning wishes from friends, they echo through my mind as I struggle with how ironic they sound now.
Last week, my friend was violently raped by two men.
I’ll spare you the details, but before you make any assumptions:
No, she wasn’t drunk.
No, she didn’t know them.
No, she wasn’t dressed “promiscuously”.
Yes, of course, she tried to defend herself and fought back.
No, it wasn’t her fault. It’s never the victim’s fault.
This traumatic experience here in Ghana didn’t just affect my beautiful friend, but like a tidal wave, it hit all of us. It’s truly painful. I feel it in the back of my throat, in the pit of my stomach…the revulsion, fear, anger, frustration…Just the thought of it makes my body writhe with disgust that this is the world we live in.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, this is what it is to be a woman. Oh, how I never could have imagined such ugly things happening right in my backyard, much less anywhere. Although such matters are not considered “proper” to talk about, it is wrong to silence ourselves as if nothing had happened because doing so is giving power to the harmful patriarchal systems that perpetuate rape culture.
This is not to say that “Africa is dangerous,” or that “all Ghanaians are rapists!” (In fact, rape in Ghana is far less common that it is in the US.) I am not discouraging you from studying abroad in Africa or anywhere else. The purpose of this blog/letter is to explain that life is unexpected, and in the real world, we always need to be aware of real threats. In travel blogs and photos on social media, you usually see the happier moments that students experience while studying abroad. However, after the recent event, I’ve realized that only providing poverty porn or perfectly-edited photos of our adventures is censorship. Yes, it’s difficult to share the negatives (I like to post positive things as well), but through this blog, I’d like to share the whole truth of my experience in Ghana.
And the truth is that studying abroad won’t always be a smooth ride. You’ll feel pain when you visit Elmina Castle and learn more about the slave trade. You’ll grow frustrated with how different Ghanaian culture is, and feel unstable with the customs you can’t seem to get used to. You’ll want to scream when a Ghanaian guy hits on you for the fourth time in one day, and you’ll want to run away when you feel like everyone’s staring at you for being a foreigner. However, you’ll also have amazing experiences feeling the beach breeze, playing under Wli Falls, feeding Mona monkeys, walking above the Kakum Rainforest canopy, following a lively parade at Cape Coast, working at a real Ghanaian farm, bonding with new friends both from Ghana and other parts of the globe…
During these past few months, I’ve grown so much in ways I didn’t think possible. Ghana has pushed my boundaries, and challenged me every moment of the day. For awhile after the event, I grew fed up with the everyday misogynistic microaggressions and entered a hostile state of mind. I felt hopeless, worthless, and trapped living in a society dominated by patriarchal power. It was one of the more tangible moments in which I personally felt attacked by the aggressive language and outright violence against women. However, this recent traumatic event, although negative, made our community stronger and more determined to pursue justice in the world. We do not hate Ghana, but embrace the Ghanaians who support us and show us the beauty of their country.
As I come closer towards the end of my time studying abroad, I hope to continue looking for the wonder and beauty in everyday life here in Ghana, just as my friend does. There may be annoyances that come up every so often, but I trust that with my friends, we will heal. We’ll run after more adventures with the intention of continuing to learn and grow. Don’t be afraid, just take life as it comes to you.