Well, it’s been almost two years since I left for Ghana. Lately I’ve been asking myself, how is that possible? For the most part it is still so recent in my memory, even though a large number of life altering events, a plethora of new friends, and the last two years of college (and all that entailed) have elapsed since.
I think part of the reason that Ghana has stayed so close in my memory is because it, like another famous-in-my-life place, was responsible for so much growth and change in my life. So here I am, two years later, writing a mishmash that boils down to what I gained, with a sprinkle of other things relating to that old place.
A renewed appreciation for water.
I was never a huge fan of water. A small fan perhaps. A generalized fan. I would never say I didn’t like water. But I didn’t love it.
Now, I am obsessed with it. Obsessed. When people ask me what I can’t live without, water is always on there, and I know that we all can’t live without water, but even if we could live without it I would not because I am in love with it. When people complain about water quality here, I say okay, sounds rough, and then I revel in the fact that I don’t have to buy 20 pound bags of further bagged water to keep in my fridge and when I accidentally run out in the middle of the night I don’t have to boil water and sit staring at it while it cools, or else fear puking the whole next day. I fucking love water. It’s FREE! And it’s just THERE! And its so good for you! And it tastes so good! It’s like a refreshment you can get every second of the day that doesn’t only not hurt your body, it makes it healthy! This appreciation has not bated since I have been back. This is water.
Satisfaction and comfort in my own company.
Before I went to Ghana, I really didn’t like being alone. Now of course I enjoy being around friends as much as possible, but I am okay and happy when none are around. Before I went, I needed to have activities to occupy my brain with if I was ever going to be alone because if I didn’t I would get anxious. I had to fill every second of my day with things to do in order to live happily. I hated walking, I needed to watch tv until I fell asleep unless I was exhausted, even when I was with other people I needed everyone to be consistently talking and entertaining me.
In Ghana I was forced to confront that. I had to be alone, and for a large portion of the day. I floundered for a while. But there was no choice but to learn to love being alone. Maybe there was one, but I didn’t see it, or somewhere in me I knew that learning to love it was the one that would bring me peace. And it did. As my time in Ghana went on, I learned to walk for hours alone. To think without having a problem to focus on. To comfortable with myself and my thoughts for hours on end, for days, and not just comfortable but happy. This has been one of the most valuable things I gained. As fun as it is to have people around all the time, to need it isn’t healthy, or at least it wasn’t for me.
The best of friends.
Of course, I’ve made some of the best of friends everywhere I’ve been. I can’t think of an experience in my life that I didn’t gain at least one great friend from. But the friends from Ghana still have something different in my memory.
When I got to Ghana, I didn’t think I’d like anyone in my group. It seemed like everyone was bonding and I either wasn’t interested in what they were bonding over or nobody was interested in bonding with me. I got cynical for a minute, I complained to friends at home and my parents. And then I got my shit together and stopped complaining and missing my friends (well lets be honest I never stopped missing my friends, but I stopped only concentrating on that) and figured out all the good shit about the people I was with. Which was a lot. So much, in fact.
I found an artist partner in crime, I engaged in endless conversations about feminism, learned new games aka my favorite thing, had a group of comrades to complain with about village life, we searched for egg sandwiches and kebabs and figured out how to find common ground of all the different places one can go to college in the U.S. I spent hours at bars in Accra talking to friends who two months before I thought would never like me, we made our own Thanksgiving and shared books and laughed at when we were accidentally culturally insensitive.
But the important thing going into the future about that is learning to get off my high horse about how cool my school friends are. They are cool. So fucking cool. But so is everyone else out there.
The knowledge that I can.
People are really big fans of telling me (and everyone else in the world, I assume) that I can’t. You can’t leave Wisconsin and go to college in California! You can’t go to a school with no major! You can’t not get grades! You can’t join a sorority when you’re in Johnston! You can’t be friends with those CAS kids, and most relevant now, the trifecta: you can’t go to Africa without getting sexually assaulted/when you have so many other options/why study African studies in the first place.
Well, from that whole paragraph you can see that I’d already begun to figure this one out.
It’s not even really the last three things I said that changed my view of this particular thing when I was in Ghana. It was more my ISP. I had an unattentive advisor, I was living alone in Accra, and my academic directors had nothing in common with my topic. I had a 50 page paper due in three weeks (which may be forever lost, unless I can find it in email, so dear everyone upload everything you do in google docs and dear person who stole my shit you suck) and no resources to complete it.
So, I started walking. I looked up phone numbers. I walked into any place that looked like an artist might be there and asked if I could talk to them. It was awkward. I cold called successful artists whose names I found on the internet. Also awkward. But it worked. Instead of sitting in my rented room all day lamenting the unhelpfulness of Kofi-bad, (not to be confused with Kofi-good and Kofi-the temporary) I went from top to bottom of Accra and went to galleries and met artists who were actually successful in and out of Ghana. I even ended up painting multiple times with Wiz Kuwodor, the good-foil of Kofi, and we developed a true friendship that I never would have been able to imagine if I’d sat in my apartment saying ‘I can’t.’
That’s why I’m not moving home. That’s the root. Of course it’s partially because I want to stay in California, and because I don’t have many friends at home, those are the reasons I want to stay. But the reason I AM staying is because I know that I might fail, I might end up stranded on a road in Ghana because I took a three hour tro tro and tried to get a taxi one more mile to my destination and neither the driver or I could find it (because that happened too) but if I don’t try first, then I will definitely fail and be alone in the apartment complaining about Kofi.
Things don’t always have to be good now to be perfect later.
I was not happy for my first month or so in Ghana. I was constantly anxious, I wondered why I’d picked to go there, I felt like I had no friends, I feared that because of all those negative emotions, I’d regret going to Ghana when I came home.
Literally exactly the opposite. I am so fucking grateful that I was unhappy and lonely. It taught me so much. I used to get jealous of people who were happy for their whole abroad experience, but the truth is, I wasn’t them. I needed to be unhappy then to understand happiness that came later. I needed to learn from the unhappiness to change me into a person who was happy constantly.
Since getting back from Ghana, I have not regretted it once. I become more and more grateful for it every day, every day that something bad happens, that something good happens, I go back and thank my former self who did it even though she didn’t want to.
The ability to laugh at the strangest of scenarios.
Because sometimes you have to pee in a bag and the bag has a hole.
Because sometimes you are living with a spider the size of your hand.
Because sometimes when you meet up with an artist to discuss his life as an artist, he thinks it’s a date.
Because sometimes you’re charged 35 cedi for printing.
Because sometimes you have to shit in the street.
Which brings me to…
A whole slew of digestive problems.
Not everything is good. I’ve never had a nice-to-me stomach, but Ghana certainly sent it on another tailspin. Post Ghana, I’ve only recently gotten to the point where I poop 3x or less a day. For at least a year I was still at five, after getting parasite tests. Sucks. But at least stuff moves through my system.
The knowledge that it is worth it to give up what you love now so you can appreciate it more later.
A huge part of my trepidation about Ghana was leaving Redlands for a semester. It’s crazy to think about that now! I can’t even remember what specifically I thought I was missing out on. But I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to step away from the place that I’d found true happiness, even for a minute, let alone a whole semester.
I started to realize this when I was there, and it has only come into sharper and sharper relief since I’ve been back: going to Ghana, even missing that semester, enabled me to make the most out of the last three. I would not have enjoyed these past three semesters anywhere near as much, I would not have been so happy and lived the shit out of them, if I had not been to Ghana. It taught me the way I needed to live here to make those last three semesters incredible.
Since I got back, I’ve never once thought about what I missed when I was gone.
All the best stories.
The Bekwai baby. My legendary fight with Kofi. Sefa and his failure at ten fingers. (Never have I ever driven a tro tro.) Getting kicked out of the art gallery. The art gallery adventure night with Trent. Susan Amegashie, in general. Numerous times of almost dying on motorcycles. Buying some of my friends presents with money I got gambling in Ghanaian casinos. Mucho mas.
A sharp anger about Africa naivete.
It’s never been un-sharp, since I started learning about Africa, but now it is like a very expensive knife. Recently when I was using my experience in Ghana to discuss my belief that humans are inherently good, I brought up that there has never been a serial killer in Ghana, and someone replied “Never one that’s been reported.” And I flew off the fucking handle.
I’m actually not even going to go into it here because the rant is too long, but I am defensive of it and I would advise to only cross me if you are ready to be schooled in an argument because I am not a lazy African studies emphasis, I know my shit.
A short list of funny phrases to say in Twi.
Not long because I have a terrible memory, but:
Ah den! WHY! (Said in any situation where anything goes wrong)
Learning to like beer.
Well, I never liked it before, and then it was two pm in the village and we had nothing to do. And we looked at each other and said: bar?
And we drank 22s and complained and laughed and played with babies and made friends and did stupid dares.
And now I’m a beer snob who raises her eyebrows at Orange Wheat and raced to Eureka Burger when Pliny the Elder was tapped. I’ve also won some solid bets on the fact that no, they do not sell Star beer at Bevmo.