The problem with Ghana taxi drivers is that they’ll normally try to overcharge you when you’re new in town. And should you lose anything in their car, God forbid, you will be lucky to ever see it again. It’s therefore not often I use a local taxi when I’m on holiday in Ghana now that Uber is around.
But a friendly face or a welcoming smile can still sometimes entice me. Such was the case when I visited in February and struck up a conversation with a thirty-something-year-old Ghana taxi driver, who introduced himself as Isaac. I hopped in beside him in the passenger seat up front, convinced that I was helping to feed the local economy.
Pretty soon, Isaac was regularly chauffeuring me around town and had persuaded me to call on him anytime, night or day. I didn’t mind the constant haggling over fares because, well, I rather enjoyed his company and, like I said, he was a very handsome chap and charming with it.
“I was telling my wife about you,” Isaac said to me one day.
“All good, I hope.”
“Oh, yes,” he smiled.
“What were you saying?”
“I was telling her about my friend, Rasta. Who says it as it is.”
“And what did she say to that? Troublemaker?”
“No, no. She would like to meet you.”
“I’m always available for dinner. Is your wife a good cook?”
“Not so much.”
We laughed at that and were soon on the subject of a depreciating Cedi, and other social wrongs in Ghana, when Isaac suddenly pointed to a fella walking on the dirt ahead. “Look at that man and the way he walks,” he said.
I looked and saw a slightly overweight gentleman walking up a hill, and replied, “what about him?”
“Look at the way he walks,” Isaac said again, scornfully. “He’s a homosexual. I hate those people.”
Well, I looked again, but all I saw was a fat man walking up a hill. And I suppose because his arse was quite large and broad, like many African men here and elsewhere, you might have said that it looked like a woman’s backside from behind. But other than a slightly oversized posterior, I could see no reason to reach a conclusion that this man walking on the roadside, minding his own business, was anything other than totally masculine and completely heterosexual.
“Do you know him?” I asked.”
“Noo,” he said, wrinkling up his nose and turning his mouth into a downward arch.
“So, what are you talking about? How do you know he’s gay?”
He looked surprised at my question and didn’t seem to want to answer but I wasn’t letting it go.
“You know nothing of this man,” I said. “You’ve just seen him walking up the road for a split second. Yet you’ve decided you hate him because you presume him to be a homosexual? What if someone pointed at you in the street and claimed that you were sleeping with men?”
“But I am not,” he protested, shuffling in his seat. “I have a wife. I am a married man with one son and another on the way.”
“That never stopped anyone before. I think you protest too much, my friend. And you call yourself a child of God, a Christian?”
“But I hate those people.”
“They might not care for you either. But homosexuals are children of God, too.”
“My God would never make a homosexual!” and he turned to me with angry eyes.
“Your God, eh?”
“Yes. My God,” he replied firmly. “My God would never make a homosexual.”
“Wow! Your God would never make a homosexual, but some other God must have kicked your God’s ass, because honey, I’m home.” He looked at me now with curiosity and panic in his eyes, somewhere between confusion and denial was the truth.
“Whether you like it or not, my friend, ‘those people’ exist. And you may try to kid yourself that you can recognise us by the way that we walk, but that only goes to show how little you know or understand about the ways of the world. Or maybe you do know only too well the very people you claim to hate for who and what we are.”
He kept his hands firmly on the steering wheel now and I could see the cogs of his mind ticking over. Silence. I shook my head in disbelief. He glanced over by my side.
“Why do we Africans spend so much time worrying about the trivial things in life? Here we are living in filth. Dirt roads and open sewers everywhere. Mass unemployment and corruption at every turn. A currency heading down the drains and our children still learning under trees. Yet you reserve your anger and all of your resentment for people like me, and some fat man walking up a hill, who you believe to be homosexual.
Have you one shred of proof? And even if you did have evidence, what does someone else’s private sex life have to do with you? If it’s a problem for you, it’s a problem that exists purely in your mind. As long as it’s not you that he might want to bed, why do you care?”
He looked at me a moment too long, and I thought for a second he wanted to cry. I can only guess, I said, that you saw that man walking up the hill with his fat arse, and it turned you on. If only for a moment. Your eyes settled on that man’s big fat arse, and you were aroused. And if that was the case, then it’s all about you, my friend. Nothing to do with that man at all.”
“Are you a homosexual?” he asked me, finally.
“I’m a big black poof.”
“What is a poof?”
“Man to man.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why should I? Do you want to take me home?”
“We can find a hotel.”
“Oh, I see. You should have said that before all this fat man walking up a hill bullshit.”
“I’m not gay,” he said, without turning to look at me.
“Of course, you’re not. I get it now. No need to call for the extermination of others because you may not like what you see in yourself. Some people are simply living their lives the way they were created. A fraction of the world is born homosexual like some people are born black. That’s just life.”
Isaac kept silent for a long time thereafter. Shuttling me around town for the next three hours, he hardly spoke a word. I might have said, turn off here, let’s go there. But I thought of his wife and children and my sense of integrity. From the silence alone, I knew it would be our last trip together in this taxi. We both knew it. He thought I would give the typical rasta response to his anti-gay rhetoric. He picked the wrong man but clearly hedging his bets.
Hating gay people in Africa won’t drive ‘gayness’ away. But it does force many people to live double lives while creating the kind of social conditions that fuel deceit and spread diseases. Take a good look around you next time you’re on the continent. Men having sex with other men is far more common in Africa than is socially acknowledged.
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