I can’t believe one year ago today I got off the plane to be smacked in the face by the Ghana heat. Another volunteer said it best “the days go on forever but the months fly by.” I am not quite sure how to sum up a year over here. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, sights, sounds and even smells. There have been times of pure excitement and joy to anger and sadness. I have met some of the most incredible people in the world as well as some of the worst. While Ghana is full of extremes I have always found a positive middle ground because if I don’t then I would be miserable and I’m sure you don’t want my blog to turn into a laundry list of complaints (apparently that’s what Facebook is for now).
Yes I have experienced many terrible things: mountains of trash, children dressed in rags, cars falling apart while spewing out smoke, crippled people lying on the street, random people telling me them to buy them things and give them money, children being beaten, animals on top of cars, and dead bodies in the river. This is just to name a few but you get the feeling that I’m certainly not in Barrington anymore. And the crazy thing is Ghana is one of the better performing countries in Africa. I couldn’t imagine what other places must be like and that’s one big thing that keeps more going.
I’m incredibly lucky to be in Ghana. It’s the first country in Africa to gain independence. While they have had coups in the past they’ve always been rather peaceful. Even when there is an argument here it only consists of yelling. It will never break out into a fistfight unlike the US. Ghanaians are also very hospitable people. While I may get harassed by one Ghanaian there are five more to help me. Whether it’s give directions, food, or just have a good conversation. The fact many people speak English to some extent certainly helps.
There are a few things I’ve learned to be true. The first is that Peace Corps volunteers get more out of the experience than the country. Yes we do plenty of work whether it’s physically building structures or educating people but we take away more of the experience than the hosts. Being thrown into a completely new culture by yourself allows you to gain a sense of perspective unmatched by any other experience. We aren’t tourists in the country we’re residents (if you don’t believe me check my Passport). We live amongst the citizens, eat with them, converse with them, go to ceremonies, watch football matches and even take the same dangerous transportation as them. Ghanaians always ask me where is my private car and they are astonished to learn I don’t have one. This all allows me to really experience life as a Ghanaian. I wash my own clothes, fetch my own water, and have even gone to farm. This creates a sense of appreciation for what we have back in the US that we say we know but we really don’t until you come here and live. This was magnified when I was in Italy. The comfort and ease which we have become accustomed to is unparalleled.
I have also learned that life is what you make of it. A lot of volunteers here have a negative experience. Now this is sometimes due to bad site placement, work environment, or management of which the volunteer has little or no control. A lot (myself included) have fantastic situations and wouldn’t change a thing. I truly believe that this is a direct result of the volunteer’s approach and attitude towards their situation. Everyone here is in a less comfortable environment than back home but it’s how you react to make it more comfortable. Some volunteers don’t change anything and just complain all the time. Some change it and succeed. Some try and fail. Others just give up and leave. Every volunteer I’ve talked to that is in good spirits, however, has been one that is just trying to make the best of the situation and staying positive. This is applied directly to the rest of your life. No matter your situation, if you don’t like it you need to either change it or change your view of it. Yes I could focus on the fact it’s super hot/humid, I live in the middle of nowhere, I have one small room to myself, I have no running water, the electricity is out all the time, the food is less than desirable, it can take hours to get a crowded taxi out of my village and that my privacy is almost nonexistent. But instead I focus on the fact I am safe, I do actually have electricity, I get internet, I am not harassed as much as other volunteers, it’s not as hot as the north, the water pump isn’t too far from my house, my community and NGO give me the freedom to do whatever I want, I have no dress code or time I have to be at work, and I get to meet up with up with neighboring Peace Corps volunteers at least once a week.
Which brings me to my final lesson of looking at the glass half full. We have grown up in a society that focuses on negativity and shortcomings. The media is full of terrible things happening and going wrong. We seldom here about the amazing things people are doing. We are always comparing ourselves to someone else and looking at the things they have that we don’t or the things they’ve done that we haven’t. That’s a big no-no in Peace Corps. Never compare yourself to what another volunteer has done. Every volunteer is different, every village is different, and every project is different. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. You just have to do the best you have with what you got and if you need more then go get it!
So that’s my pathetic attempt to describe how I feel after a year. Who knows how I’ll feel on June 8, 2013 (probably ready to get out of here). Hopefully we will have built the 33 latrines. I am also going to a beginner beekeeping training in July with my neighbor Owusu and a bunch of other volunteers so hopefully that turns into an alternative livelihood project. The Ghanaians have their national presidential election December 7th so that might affect some things. I’ll also be signing up farmers for CocoaLink in my neighboring volunteers’ sites this week.
I hope everyone is having a good summer so far. I’m jealous of all the music festivals I’m missing, the 4th in TL, lakehouse in South Haven, and cousin’s wedding in Boston but if I focus on those things that won’t make life any better. Instead I’ll think of those Monday-Fridays when you’re at work or school and I’m out winning
P.S. I went to the Ghana vs. Lesotho soccer match last week which was AWESOME and Ghana won 7-0!
P.P.S. I posted this link on FB but if you didn’t see it check it out