Monday, December 20, 2010

No Place Like Home

When Julia and I were on vacation at the Green Turtle Lodge, we had the chance to go into the nearby town of Busua to hear some live reggae music at a hotel owned by a Canadian expat.

This guy managed to be the most abrasive, rude man I've met here...which is really saying something considering Ghanaians are infamously blunt. After calling me naive and insulting my work within the first five minutes of meeting me, he told me that he was originally from Canada but after forty years here he thinks of Ghana as home. I lightly answered, "Ah, maybe someday I hope!" Instead of taking it as the positive, complimentary comment towards Ghana it was intended to be, he snapped that I wasn't allowed to even consider thinking that until I'd lived here at least several years.

I rode in the back of the pick-up as we headed back home several hours later.
It was an exhilarating experience in more ways than one.
First off, trying to balance on the edge of a pickup bed while rattling over one of Ghana's signature washed-out, pothole-y roads is an adventure in itself - one I was a little convinced I might not entirely survive.
Yet I couldn't ignore my surroundings even as I hung on for dear life.
The African bush is an astoundingly beautiful place at night. Above the roar of the wind I could hear the frogs and crickets trilling their deafening symphony- a sound that will always remind me poignantly of laying awake at home on summer nights with my window open, listening to the spring peepers sing in our neighborhood pond. My gaze rose above the blurred silhouettes of the tall grass and gnarled trees to the sky, where I could see Orion, my favorite constellation, straight ahead. Orion and I have a bit of a love affair going on. I named the first song I ever wrote after him. And when I learned that Ghana was north of the equator, my first thought was one of relief: "Oh thank God, I'll still be able to see Orion!"  
I've struggled at times to find my place here, and it's made me think a lot about what home means to me.
I've begun referring to things as "at home" (in Ghana) and "back home" (in Ann Arbor)...but still the distinction is blurring. Sometimes I feel like someone with a dual citizenship. I am standing with a foot in each world, neither fully part of nor fully separated from either place. While that initially caused me a lot of confusion and loneliness, I have gradually learned how to better bridge the gap and draw those two halves of my life closer together. 

And as I sat there listening to the frogs and looking at Orion, two things that have a lot of significance to me, an extraordinary sense of rightness washed over me- the simply incredible feeling of knowing that somehow, against all odds, I am at the right place at the right time.
No offense, Mr. Expat Sir, but you've got it all wrong: there's no time limit on feeling at home.

I've struggled since the day I got here with the knowledge that eventually, the adventure has to end and I will have to go back home to Michigan. With that has come the intense fear that I won't have a place there anymore. Long-term volunteers in foreign countries often experience something called "reverse culture shock," the struggle to reacclimate to their home culture and find a way to reconcile who they are post-volunteering with who they were and the life they lead pre-volunteering. That can be unbelievably difficult; it's no secret that an experience like this changes you.

But if there's one thing I've learned from my first 4 months in Ghana, it's to reject fear.

So I've begun fighting against my dread of going home.
After all, coming to Ghana entailed a lot of sacrifice and has challenged me in every way imagineable, yet I still view my experience here in an extremely positive light because I want to enjoy and benefit from my precious time in Africa. So why shouldn't I approach returning to America with the same open-minded positivity?
If I expect to go home and feel isolated and miserable, I will.
However if I expect to go home and live a more enriched life as a result of my year in Ghana, I will be able to work through the loneliness and Ghana-sickness (There is a word in Danish for reverse homesickness, missing a place you've left after you return home. Why don't English speakers have a word  for that!?) and focus on the positive aspects of going home.

For me, May 23rd means both leaving home and coming home.

1 comment:

  1. Ha. Yeah, he was what we refer to in the UK as a 'berk'. Interesting etymology; derives from 'Berkeley Hunt' which is cockney rhyming slang for a not very pleasant word.

    In other news, Julia managed to get back to Berlin, she was stranded in the UK between Sat 18th and Wed 22nd Dec, poor girl! She stayed with me in London so at least she had a few home comforts. Not sure if you've been in contact, thought I'd let you know just in case!

    Hope NY in Cairo was incredible, hopefully see you in one and a half years.

    Tom P x

    P.S. Feel free to get in contact if you're still considering going to Takoradi for music times. Can't remember if I gave you my Skype, it's thomas.philpott.