today, i don’t want to leave.

I have come to love the familiarity of the unpredictability and often unreliability that is Ghana. The unanticipated moments of kindness, the inexplicable spirit and optimism that permeates through Ghana’s jungles and markets, schools and farms. No, I do not have any idea what time I will be able to meet you because I do not know when the rain will let up, when a tro-tro will drive past with an open seat, or what the traffic in Accra is like. I can’t promise I can text message you when I’m close because I may or may not have network coverage. But I can tell you that when I get to you, we will have a wonderful time and we will eat, drink, and be merry for so much longer than anyone from the fast-paced, schedule-stricken Western world would typically be able to stand. But, as a Westerner, maybe I’ll surprise you. For I no longer wear a watch that begs to be glanced at eighty times a day and I have no other commitments today or people to meet tonight. I know that if I don’t catch the last tro back to Legon tonight, someone will help me find a taxi, or you will likely be characteristically kind enough to offer me a comfortable mat on your floor. I have learned more patience than you might expect from someone from my culture, and I promise, I won’t offend you by hurrying to get to you. I’ll see you soon.

***

I do not know a single person who has studied or traveled abroad and come home complaining of the fast-paced lifestyle and constant “being on the run” mentality of the country they were in. No, those of us spending months in Argentina or Ghana or Italy or a myriad of other countries all come to embrace cultures where there is rarely a sense of haste or rushing, where meals are enjoyed with the people we enjoy the most, where the term “back-to-back” doesn’t apply. The veracity of those sentiments astounds me – Americans, especially, are always trading hurrying for languidness when we travel to various corners of the world. In Ghana, it is considered ‘embarrassing’ to walk and eat at the same time. In Italy, a meal under three hours isn’t really a meal at all. Yes, an unreliable transportation system is annoying – get over it. Yes, peers and professors being late all the time is frustrating – get used to it. I had to let go of preconceived notions and expectations based on what I was used to pretty quickly upon arriving here. And I’ve found that was absolutely the best thing I could do; constantly comparing and contrasting or getting worked up because “this is not what I’m used to” is a recipe for a miserable experience abroad, no matter the country, no matter the culture’s customs. Letting go is not only liberating, but also allows for adaptability to flourish. And then, a good time is had by all.

My friends back at Elon are busy with end-of-semester meetings, classes, activities, and exams. I know the feelings of stress and anxiety they’re experiencing all too well – and though I, too, am wrapping up a semester of classes and activities, I couldn’t be on a more different page. And so I am nervous to return home to a culture where it will be expected of me to cram, to be perpetually on the go, to always use my time in the most efficient way possible. I’m nervous because I fear I will fall back into old habits, habits where I measure my day by my level of productivity or by how well I multi-tasked. More than anything, I want to be able to slow down when necessary and press forward when actually needed. Work hard but breathe often. Succeed in great strides, but not at the cost of sanity (or health). Remain focused and driven but never stop loving or listening. Can I leave Ghana and find and maintain such a balance? I will most certainly try.

***

How do we know when we’ve fallen in love with a place? The same way you know about falling in love with anything or anyone else, I guess – you don’t realize it until after it’s happened. Just like one tends to love different people for different reasons, so I have come to love countries. I love Italy for its smell of rosemary, taste of pecorino cheese, for the feel of Brunello di Montalcino going down my throat; for its relationship with mealtimes, perfect al dente pasta and the fact that Tuscany allows me to return again and again despite my inability to absorb what I’ve learned in my cooking classes there. I love Honduras for the music and dancing that lasts for hours, for the thirty-four orphan boys who stole my heart there, for games played under its starry night sky. I love Kenya for its billboards and lushness and Ireland for its funny old ladies and warm pubs. I love Germany and the U.S. because they are both home. And somewhere between January 14th and today, I’ve fallen in love with Ghana.

It had me at the ubiquitous camaraderie, I think, the convivial atmosphere of the markets and demeanor of the people. (And the Ghanaians know they’re loved for it, which I get such a kick out of). And then I fell for local football games at dusk, playing with kids from the orphanage in the ocean, and fufu. After the honeymoon stage, it got better. When I started using my teeth as a tool and learned how to properly bargain for taxis, Ghana smiled. I smiled back when the chief of the mining town of Prestea called me and asked to meet me in Accra next week. I hiked, sweat, ran, swam, and rode through the country. I learned my way around Accra and its surrounding areas, and, after much trial-and-error, I more or less conquered the tro-tro system. Ghana convinced me that you don’t always need toilet paper and that drinking water out of plastic bags can be quite satisfying. We’ve settled down together, Ghana and I, and even though four months is not long enough to learn Twi or travel to all my favorite places twice, it is long enough to have family visit, form deep friendships, and recognize that bits and pieces of this country, like so many other places I’ve traveled to, have pleasantly weaseled their way into my increasingly broadening definition of what I call home.

 

 

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3 Responses

  1. I love you.

  2. Work hard but breathe often. This struck me. I always love the little things you teach me and remind me of.

  3. Dear Natalie……..it seems to me that falling in love with a culture, even with a country thrown in, is like having bilateral catarack surgery and discovering after a few days (or sooner) that you no longer look through a glass darkly. Instead you have to shield your eyes from a glaring view of a renaissance. Well done, Miss. We look forward to your return.

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