Hi, friends! While this is crazy for me to believe, I have now been back in the States for exactly as long as I was in Ghana. This is difficult for me to wrap my head around as I feel that I’ve only been home for a small blip of time… and yet it also seems like my time in Ghana was an entire lifetime ago. Over the past few weeks, I have really enjoyed catching up with friends and family members and discussing our respective summers. However, in these conversations, I am constantly reminded that I kind of dropped the ball on the blogging front: blogging for 71 days out of my total 90 and thus leaving my last 2.5 weeks unspoken for. Though it is now obviously much too late to go back and do those 19 days of stories justice, I thought today’s milestone the perfect opportunity to go back and quickly summarize those lost days so that I am not left with the feeling that I abandoned something before it reached its full potential.
When I last left you all, I had just spent my first day at Escape Three Points: an eco-lodge at Cape Three Points that I had traveled to with my new friends Carlo, Hannas, Theresa, and Luca. This was my second to last stop in my solo-backpacking trip along the coast and was a lovely few days filled with swimming, sun bathing, hiking (to a nearby lighthouse), and great conversations with the friends I had made. After two nights at the eco-lodge (one of those nights marred by the finding of the biggest spider I have literally ever seen… several inches away from me and in a bathroom stall, no less), I subsequently set out for my last stop: a village called Nzulezo.
Nzulezo is known for being a “village on stilts.” Though this name is a bit difficult to comprehend, it’s surprisingly accurate: the village sits on a type of wooden boardwalk (stilts) at the center of a huge lake. The village was pretty difficult to reach as the lake was further inland and I had started out on the coast, so I needed to take a combination of tro tro rides (4 hours) and canoe rides (45 minutes) to reach my destination. The canoe ride was particularly scarring as, halfway through, the sky opened up to produce more rain than I’ve ever seen in my life. As I was in the middle of a lake at this point, there was nowhere to go to seek shelter… and I had both my laptop and camera with me in my bag. Luckily, I found out later that both were fine and I eventually reached the village to receive a tour and meet some of the locals. In a hilarious reality check, one of the men I met (who was some sort of higher-up in the village) told me that we had actually met the day before on a tro tro. When I apologized and stated that I did not remember him, he jogged my memory by recounting that, when he had tried to talk to me, I quickly shut him down and said that I did not feel like talking. Though, at the time, I was tired and really did not feel like talking, it was embarrassing to be face-to-face with the same man I had so rudely denied, especially after hearing that my actions were upsetting to him. I felt awful and apologized profusely, noting that I really need to be nicer to strangers (even when I’m exhausted). I guess you could say that karma evened out the playing field between this man and myself because, about an hour later, I was taking a picture of some little girls I had danced with and literally fell off of the village’s stilts and into the lake. Well, technically only half of me fell into the lake… but I ended up with one soaking pant leg and a giant bruise up my entire other thigh. I can’t say the fall was undeserved (or atypical).
After visiting Nzulezo, I finally made my way back to Brainbirds. This took many hours of traveling back to Cape Coast and then later to Accra. Though I left Nzulenzo around 1PM, it was nearly 11PM when I finally got back to the school due to the Ghanaian tendency to take ones time. As I was constantly reminded over my summer: perspective is everything. While I had surely complained about the condition of my bed at the school on countless occasions (to remind you: it was constantly breaking), the bunk bed felt amazing after such a long journey.
Arriving back at Brainbirds was the official marker of having exactly two weeks remaining in the country. Looking ahead to these two weeks, I was undeniably the most excited about spending more time with Peace, Alice and Emmanuella (my adorable roommates), since I had not seen them for the several weeks that the school spent on holiday. Unfortunately, my wish did not really come true as, in typical Ghanaian fashion, most students took their time returning to school. Despite the new school semester beginning the very next day, some did not return until mere days before my departure and others did not return at all (at least before I left, anyway). My last two weeks of classes felt a bit empty without my girls, though I did receive two new roommates in this time: Antoinette and Cindy. Thankfully, Emmanuella and Peace did eventually come back to school (several days before I left), which was really amazing as a few days with them were obviously better than none at all. Unfortunately, Alice never returned and I’d be lying to say that it doesn’t deeply pain me that I was never able to tell her goodbye.
I feel that I’m getting a bit off track here (it’s harder than you think to summarize 2.5 weeks), so allow me to list off the highlights I experienced in this time period. One notable highlight was when Sir Isaac taught me to make jollof rice: a Nigerian (turned-Ghanaian) specialty. Though I had always found jollof questionable when produced by the Brainbirds’ chefs, Isaac taught me that the school did not have the funds to make jollof properly and, once properly made, it was an amazing dish. I did get a second round of food poisoning from the fish we had added (it had been sitting out in the sun all day, though Isaac said it was “fine”)… but I don’t regret making/eating it for a second. I had always secretly envied how close Mariana was with many of the teachers (naturally, as she had spent much more time with them than I had), so I really treasured the bonding time I had secured with Isaac.
I also spent a lot of time with Ayse and Uche: treating ourselves to “nicer” restaurants, trekking to beaches, hiking in the mountains, and even going out to the bars. In this time, I became even closer with Ayse than I had already been and, every day, I grew sadder to think about leaving her. While I had obviously spent so much time with Mariana while she was in Ghana, Ayse was the only friend that I had for the entire length of my stay and it meant a lot to me to know not just one, but two people that could relate to my experience. Having been home for a while now, I miss them both immensely and speak with them several times a week.
Other highlights included touring Accra's parts-unseen (including the historic town of Jamestown, where the English and Dutch conducted their slave trade, as well as Kwame Nkruma's mausoleum and Independence Square) and seeing the school undergo a major transformation. Crazily enough, over the course of my last two weeks, Madame was able to secure the funds to completely revamp the school yard and add a canteen, turf-covered playing area, and an above ground swimming pool!
Although, obviously, a lot happened to me over the course of my last two weeks, I’d say that my last major highlight was the Brainbirds’ Camera Club’s photo exhibition. This was an event that I initially mentioned to my students in our very first classes together, so it was kind of surreal that it actually came together. My students worked very hard to bring the event to fruition: picking their favorite photographs, bringing in money so that I could get them printed, matting their prints, and writing out captions. For my part, I printed and distributed fliers advertising the show and arranged for Isaac to “DJ” the event. While I have an inherent phobia of hosting events (what if no one shows up??), I’m happy to say that the exhibit was a huge success and the majority of my students showed up with their parents in tow. For me, gallery shows have played such a significant part in my growth as an artist. Simply put, feeling like your work is important and worthy of public display is a major motivator to keep making work. I was so happy to give this feeling to my kids; I don’t think we could’ve ended our school year together any better. Though I can’t say with confidence that I helped to “change” the kids at all, they absolutely succeeded in changing me.
In addition to the highlights, there were of course a few pitfalls. The first, I briefly mentioned earlier: I got food poisoning again, meaning that I spent a full month literally sprinting to the bathroom. The second difficulty was having to unexpectedly say goodbye to Brainbirds teachers and staff members. When I returned from my trip, I learned that Madame Nti had fired Becky in my absence. This was not incredibly surprising to me as Becky was quite lazy as a worker, but it was still sad for me to see her go. I also had to say goodbye to several Brainbirds teachers: Sir Phillip, Teacher Albert, Sir Hayford, Sir Isaac, and Auntie Alice. Besides Sir Phillip (who I didn’t talk to much), these were all teachers that I had greatly respected and enjoyed spending time with. However, the silver lining was certainly that these teachers would now have the opportunity to hopefully make more money (Madame paid them next to nothing) as well as work for someone who would treat them much better than Madame ever did. And, lastly, I'd have to say that my final stroke of bad luck was having to do without electricity for a full week (out of my last two). Apparently, Madame prioritized the new construction over our power and did not pay the bill. Who's really surprised?
While I feel like I’m probably still forgetting to tell you all about so many things that happened to me, I know that all of my stories will never get told… and while it was an incredibly self-bettering experience to keep up this blog for so long, there are some stories that I need to reflect upon privately, if at all. I cannot count the number of hours that I spent writing, revising, and posting my blogs this summer but, in my opinion, every moment was worth it. Though the blogging did, in theory, take away time from my experiencing the country (which is why I ended up not writing over my last few weeks), forcing myself to take a moment out of my day to reflect upon my own actions helped me to take a hard look at my bad habits and modify my behavior as a result.
When I was preparing to return home to the States, I was a little worried that I would lose all of the valuable lessons I learned in Ghana. I was also scared that I would revert right back to my old ways: complaining about “first world problems” (and getting annoyed at my friends for doing the same), becoming too easily impatient, and eating way too much. When I first got back, I had no problem staying on the straight and narrow. Though I was thoroughly overwhelmed by how much food my parents had in their refrigerator (a normal amount by American standards, but a feast compared to the small stash of crackers and milk that I kept in Ghana), my shrunken stomach still got full extremely easy. Having a hot shower was out of this world; forgoing hand washing for a washing machine was surreal; and having a room to myself was more peaceful than I could have even imagined. That being said, it wasn’t that long before I did start giving in to old habits. I was so amazed to have so much food that I just wanted to eat it all. Hot showers were still blissful, but became the norm. Not surprisingly, the act of washing clothes lost its charm. I also dipped back into the bad habits of practicing less patience with my family members. Though I would like to tell you all that Ghana changed me in my entirety, that simply isn’t the case. I still have quirks that need ironing out and, of course, there is still more introspective work to be done. That being said, it would be going too far to say that I haven’t changed at all. I do notice changes I’ve been able to maintain such as treating strangers with more kindness, continuing to appreciate my access to modern conveniences, being less abrasive with my speech, and slowing down a bit to “go with the flow.”
I’m happy to report that my time in Ghana was everything I wanted it to be and more. In retrospect, it’s honestly the best decision I have ever made. I miss all of the friends and experiences I had in the beautiful West African country and I really hope to make it back there someday. However, if I don’t, I know I will always have my Ghanaian friends to chat with via WhatsApp, international news sources to keep up with Ghanaian politics and cultural events, the insane amount of artwork and clothing that I brought back, and my fond memories to reflect upon via these blog posts. To all of my friends and family members: I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your continued reading and support. When I was lonely in Ghana, I felt comfort in feeling like you were all “with me” in my journey. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to put as much effort into the last 2.5 weeks as I put into the first 10.5… but I’m hoping that this final post will make up for it in part. I hope that you’re all having a beautiful holiday. Me da se pa (thank you so much) for reading!