I never really thought that the day would come when I had a longing to go back to Ghana. I thought it was great while it lasted, I was really glad I went, but I mean I am sitting in the middle of New Zealand. I have hot water, electricity, reliable public transport, good classes, great professors, good internet, what could make me possibly miss Ghana- a place where all those things were scarce? I have no idea.

All I know is that right now, I would give up all those things again to be sitting in a hot damp room with what were only semi clean clothes in the first place, sticking to my back, a bag of rice with some spicy sauce, no running water, surrounded by friends playing an intense game of Uno while mosquitos buzzed around our heads.

I miss everything. Even the hard stuff. For some reason looking back, the hard stuff made me feel…capable, strong, and smart- in a totally different way than school or swimming ever did. I didn’t realize it then, but the hard stuff is the stuff that got under my skin- the stuff that made me want to do something for and in this world. It makes me realize what I am capable of, what i can endure, and a whole new realm of possibilities opened to me. That’s the stuff that changed me as a person, realizing that despite everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong, I can still laugh, dance, and smile, and at some point, fix the situation. In the end I didn’t remember the frustrated feelings that came with the amazing adventure- all I remember is laughing about them.  The hard stuff is what makes life after Ghana different in every way.

Life became about the people I surrounded myself with. It became about being happy despite the potential for misery. I learned to laugh at myself, at my situation, and feel sympathy for those who were not able to see the humor in it- and I realized that the fact that I didn’t have water today, is not going to matter in 20 years, or even in 20 days. What did matter is how I dealt with that situation and the people that shared that situation with me. What really matters is that I was laughing (even if I was also complaining), and that I was a part of something great, that I can do and endure things other people would not dare to dream about- and still smile about it.

 In the months after those hard times, I can’t remember ever feeling miserable- I know they happened, I know it was hard, I know that I complained a lot, but misery is nowhere in my memory.  But I do remember joking about it with Mie and Tara, Michelle and Keri over a bowl of fried rice from the lady that always made our lunch with a smile. The funniest part is, when you come back and tell people all the hard stuff that happened- they look at you and say “so, it was awful?” and then consider you a little bit crazy after you respond “no, I have never had so much fun in my life.” Ghana changed me.

The truth is; I didn’t have to have pretty crown, sparkly shoes, smooth hair, and perfect makeup to have a good time and become friends with some of the best people I have ever met. In fact, I think the best way to meet people is for you to both to be a little smelly, a little dirty, a little sweaty, and maybe a bit miserable, and then to talk about it all over a friendly game of Uno or Madlibs and a good serving of Red-Red and plantains while the flies circle you all.  I miss every single person that was in my program, and it wasn’t until now that I realized how much they meant to me.

The other day, a guy told me that all “us girls” have ridiculous problems and we don’t understand what a “real” problem is. Quite frankly, I couldn’t help but be offended even though he had no idea what I had just done for the last 6 months of my life. I also knew that he had no way of knowing that I probably had a better understanding of what a “real” problem was than he did. But still, I was offended by the mere suggestion of the fact that I look like someone who only has “ridiculous girl problems”. I responded by saying, I have no problems. Something, that may not be true every second, and will not be true every second, but at that moment, and at this moment, I have no ridiculous girl problems. He responded by saying that if I have no problems, then I have a problem. Idiot.  I am in New Zealand. I am in school. I have a room to stay in and nice people surrounding me, things to eat and people that support me. The only problem I have is I miss Africa. I don’t see how that being my only problem means that I have a problem.

I always say, it takes a certain kind of person to go to Africa. And looking back, I knew that was true….but I wasn’t sure what kind of person that was, I wasn’t even sure if I was that kind of person. It took going to New Zealand and trying to blend in with a whole new crowd to figure it out. The friends I met in Africa were strong, independent, extremely down to earth, driven, happy, and capable, funny, friendly, and a thousand other great things. They were awesome (not that the people I am meeting in New Zealand are not). They could turn any negative into a positive. Any bad day was something to laugh about. Any awkward situation could become a comfortable one. We were a part of a bond that only a place like Ghana could bring out in people, and one that I am not sure I will ever experience it again.  We faced some hardships, some hunger, weird smells, sickness, market places, taxis, creepy men, pick pocketing, dangerous situations, bad classes, and anything that, that guy may call real problems together. And we laughed about it. We were happy, and found a way to love Ghana despite what it threw at us.

The hardest part about New Zealand is, I find myself getting frustrated with the mundane. Who cares that blush in New Zealand costs you triple what it would at home. Don’t wear blush. Problem solved. And who cares if you had to pay $25 to come home after a night of drinking. Walk. It’s free. And if you are in a position where you can’t walk….I have less sympathy for you than before. Manicures, cute jewelry, perfume, and a bottle of good ketchup are all extras in life. There is no reason to get worked up about not having it, and I find it hard to relate to the people who do. Seriously though, you’d be amazed at how much people talk about ketchup when they go abroad.

 I guess this is what some people refer to as “Reverse culture shock”. The things that matter to me seem to be very different than then things that matter to some of the people around me. I mean, I like blush and nail polish, and going out, but being able to wear it or have a quality drink is not going to make a lick of difference to my overall happiness- and I am not sure that is completely true for everyone.

 I won’t be embarrassed if I don’t have makeup on, I won’t be outraged if I have to get my hands dirty, I won’t be livid if a friend can’t meet me for a coffee date. Those days won’t stay in my mind nearly as well as the days that I was that I spent in Africa without those things. As far as I am concerned, there will be other days I can wear makeup, other days when I won’t have to clean the dirt from under my fingernails, and other days that I can go out for coffee; but not every day will I be a part of something great, something more meaningful than looking pretty and drinking a caramel frap.

I also find myself being grateful for things I wasn’t grateful for before and also things I didn’t consider before. Some are small things like….being able to run at night, being able to drink tap water, warm running water, electricity. Some are big things- the realization that no matter what happens, everything will work out, that I am lucky enough to always have something to smile about, and that I have had one of the most incredible opportunities I will ever be offered- one that a lot of people don’t get to have, and that I have an incredible family- Mom, Dad, Sister and James, Brother, and even Zade,( because he didn’t forget me), and Blaze (because she welcomed me home) and friends that supported me the whole way.

One day, I hope that I can make a difference to someone like all those people have made for me.

 And if any of you have the chance to go to Africa, just do it. Don’t be afraid, don’t think twice, don’t reconsider it…actually it’s probably better not to think at all. Just go. Do what I did, and picture nothing past the airplane. You’ll be glad you went. You are capable of far more than you believe.

So to end this, I want to say thank you everyone. Thank you mom for getting me to and through Ghana, and to Dad and Virginia for helping finance and supporting this incredible year of my life. To Alyssa, Tamara, Jasmine, Enia, Maria and Ana, thank you for not trying to stop me even though you knew what I was getting myself into, and to Hannah and Evan for being excited for me too, and to everyone I met in Ghana for making Ghana the best thing I have ever done. And thanks to Francis and the rest of your family for helping me once I arrived, and Tony and Katherine for relating to my situations- it really did make me feel better.  And lastly, thanks to you for reading all my blog posts, I get such a good feeling in my heart when I see the number of views go up. It’s thanks to you guys that I have this blog to look back at.

If the world were to end today, I am lucky that I made it this far.

Advertisements