Mole National Park, Ghana.

When I got home from Ghana, there were …a couple shocking things that I came to realize.

For one, I no longer had to “hold it” for too long before finding a suitable bathroom (I mean the airport actually had a bathroom with flushing toilets- who knew?). Like instead of waiting two hours just to end up going on the side of the road, I could 1. walk down the hall and 2. there would be a working toilet with nothing but water in it and would actually flush- so that whole process could repeat multiple times. Wow. Oh and, If I need to go while I’m out and about- there is toilet paper and soap available! Ah-Maze-ing.

Children just outside of their village.

Also- my mom’s car is quiet. When we got in the car to drive home- I actually told her that her car had stalled because there was no way it was really on. Apparently cars are just that quiet- you don’t need it to be rattling… or roaring…or screeching to know that it’s on. That was news to me. Then we were half way down the 101 before I realized there was a seat belt in the car and I probably should be wearing it. I had forgotten about seat belts.

Oh and, when people say they will be there by 2- they are actually there by 2. I mean that’s great, but I’m not exactly ready yet…I thought I had a good 30 minutes before I needed to expect you to knock on the door.

I also had to start wearing make-up again…and doing my hair. I had become so comfortable with my red shiny face and sweaty hair- I’m not exactly sure I was ready to let that go- but let’s get back to reality here…and a little mascara never hurt anyone.

House on stilts, covered with a USAID tarp, Benin.

On the same subject of things…my first warm shower when I got back was incredible. I stepped in and instantly my muscles relaxed- I didn’t even know that that happened before I went to Ghana- but oh my goodness, my muscles had not been that relaxed in months- all that “11th minute” business would never ever be able to get me while I stood in that warm shower.

I can’t forget about shopping either. I mean, I always loved shopping- but in Ghana “shopping” kind of meant something different- shopping was code for a crowded market or overpriced foreign food store that you really only went to in the first place because they had air conditioning. Now there were clothes stores with really pretty clothes. And shoes. And sparkles. Man do I love glitter. How could I ever forget that shopping could be such great fun? I bought high heel sparkly shoes, a fur (fake) coat, and lots of dresses and skirts (I really didn’t purchase, or even look at,  practical day-to-day clothing items. Who needs those when there are new fancy clothes to buy and wear?.  You could say that I missed being glamorous, but just a bit.

The hardest, saddest day, the point of no return.

Dying fabric at the crafts market.

The food was also a shocker. In Ghana, I was used to being hungry about 70% of the time- so when you eat a meal in Ghana- you eat. Eat like you may not get another meal that day (and sometimes you wouldn’t). So all of a sudden, I have a practically guaranteed 3 meals a day? I gained 10 pounds in 2 weeks. Don’t worry though- I stopped eating and started playing Just Dance, and I’m back to normal. Oh also- salt is the most amazing thing that ever came into being.

Elephant skull for sale at the Voodoo Market

And what do you mean I can go out at night alone? The day after I came home, I drove to Sacramento and took Zade on a train ride- we had to walk through a very dark park of Old Town Sacramento to get there and I could not believe how chill I felt. Last year- I would have freaked out doing that, but now, after being in Ghana,  I felt like the risk was significantly low of anything bad happening- I mean, I got through all of west Africa without incident- what was going to hurt me on a 5 minute walk in the safest city in California? Nothing.

There were a couple stories I waited until I got home to tell. Most of them concerned safety. At home someone can say,  “that place isn’t exactly safe”. Well it may not be, but you can still chance it and make it out alive. In Ghana, if someone says that’s not safe- you should never ever do it. I had a friend that almost got raped when she was running- two men grabbed her and asked her for kisses and told her she was beautiful, a quick elbow to the stomach and a fast run for her life fixed that. Another person was telling us that he was talking to a man that needed help at a popular tro tro station, and ended up being surrounded by a gang holding machetes and they robbed him. If I can survive those risks- I was sure I could walk to my car.

Sometimes, random things come back to me. Someone tells me a story and I respond by saying “When I was in Ghana….”

Palm trees on the beach in Ghana. Beautiful!

My mom told me I should be writing it all down- and she was probably right- but needless to say, I didn’t do what she said.  I’m sure other stuff will come back to me and I will keep adding it to this post.

When I went over and started reading  my old Ghana blogs- I found myself laughing, and I know that I wasn’t laughing when I wrote them…or I was only laughing out of pure misery. But man, I feel like I am a whole world away from that…like Ghana was forever ago- like I can’t believe it all happened, and yeah- most of those things were really funny.

It’s hard to believe that I went to Africa, just like it’s hard to believe I’m in New Zealand. However, there are two questions that continue to stump me: When people ask me why I picked Ghana, I always respond now by saying: “I don’t know”. And honestly, I don’t remember. I’m glad I chose it- but none of my previous reasons could ever explain what the Ghana experience was to/for me- or why it for some reason caught my attention- and I think that’s why I forgot what they were. They weren’t….good enough. I went because it stood out to me….because it would be an experience to talk about for the rest of my life. Because how many other people can say they lived in west Africa for 4 months?

Togo. No, not the sandwich shop. The country.

Yes, I traveled by taxi, without a helmet.

The other question is “How was it?” Well….I don’t know. Hot. Most people stare at me after that. How do I answer that question? “The last 4 months of my life were good?” There was so much more than that. The experience changed me…but I can’t really explain how. And….it was hard at times, and really fun at others….No, none of that works. Sometimes, people look at me like they are expecting me to tell them that just because I was hungry, frustrated, and hot…. most of the time (not to mention cold showers), that it was bad- but i promise I wasn’t. Or I say “I just spent the last semester in Ghana” and they respond with a sour look on their face and say “oooo umm…how was it?” It was one of the best things I ever did. Period. No, I really can’t begin to explain why. Stop looking at me that way

Children at the crafts market.

Open sewer in Ghana.

I find myself telling people that it takes a certain kind of person to travel to Ghana for a semester and then walking away thinking “I can’t believe I was that kind of person…I can’t believe that I was just in Africa.” Most days I was glad to be home, where I had a warm bed, reliable internet, lots of new clothes, and all the people I love were around me. However, there are moments, like now when I am writing this post, that I do miss it, I miss the people I met, the laughs we had, and yeah….maybe the red red (the beans I swore I would never eat again).

But, I’m in another part of the world now- ready for a new kind of experience. So far, so good- and because people have continued to say they hope that I will keep up with the blog- I will! Thanks for reading!

Saying Good-bye to Ghana

Mom, brother and nephew wait for me in San Francisco. Sister and niece were there, too.

My "Welcome Home" dinner, a Thanksgiving re-do.