I’m on Day 3 in Ghana and so far, I’ve been shockingly homesick, overjoyed with my work, sick to my stomach, scared half to death, on top of the world, panicked, stressed out, elated, overjoyed, and so exhausted I’ve fallen asleep in a bar, on plate of turkish kebab, and on a bicycle. Apparently all this is completely normal. I’ve never felt so misplaced and welcomed in at the same time. Everyone I meet is super friendly; they usually spend 30 plus minutes giving me unsolicited advice and then another ten warning me that I can’t trust any Ghanian ever because everyone here wants something, especially the friendly ones. My go-to tactic is to smile politely and accept their advice without pointing out the irony of the situation. Things I’ve learned so far:
All white people are “Kwasi” or Sunday born
Running water is a luxury
Whatever I thought was “poor” in the USA is NOTHING compared to what people have and don’t have here
Wifi is a treasured resource not to be underestimated in value
I am not as tough as I’d like to think I am
“Rainy,” like “late,” “far,” “close,” and “soon,” are all really really relative terms, so much so that they’re pretty much meaningless here
So much happens in all the nothing that goes on here. I don’t really know where to begin filling you guys in. Everyday I get a little less overwhelmed, but by about 3pm GMT (Ghana Maybe Time) I’m wiped out and in a kind of shock from a whole day of doing crazy things I always promised my Mom I’d never do, in a place that is not my home. I’m surrounded by people constantly, and yet I feel very very alone. Even as places start to feel more familiar, and I know how to navigate Accra (I took my first solo Trotro ride this afternoon), Ghana isn’t home. I honestly doubt it ever will be. From what I hear the homesickness never really wears off, it just changes forms.
It is very tempting to sulk, to slink off to my room at the Ghana Registered Nurses Hostel and burn through my four seasons of 30 Rock in one evening and pretend that I’m not in Western Africa with no cell phone and no reliable way of contacting home.
But I am in Western Africa with no cell phone and no reliable way to call home. Staying present in that reality is really hard. It’s sort of like swimming in big waves–unless you throw yourself into it, you’ll drown. But either way you eventually run out of steam. That’s the big question: how long can you last under enormous pressure? When will you crack? Everyone cracks eventually. At least that’s what my new friend Freah tells me. She’s an epidemiologist who’s done her fair share of time in the bush and out. There’s a hierarchy of crazy to the expat/NGO community.
According to her, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) are the craziest fuckers out there–they crack the earliest and are stuck the longest. Expats have more freedom, but wind up staying longer cuz they get paid crazy money. She’s in the ideal position–as a Phd student, she’s in 3 months out 9, and in charge of her own research but has to deal with loads of bureaucracy. I’m somewhere in the middle–I’ve got less stability than a PCV and more freedom than Freah, but less support than either. Were I betting on the situation, I’d give odds on me cracking sometime in the next week or lasting til halloween and having a complete meltdown. Something will happen. Worst case scenario: I throw in the towel and come home in time for Christmas. No matter what, it’ll all be ok.