It was my considered plan not to seek any sort of emotional or physical intimacy for as long as I was a Peace Corps volunteer. At the age of 24, I had spent the bulk of my life as a happy singleton, neither seeking nor, I thought, needing, that kind of relationship. Coming out in Kentucky did open some kind of floodgate that allowed me to experience the kind of completeness that only comes from a loving relationship expressed physically. But I felt no driving need for one. Before Rick, I had been very happy on my own. With Rick I learned I could be happy attached, as well, but a relationship was merely icing on a cake I already thought tasted pretty good. I already knew that Ghana would be the adventure of my lifetime, at least up to that point. Living between cultures, unmoored from the expectations of home and friends yet never a completely integral member the new society in which I found myself (temporarily) immersed, is the most profound sense of freedom I have ever had. My only guidepost was my own morality, what I knew to be right and wrong. With that as my benchmark, I was free to expand my horizons to any boundaries that fit within it. I charged headlong into experiencing a life in Africa. I wanted no emotional encumbrances. Who needed love? This was a time entirely for me.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the fact that all days, either filled with adventure or the most hum-drum, are still 24 hours long. And I forgot that my usually happy singleness could at times morph into loneliness. And I was completely unprepared for the realization that the more isolated I became, the more lonely, because days are indeed 24 hours, and you have routines to keep and jobs to do and you can’t be with your friends “Experiencing” all the time.

One of the things we were warned about in training was that Ghanaian men are physically expressive in their friendships with each other. They hold hands, walk the streets arm-in-arm, even embrace. Our American senses of privacy and personal space are just that: American; they are concepts largely unknown by the average Ghanaian. Men ran their fingers through my hair to compare its texture with that of their own. They rubbed the skin on my arm or leg to see if some darker color might be underneath. There is absolutely no sexual intent to any of this physicality as far as the Ghanaian is concerned, but that simple truth didn’t make much difference to a gay American kid wound tight as a Swiss watch. I tried simply to enjoy the attention for its own sake without reading anything into it, but other forces were obviously at work, against my very strong will.

I had learned that “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” was a guiding principle in Ashanti society. They will do you a favor, seemingly spontaneously, and then expect a favor in return, usually bigger, and often involving money. We Americans, with our expansive, friendly ways, were easy to approach, even if we were in professions usually accorded some respectful distance, such as education. Having learned this, while I was enjoying getting to know people, I had also developed a healthy initial distrust of any friendly overture.

At first Kofi was just another Ghanaian seeking my attention. He was a student at my school, age 19 to my 24. He politely approached me seeking advice and offering to help me with chores around my house, seeing that I had not hired a housekeeper. Little by little he insinuated himself into my life, showing me how to do laundry and cook simple Ghanaian food, and at the same time opening up to me about his life, how his father neglected him, the first-born, after adding to his expenses by producing too many additional children with his mother, who was a simple farm woman in a small town to the north of Kumasi. After several weeks I trusted that Kofi was the real deal. He never set up any quid pro quo expectations of me, he simply offered his friendship, and whatever favors we did for each other were a natural outgrowth of that friendship. He was not in any of my classes, so I felt the growing closeness between us did not cross any ethical lines. I had known that a close Ghanaian friendship was the ideal route by which I could gain the sort of entrée into the local culture that would allow me to feel at home there, and this budding relationship with Kofi seemed something like a crowning achievement. Before long I was traveling with him to his visit his mother, eating her bush food and sleeping in the claustrophobic, oxygen-deprived way village Ghanaians do, in their mud-brick rooms, a gas lantern always burning low, and all doors and windows closed against insects and other intruders. I was the object of great curiosity for all the children whenever I was seen making my way to the village latrine. Because of Kofi, I was able to experience a taste of Ghanaian rural village life that would otherwise have been closed to me as a city-posted volunteer. In return, it seemed only natural that Kofi should stay in my house during term breaks when he wasn’t in school. I had the extra room and we were quickly becoming “brothers.”

Superficially, this special friendship really did proceed as innocently and successfully as I describe. But there was another level, and from there, a detached, third eye in my brain watched as my life centrifuged ever more tightly around this young man and I became more and more obsessed with him. The surface realities of Ghanaian life, both in general and specifically in my determined reactions to it, were still in place: Kofi was as physically demonstrative with me as he was with all his other friends, and since we lived in such close proximity, at least during term breaks, it was natural that we would see each other in various states of undress (though never entirely nude). And the more physically attractive I found him, the more tightly I clamped down on my natural emotional and physical reactions to that attraction, for fear of crossing that ethical line as well as of making a fatal mistake that would get me booted out of the Peace Corps. The frustration I felt as this situation evolved over a period of several months is indescribable, and yet that third, objective mental eye of mine simply watched as I sank deeper into this unrequited and largely unexpressed passion. It manifested itself in petty ways, mostly via jealousy of Kofi’s girlfriends. I was ashamed of the state I had allowed myself to fall to, and yet at the same time, the objective voyeur in my brain was fascinated at the depths to which I was sinking.

I finally started trying to have conversations with Kofi about the nature of our relationship, but they only made him uncomfortable. I did tell him how I had grown to feel about him, and he, bless him, was genuinely sorry that he was not able to return my feelings in kind. My unhappiness made him unhappy, and that only further fed my unhappiness. I began to think that I was the worst thing that could have happened to Kofi’s life, parachuting into it as I had, introducing him to these complicated issues for which he had absolutely no need. All this sadness was completely unnecessary, and my mere presence was the cause of it. The relationship as it stood had become untenable and was forcing me to the conclusion that there was no way for me to live in Ghana without Kofi, but at the same time I knew I could no longer live with him. After one last disastrous attempt at talking it through with him, I decided the only decent thing left for me to do was to extricate myself completely from Kofi’s life and leave it as simple and as happy as it had been before my intrusion. I had to leave Ghana.

The morning I told him of my decision was one of the most heart-rending times I will ever live through and is seared into my memory. Kofi, dressed in his multi-colored fugu and unknowingly looking his most beautiful, begged me through his tears not to leave. He said he felt terrible guilt, that my leaving Ghana was his fault and that he could never live with himself if I should go. He said he had thought we would always live next to each other, raising our families together.  He offered to take the pressure off me by moving, living someplace else and visiting so we could remain “brothers,” and he enlisted the aid of other teachers and of Fred, my landlord, an American-trained chemist who had become a close friend, to try to talk me out of my decision. But my mind was made up, I saw no other way out. In spite of the upheaval I surely faced at home, given either the certainty of being drafted into the Army or coming out to my family by publicly declaring my homosexuality, I packed a bag for Accra to begin mustering myself out of the Peace Corps. It was early 1971.