Saturday, September 11, 2010

Don't Leave Home Without It

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the first week here was about the worst of my life.

Homesickness is like a vampire. Not the Stephanie Meyer kind that sparkles in the sunlight and makes you fall desperately in love. It's more like the Bram Stoker kind comes out at night and will suck you dry if you don't have the right kind of garlic. During the days, I barely think about home. But almost literally the minute the sun sets, a longing for the comfort of the familiar overwhelms me. Anyone who has experienced real loneliness can tell you it's the heaviest feeling. Perhaps not the worst, but the heaviest. That's the only way I know how to describe it. It sits on your chest and suffocates you.

I didn't anticipate how deeply I would feel the loss of western culture. I realized I would miss various aspects of it, like 24-hour grocery stores and fluffy pop songs...oh wait, Justin Bieber is on the radio here too, nevermind that one. Turns out that so far it's not the things I miss, but the common bond and culture those things help to create. I miss having people around who laugh at my jokes, or who get my pop culture references. Having someone I can sit down with at the end of the day and say "Hey, this is what I experienced today..." who won't A) misunderstand half of what I'm saying and B) not get why something like fufu is so weird to me in the first place. When I was in Guatemala for a service trip last year, I didn't realize how important it was to be able to sit down with my other group members every night and rehash the day's events. It wasn't until I got here that I recognized what a crucial role those talks had in terms of allowing me to process and resolve difficult situations. There is a fine line between immersing yourself in a culture, and losing yourself to it. I seem to have faceplanted over that line, or something equally ungraceful.

And then salvation came in the form of an 18-year-old German girl named Julia.

I was at the orphanage, and caught sight of another yevu across the compound. Naturally I went running over and introduced myself. She was German also, and told me she was leaving the next day but there was another girl staying until December who was really upset at the prospect of being left alone in Aflao. I eagerly agreed to go meet this other girl (Julia), and off we went. I spent the whole afternoon with them and a third German guy. It was my first contact with other Westerners since I got to Ghana. I can hardly describe how good it felt to speak ENGLISH for several hours, without the other people lapsing into Ewe.

What might have been another day of misery turned into an exciting day of "firsts":

My first ride on a motorcycle taxi!
My first fresh coconut.
My first Star beer, their national brand.
The first time I went out after dark.
My first time on the beach here in Aflao.
My first Pompom soda.
The first time I felt even somewhat comfortable here.

The other Germans left the next morning, but Julia and I met in the evening again and spent several more hours talking. She's been here for two months, so she's gotten the hang of life as a yevu in Aflao. She's already helping teach me taxi routes, basic prices, more useful Ewe phrases. Maybe even more crucial to my mental and emotional health, she's given me a social life! I may be a volunteer, but I'm still a teenager! I desperately needed someone I could go to the beach with, travel with on the weekends and whatnot.

Back off homesickness- Julia's my new garlic!

1 comment:

  1. You're such an amazing writer. Thoroughly enjoying your blog. Love the last line about Julia & garlic!