Boston Teacher’s Face Winds Up On a Huge Billboard In Africa

Lillie Marshall has no idea how it got there. Surprise!

Here at home, Lillie Marshall is a mother, a teacher in the Boston Public School system, and an avid blogger.

But in Ghana, she’s kind of a local celebrity.

On January 9, while she was home with her child, a casual acquaintance sent Marshall an email letting her know that her face is plastered on a giant billboard in West Africa, advertising restaurant food and services for residents of Ghana.

The “shocking” message read:

Lillie! Flying down the street in the car on my way to Bojo Beach in Ghana, we passed this sign. I screamed out loud, ‘I KNOW THAT GIRL!’ Are you aware that you are the face of the Synagogue Restaurant in Accra, Ghana?!

Marshall has come to terms with the fact that she’s prominently displayed on the large sign, however, she doesn’t have the slightest inclination as to how her photo wound up there.

“I have a new baby, so I’m up all night nursing, and I got the message from my friend at 3 a.m. When I woke up, I was like, ‘was that a bad dream?’ I verified it was true when I looked at the picture in the morning,” she said. “There I was. But I don’t know how long it has been up.”

Marshall, a travel writer, spent time in the region back in 2010 when she was teaching at schools in the area. She spent three months in West Africa after taking a year-leave from the BPS system, where she has taught for the last decade.

She thinks whoever owns the ad could have done a quick Google search, possibly using the terms “Jewish,” “Food,” and “Ghana,”—things she regularly blogged about during her time there—and plucked her picture from the Internet.

“That could have been it. Or maybe I worked with some people when I was there who maybe knew about my site,” she said. She can’t be sure, though.

While she has grown slightly fond of her obscure newfound fame in another part of the world, she hasn’t stopped investigating the circumstances surrounding the surprise appearance. Marshall said she has enlisted the help of friends she made while teaching in Ghana, who have been calling the Synagogue Restaurant repeatedly to try and get some answers.

“Normally I am really angry when people take my photos or use my face, but there is something sort of charming about this,” she said. “They are not making big bucks off it I’m sure, and I like a little bit of fame, so whatever ways it comes I’ll take it. The country is wonderful, the food is great, and the people there are great. My experience was incredibly welcoming, so maybe that’s another reason I feel OK about this.”

Marshall said it also helped her personal blog, “Around the World ‘L,’” where she wrote about the experience, which led to more hits than ever before.

On her site she concluded:

Bottom line: This is one of the most bizarre instances to happen as a result of my blog, ever, and it raises some intense questions… but it’s also kind of funny.

If the circumstances were different, she said she would have asked the advertisers to remove the image, or cough up some cash for compensation. But you can’t fight every battle, she said.

Coincidentally, around the time she posted her blog, a New York Times reporter came forward and detailed his own similar experience discovering his face was used in an ad without his knowledge in the Brazilian Amazon. The quirkiness of such a similar situation made the incident “neat,” she said.

With the initial shock subsided, Marshall will continue to blog but keep a watchful eye on any developments with her likeness. “I may end up writing a follow up. It seems like it’s possible that I’ll find out what happened. I am writing through Facebook to former coworkers to find out details, but it’s a muddy line of communication. But I think [we will figure it out], eventually,” she said.