Monday, February 21, 2011

A 99 Valentine's And Six Months Down

Valentine's Day marked 99 days until I arrive home.
Today marks 10 days until my six month anniversary with Ghana.

Unbelievable, isn't it? The last time I counted there were 185 days! I know 99 days is a long time, but only being in the double digits makes it seem like so little! It brings up that familiar panicky feeling of "Where is the time going?!?" As I sat down to write this post, I paused to take a look around my room and said out loud, "I've been living here for half a year." Didn't really believe myself though.

When I think back on all the things I've done in Ghana- my first weekend at Agbamevorza, those first loooong days at Good Shepherd before school had even started, my adventures with Julia, leaving VARAS, going to Egypt with my brother- it seems reasonable to think almost six months have gone by since I stepped on that plane in Detroit.
But in my day to day life? No way! I'm comfortable enough in Aflao to feel at home, and sometimes fed up enough with some of the cultural challenges to even think I've been here too long. However time is flying by without my knowledge and certainly without my permission. One of the last things my Dad told me when we said goodbye at the airport was "Days will crawl, months will fly." Of all the things I was told to expect when coming to live in Africa for nine months, that's been by far the most accurate.
Not much else was, to be honest. My friend's mom told me that showing your bare legs was probably going to be scandalous but women walking around topless would be no big deal, and THAT has certainly rang true, but otherwise... How could anyone- probably least of all myself- have known was I was getting into?

Last weekend I spent time with some Peace Corp volunteers. I love my Germans/Dane dearly, but it's nice to get my American fix occasionally. They got it into their heads that we should jump off the large, modern bridge that stretches across the gorgeous Volta River about 200m upstream from the little resort where we stayed. The fact that idiot foreigners do this periodically and that the river is about 30 feet deep was comforting enough to get me on to the bridge. Seeing two of the braver ones jump successfully was encouraging enough to get me over the railing.... That was when I had the realization that I was about to voluntarily leap four stories into a crocodile-infested (ok, ok that's me being melodramatic. crocodile-inhabited, and most of them are small) river in the middle-of-no-where Ghana and started hugging the support pole and saying things that would make my Dad laugh and my Mom cry. When all four of us were spaced out on the beam, one of the guys started counting. I don't remember peeling my arms off the pole, but I do remember telling myself "Katherine, listen here: when he says three, just jump. No, no, just lean. Let gravity do the rest. He says three, you tilt forward a little bit and whatever happens next is purely coincidence and entirely out of your control and therefore not your fault when you have to explain your paralysis to your mom, ok?"
Shutting down your survival instincts is a fascinating process.
I honestly don't remember initiating my legs to move when he finally got to three; all I remember is having time to think "Wow, I've been falling for a really long time..." before I hit the water. I came up screaming bloody murder (with a wicked bruise stretching the entire length of the back of my left thigh for the next week to prove why. Apparently I flailed...) and with a huge adrenaline rush.
Yet even though I escaped- relatively- unscathed, had great fun doing it despite my terror, and plan to milk this story far past what it's worth in terms of bragging rights... no way jose you could get me to do it again. Actually, looking back, I'm completely baffled how I got the guts to do it in the first place. All I know is I was scared out of my mind, so how I was able to get myself to jump anyway is just beyond me. If he'd counted to five instead of three, if I'd had just two more seconds to think about it, I'm pretty sure I might've chickened out.
Even if you could've looked into the future and told me, "You'll be fine; you'll just get a bruise, but it'll be a lot of fun and a great memory" I think fear would've gotten the best of me.

In a lot of ways, that's how I feel about coming to Ghana too. I think it's for the best that I didn't know there was even the possibility that I was coming here until such a short time before I actually left. If I'd had six months or more to plan and dream and worry and anticipate and imagine...I'm not sure I would've had the guts to go through with it. As it is the short time I did have almost did me in. If I'd had just two more months to think about it, I'm pretty sure I might've chickened out.

The big difference is, I would still jump all over again.

If you could've looked into the future and told me, "This is how many nights you won't be able to sleep because you'll be so homesick. This is how many times you're going to cry. This is the number of days you'll dread having to face your class again. This is how many times you would kill for a sandwich from Panera." etc, I'd still be here.
Granted I would've packed a heck of a lot more nonperishable comfort food and cried a lot harder when I left, but I still would've gone.
Especially if you also could have told me how many times my jaw would drop in amazement and how many days my kids would make me speechless with pride and how many moments I would gloat to myself about the cool things I've gotten to see and do.

One... Two... Three... Just lean.

Half a year down and a quarter to go!


  1. I'll have to remind you about the bridge I jumped off of when I was 12 years old!