I have been trying to think of something blog-worthy to write about since my last entry. As my Peace Corps projects and daily life in Adabokrom slowly unfold, it is hard to keep in mind that most of you reading this are not experiencing this type of life-altering experience along with me. In fact, at times, it seems a bit mundane and it’s hard to think of it as life-altering at all, though I know at a base-level that it has already altered my path. Just the other day the phrase “living the dream” came to mind. I had yet another week filled with routine daily activities, which include cooking every meal, washing my dishes in two buckets of non-running water, washing my clothes by hand struggling to ring all the suds out, walking any and every where I want to go (usually down muddy paths), and once again hiding from the midday heat as rainy season ebbs away. With these typical time-consumers come silly irritants like pulling countless prickly “wheat seeds” out of the cuffs of my pants (yes, I often wear pants in this crazy heat),making sure I have an extra scratch card with credit for my phone in case I run out, and trying to avoid stepping in the shit that is littered along every path by the various animals (goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, cows) that stroll freely around town, not to mention the litter left behind by the people. In addition to physical tasks, there are social tasks to accomplish daily as well, such as greeting EVERYONE I see, trying to find something to chat about with those I do stop and converse with, and generally keeping a smile on my face, laughing when people jokingly ask where my husband is (hoping that yet again I will playfully say he has gone to America and ‘can you believe he left us all behind?’), finding creative new ways to interact with toddlers that cry at the sight of my glow-in-the-dark skin (lately I tell them that I will cry too and do an exaggerated sob), or witty responses to ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘give me money.’ It was during one of these mundane tasks, probably while walking somewhere in town being confounded by the local language once more, that the thought hit me, “I’m living the dream.” Ha!
Not the ‘I’ve got it all’ (house, car, dream job, family) typical-American-status-oriented dream, but despite the third world challenges, I am, in fact, living out one of my life dreams. For years I have wanted to live in another country and experience life differently. Don’t get me wrong, this dream has not always been so altruistic, it hasn’t always involved moving to a developing country by any stretch; sometimes it took an academic-path, with dreams of teaching somewhere glamorous abroad; sometimes it took the romantic path, with dreams of being swept off my feet by some exotic person from a distant land; but there were times that it took the “I can make a difference” path, otherwise Why would I have filled out the Peace Corps application and be here now. But regardless of the inspiration for living abroad in my dream of moving somewhere completely different was always lurking in the shadows.
So now, here I am: living in Ghana. Weird. I hadn’t even visited this continent before agreeing to commit two years of my life to working here in an effort to help with health development. Health development? I had never even considered working in the health field, other then the occasional fantasy about teaching exercise classes. Add to that agreeing to begin my married life on a different continent than my husband most months of the year and it’s an exercise in trying new things! My life at present is split between worlds, being a newlywed with a husband back home, while learning to work as a development volunteer in a third world country. All of this, it’s by my own choice. This is how my dream plays out. I didn’t imagine many, many angles of this situation, but I am living the dream; a fact that I need to remind myself of during some of the more mundane or challenging moments.
During my Peace Corps interview, I distinctly recall being asked how I would feel living in a fishbowl, where all of my actions would be noticed. I said, with all seriousness, that being an extroverted little redheaded girl, measuring in at less than five-feet tall, has always led to being noticed by people, so I was prepared for it. How naive I was thinking it would be similar. Being the only white person for MILES around is entirely different. Getting glances based on being petite is light years away from having children petting your arms and elbows (sometimes chest) during greetings or swiping a quick feel across your flip-flopped toes because they assume your skin must feel differently due to the color. Having people ask for money ALL THE TIME, because they assume that you must be rich since your skin is white and you’re from the first world. There are times that I wish I blended in more so that I could walk down the street anonymously. Everyone in my town knows me by name, since it’s easy to pick out the one obruni (stranger) in a sea of Ghanaians. Those who don’t know my name, feel free to call me ‘obruni’ in order to get my attention. I, on the other hand, can probably only tell you the names of 50-100 people, fewer if I meet them outside their typical locale. Sometimes I wish I was less of an outsider, and other times, I am thrilled by the attention, the special treatment, the fact that just being greeted by me (the obruni) makes people feel special; especially the kids in town; they love to say hello and sometimes hold my hand as we walk along. This week alone I had two wonderful new experiences with children in town. One morning, as I went out for my run, there was a ten-year-old boy sitting on the side of the road; as I passed I asked why he just sat there. He jumped up and joined me for my morning run. It was a holiday Monday, so he did not have to go to school and sat there in anticipation of joining me in one of my regular activities. He ran beside me for three-miles, keeping good pace and answering my occasional questions. Then on Wednesday, I walked the long way to our local hospital, around the time that schools let out. I walked into a group of kids headed home. I was surrounded by about 15 kids who walk several miles just to attend school each day and they chatted with me as we trudged along in the afternoon heat. One boy, about 9 years old, took my hand and walked alongside me. The hand-holding in Ghana is one of the sweetest forms of companionship that I have experienced. I especially love seeing boys holding hands (boys from 0-100 can hold hands with other boys freely here, which does not happen back home. Unfortunately this does not translate to acceptance of same sex relationships in Ghana. This country is predominantly homophobic, yet somehow same-sex hand-holding is acceptable. In fact, holding hands with someone of the opposite sex is the peculiar act here.)
There are many aspects of Ghanaian culture that I still don’t understand, and others that I just don’t like (beating your children to make them obey, for example), but in general, I’m at peace with my decision to be here. My projects are starting to pick up and I feel more useful. I’m able to keep a daily running routine and I’ve found time to read more books than I have in many years (my previous reading record is well known by my book club friends, who by all means should have kicked me out and who I thank for letting me come enjoy wine and conversation regardless.) My conversations in this new land are still limited and I will always be a foreigner, in that my skin and background will always be different, but I am “living the dream” and have found a place to call home here in Ghana for the time being.
* Side note: I will be traveling to my various homes in US for the holidays. I will be stateside 12/22-1/11. At present plans look like: Ohio, then Maine, then South Carolina. Looking forward to seeing friend and family along the way.