Travel: My first international travels were during a spring break trip to Italy in my last year of college (thanks Deb Bell for showing me how); from that point on anything seemed possible. My volunteer work in Nicaragua and Colombia helped acquaint me with third world realities, such as bucket bathing, brushing your teeth without running water, and learning to navigate local produce. My later travels through Europe, especially spending most of a summer traveling and living in Greece, finally gave me the confidence I needed to pursue moving to another continent.
Thrifty living: My New England upbringing prepared me for living life in a pragmatic, financially conservative way. I learned to work with what I have and stretch a nickel. This has served me well on my volunteer budget. My time as a college professor allowed me to be a bit more extravagant, but my roots lie in pinching pennies. Like my mother did during my youth, I keep used containers that may be useful for something else at a later date. I’m not hoarding, but I am keeping things I would normally just recycle back in the States. This recently paid off when I turned my pump sunscreen container into a liquid soap dispenser (a device that seems to be absent in Ghana). I cleaned the spent lotion container, then filled it with liquid dish soap and am enjoying the luxury of soft soap.
Living simply: Life in a small African village where people don’t often travel beyond the district, is quiet. I am usually home by 6pm before it gets dark and other than the inane shows on TV (and, trust me, they are even more ridiculous here than in the US), I have to create my own entertainment. Thanks to my sister-in-law, my kindle is well stocked, so reading has become a great escape. Thanks to my experiences working out with some amazing trainers, I know how to fit exercise into my daily routine, both as a means of stress reduction and mood-balancing, as well as a form of entertainment. Thanks to my husband, I have someone to call everyday to keep me rooted to my American life as well.
A few other things that have helped:
My independent spirit: I’m used to doing things on my own.
My willingness and ability to talk to anyone: Modeled throughout my life by my dear old dad.
My ability to sleep anywhere, through almost anything: including bumpy tro rides, through roosters crowing at all hours of the night, and the big Thursday market just outside my window each week. My years of sleeping through joe’s basketball games! complete with buzzers and whistles! helped set me up with this gift.
There were a few things a that I was not prepared for however, like:
Eating food and drinking water from a plastic bag.
Eating super hot food with my hands (sans utensils).
And the frustration of trying to communicate in a shared language (English) and failing miserably.
But the thing that actually made me realize how much my past has prepared me for my present was really quite trivial…
Drinking an orange: First I must say that fruit near the equator is AMAZING! It tastes like the sun intended instead of the cardboard “fruit” available in the US.
So what prepared me to ‘drink’ an orange like they do here in Ghana? When I was a kid we had a plastic device that you could insert into an orange and suddenly it worked more like a juice box than a piece of fruit. The device looked a bit like a wide straw attached to an apple corer. The way people in Ghana “eat” (drink is more accurate) their oranges is quite similar. First they peel the outer most peel away, leaving a white globe. Next, they slice off the top and proceed to suck the contents of the fruit through this hole. It’s delicious! And this is what started this whole train of thought, things that led to me feeling comfortable and at ease in a very foreign land.
I imagine there is some proverb or saying about oranges, but I can’t think of any, so I leave you with this thought: drink your oranges while you can, before you know it they’ll taste like cardboard again. Or better yet, when you get oranges, drink ’em like orange aide.
Merry Christmas to all my friends and family! I’m looking forward to coming home for a short spell and seeing as many of you as I can manage. The rough schedule is as follows: December 23-27 Ohio, 28-1/2 Maine, then heading south to NC and SC.