forever akwaaba

“The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on memory, consciousness, heart, and body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” -Anthony Bourdain

Today, I sit outside my loved, worn little room, facing the courtyard. (Have I mentioned how much I’ll miss these clotheslines, and rubbing the dirt out of my own clothes using a few buckets and a bar of soap?) As I listen to the sounds of packing coming from most of the rooms in my hostel, I’m pensive. And in between dusting off my suitcases and saying goodbyes, I’ve remembered I wanted to post a final blog.

What do we take with us when we go, and what do we leave behind? I’m flying home tonight with pockets full of sand, uneven tan lines, and a mosquito net that I can’t bear to part with. Some might say my Bradt guidebook has seen better days, but I suspect the next traveler I pass it on to will find its worn edges and scribbled notes inside endearing. My bookshelves will soon be home to many more books, my walls home to woodcarvings and paintings. I’ve got gifts of glass beads, traditional kente cloth, pottery, more fabric than I know what to do with, and sounds on my voice recorder to remember forever: popcorn popping on a stove in a small village in the Eastern region, which is also the Peace Corps site of a friend of mine; a two-hour conversation between eight great friends on a tiny beach on a tiny piece of the Atlantic coastline — that was the best shooting star I’ve ever seen, what makes you the most uncomfortable?–; the start-up of a motor taxi; the clapping of model UN delegates; the wind right before a huge African downpour.

Tristan was the first of us to leave. On Wednesday, we all shared a last supper (if you saw how much Tristan looks like Jesus – all the Ghanaians think so, too – you’d know just how appropriate that pun is) of fufu, red-red, and fried yams – our favorites. And last night, we took Maggie (“we” being a few members of her extended NC family and a few of her Ghanaian family) to the airport. Yesterday was such a good, bittersweet day of ‘lasts.’ On Mags’ last tro ride, we got hit by another tro (minor damage) AND got a flat tire (separate events). The last song she heard playing from the night market was Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One,” which we all sang along to on our walk back from dinner eating ice cream. So much crying yesterday. It’s not just that we’re all sad to be leaving this place or these people behind – it’s the fact that no matter what or how much we say about our experience here, words can never explain the things that matter the most, the things we’ll miss the most. It’s a sad and frustrating paradox, and it’s making me realize that sometimes, descriptions of a place are inevitably lackluster when you’re thousands of miles away from it; one needs to go in order to know.

not. leaving.

I spent this morning sitting on cushions with my friend Martin on his balcony in a suburb of Accra called Osu. Martin spent his junior undergrad year in Senegal and South Africa and has since spent half of his adult life living in Africa – so I knew he understood the jumble of emotions that I am today. Looking over neighbors’ rooftops and into the morning sun, we talked about transitioning and leaving Africa to return to the places we came from. What is it that they say about break ups, that it takes half as long as you dated someone to get over them? Maybe this is like that. Maybe by the start of my senior year I’ll have digested these past four incredible months enough to be able to have an answer to the questions I’m anticipating beginning twenty-four hours from now: “How was Ghana?! What’s it like there?!” The thing is, words fail here. I’ve been blogging for months but all of this is still hard to write about, much less talk about. And as I sat on that balcony listening to the sounds of a Sunday morning in this small country tucked in the cozy enclave that is West Africa, I peacefully accepted that it’s okay to not always have the words or the answers.

One thing I know for sure is that I’ve never had such a hard time saying goodbye to a place. I thought I was used to it by now, but nothing compares to this. It’s been one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever said – and I’m not even done packing yet.

***

How have I changed in four months? The words solid, rooted come to mind. Please tell me how this is possible, considering “roots” is not a word I find I can typically associate with. But I have learned what I want and what I do not want (admittedly ambiguous, but true nonetheless). I have stood on warm beaches, and, with the help of the moonlight, tried on different futures and careers and ventured down paths that I know exist and are mine to tumble down if I choose to. I have learned just how solid good friendships are, and been reminded of how oblivious such relationships are to miles of ocean separating friend from friend. I’ve rekindled my love affair with reading and have been privy to literary worlds of flight, mourning, cups of tea, hermaphrodites, spirituality, and the life of a nomad or two. I have been brutally let down, and I have witnessed perfect harmony. I have tasted, touched, seen and listened to a culture that will, from now on, always be a part of me. And I’ve experienced more new things in four months than I have in four years, and for that, most of all, I am incredibly grateful.

Best of all? I’ve realized it’s not all about me. I wrote before about how studying abroad is a selfish experience; as students, we travel to foreign countries to receive an education, learn and take lessons, soak in the culture and all the blissful newness. In fact, as I near my 21st birthday, I’ve come to believe that, for my peers and me, this seems like one of the most selfish periods of our lives. At college, for the most part, we only have to take care of ourselves. We’re expected to focus on our futures, invest in ourselves, prepare to be received by “the real world.” There’s probably nothing wrong with such expectations, and maybe this is an example of a ‘good kind’ of selfish – I agree it’s important to take time to become aware of yourself and how you fit into the world around you.

But four months in Ghana will convince anyone that days and lives should revolve around community and the present, not the individual and the future. And as I watch women my age take care of children or spend all day selling things on the street in order to support their aunts and uncles, and as I see loyal village chiefs chatting in community homes about their peoples’ needs, I am reminded that this journey is not only my own. Like drops in an ocean, I am twenty years in a world that is itself, the bigger picture. Ghana has given me many things – and I’ve taken many more – but that humbleness is undoubtedly the most valuable thing I am leaving with.

So: onward. I continue a journey marked by a beginning and end I am blissfully unaware of. And while I know my time in Ghana has forever changed me, I find I remain loyal to the one thing I knew for sure when the plane touched down on this dusty, perfect African ground four months ago: that our journeys to and from the corners of the world always have been, and always will be, home.

my ghanaian backyard.

***

One last thing: I’ve decided I’ve come to really like this whole blogging thing. I enjoy being able to share stories of my experiences and adventures with my friends and family who care to read about them. And it means a lot knowing people I love are out there reading this and commenting/talking to me about their thoughts on what I’m up to! This summer, I am very fortunate to be traveling a lot of places – visiting people, doing an internship, working – and I invite you all to keep up with me over these next few months at http://www.cabinetsofwonder.wordpress.com. I’ll be writing there soon!

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2 Responses

  1. i think you’re probably right! i plan on taking bucket showers every now and then for sure. and i brought back all my laundry clips for hand washing 🙂

  2. A good friend of mine helped build a school in Mali and has spent the last year since he got back refusing to shower with anything but a bucket of water and a bar of soap! Maybe some of the little things will stick with you more than you would expect

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