Prelude to a Return

“I haven’t had the time to plan returning to the scene because I haven’t left it.”-Mick Jagger

Time is a funny thing; it never really seems to work in your favor—you can feel one day that you have all the time in the world, and the next feel like you have an impossibly small amount of it left. Granted, some things, some deadlines or future plans often compete with each other for that “Top Priority” spot in your mind, and in this whole sorting out process you just can’t find any residual space for other important things coming your way, say…returning to Ghana.

I feel like there’s a part of me that’s in denial about this whole thing. It’s likely I won’t really believe I’m going back until I land in Accra, until I pass through that “Akwaaba” (“Welcome”) sign on my way to customs, until I step through the exit doors and am likely bombarded by a sea of taxi drivers attempting to overcharge me, just another wide-eyed overwhelmed Obruni, on my way to the hotel. Considering I’ve forgotten more or less all the Twi I learned last year, I may have to accept being bamboozled this one time until I’m settled in and know how much things are supposed to cost around East Legon.

And yet I haven’t really been plagued by the pre-travel fear-induced-nausea that I’m used to feeling in the days leading up to a trip like this. Part of that really is because I haven’t had much time at all to think about or plan for these 3 weeks; I’ve worked really hard this semester to not sink to the depths of extreme mediocrity that I found myself in last semester in terms of effort and GPA. This time around, I put in that extra work effort to hopefully bring myself back up my standard of just moderate mediocrity that I have settled for. Coupled with my “What am I doing here?!” internship at the State Department, Ghana has only managed to occupy just a small compartment of my too-cluttered brain up to this point.

I still don’t have much in terms of a plan for these three weeks; I’m predicting some memory whiplash as I wander the roads I can still see so clearly in my head, the paths I took, almost every detail still engrained in my mind. I may burst into tears at the sight of a baby goat, and I pity whoever is the first person to sell me some kelewele. These first few days will probably just be a nostalgia-driven rampage through the University of Ghana’s Night Market, eating every egg sandwich and kabob in sight, with some jollof in-between. I know it will all feel surreal, but I also believe I will be able to easily slip back into the way of life I became accustomed to there. As soon as I exit the airport Tuesday afternoon and I’m hit by the unbearable heat, and I look around and see the bustling activity that encompasses this country, I can almost guarantee a smile will be on my face. A smile of recognition,  a smile that accompanies an unexpected reunion.

Returning to Beacon House is really the only nervousness I’m feeling. It’ll be so strange being back there without so many familiar faces that I came to know over those 4 months, kids who have since been adopted and are living in the States. There are many that are still there, though, and I have no idea if they know I’m coming. I’m sure I will be received the way I was always welcomed each morning there—crazed hugs which always confused me, excitement over seeing me that never made much sense in my head. We all know who I’m hoping I’ll get to see again, but will I really be that self-involved to be upset that he’s home with his family in Washington? I would like to think that I won’t be, but I guess we will soon see.

People keep asking me, “Why Ghana?!” when they find out I’m spending my winter break there. I don’t really have a good answer to give, at least not one that I can articulate effectively, one that truly expresses what my time there meant to me. Of course, for those who have kept up with my blog, I think you know that those were some of the most important 20 weeks of my life. There was a tranquility resonating within me that had been foreign to me up to that point, and hasn’t really been felt much since. And this is truly why I wanted to go back. The possibility of recapturing even a piece of that feeling for 3 more weeks is an opportunity I didn’t want to ignore. I don’t want to look back, years down the road, and think about what could have been had I just made that decision to return.

I look forward to taking this stroll down memory lane with all of you, especially my CIEE crew, many of whom are probably secretly hexing me for getting to go back instead of them.  I can only imagine the blunders I will likely make in the days to come, hopefully none involving a trip into an Obruni Trap. But as always, no detail will be left out.

If I’m unable to update before Christmas due to internet misfortunes, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

Wish me luck!

Yεbεhyia Bio?

It seems like such a long time ago that I’ve written something about my life today, rather than events that happened weeks previously. If I remember correctly, it was right before I left for Sri Lanka in May that I had last written in the present tense. I suppose I could’ve written about everything else that transpired this past summer, other trips, but most importantly, that time I hung out with Oprah and Mariah Carey at the after party of Lee Daniels’ The Butler’s premiere in NYC, but I don’t need to spend paragraphs detailing how obviously perfect that was. And I guess interning at the State Department this semester is pretty cool. Right? That’s about the pinnacle of every DC student’s dream who’s studying International Affairs/Development.

Since then it’s just been the usual repetition, the familiar blurred days that make up my time  at school. Somehow it’s now the end of October, more than halfway through my second-to-last semester as an undergrad, and I feel like I’m no closer to figuring myself out then I was when I first arrived here. Looks like I’m about 7 months away from becoming part of that unfortunate statistic of graduates who have no clue what they’re going to do next! Such a comforting thought.

But I think I’ve strayed from the point of this post long enough. I am going back to Ghana.

As of this past Sunday evening, I am officially returning to Ghana almost exactly one year after I left, from December 16 to January 6. For those of you who are surprised, who are thinking, “Wow, that’s sudden! What a wack job!” well, you’re basically right. This is extremely sudden. The lag time between deciding this is something I really think I should do and purchasing the plane tickets was about 2 days. I’m really not sure when I became this person who makes massive life choices within a 48 hour period. Or maybe there was just this understanding, this feeling ever since leaving that I had to go back, that made this not that hard to decide.

I could have gone back last summer. I thought about it briefly, before ultimately deciding on Sri Lanka. But I think at that point I might not have been ready, there hadn’t been enough time and distance separating those 140 days yet. I have never been the “returning” type of person. When it comes to endings, endings that are really significant, I tend to want to push it back as far into my mind as it can possibly go, otherwise I’d just end up constantly thinking about it, I would always wish to be somewhere else. I seek out new experiences, new travels as a way to shovel those memories down further, I guess as some self-preservation mechanism. The fact is, leaving Ghana was hard. It was really, really, hard. For those first few months after being home, I really couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted to be back there, back at Beacon House and back to a life that left me filled with more purpose than I had ever felt before.

I feel like since I left, since I said those goodbyes, since I heard that final, “Mattee, don’t go,” from Prince, that I’ve just been stuck. Stagnant. There was an incredible rise in vitality during those 6 weeks in Sri Lanka, a jump-start that I desperately needed. Somehow leaving there was worse, and I’ve been trying to figure out why that was the case, why those 6 weeks seemed to have left more of an impact than those 4.5 months in Ghana. And the conclusion that I since came to is that when I came home that day, when I had time to look ahead to this year, all I could think about was the uncertainty and fear that comes with arriving at your final year of college. I think as I was leaving I had thoughts of, “This is it. This is probably the last time I’m going to be able to do something like this before real life comes and removes these possibilities.”

Something must have happened this month to change my outlook, to make me at least want to see things differently. Sometime over this semester I decided that I no longer want to see endings as definite, that some endings really don’t have to be. There are so many times in life when endings are just that, with zero chance to go back. Ghana doesn’t have to be one of those times. I have this opportunity now to step back into a period that brought actual happiness, happiness that was real and unbridled.

And why shouldn’t I take this opportunity? You only have one life to live, one life to fill with worth. Prince has been adopted, he is going home to Washington State soon. I have no idea if he’ll still be at Beacon House when I arrive there, but how wonderful will it be if that reunion can happen? Somehow that kid hasn’t forgotten me over this past year, apparently still referring to me as his brother. I have this chance now to show him and those that are still there that they do matter to me, that they are worth returning to. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited until now to go back, maybe I lost my chance of seeing Prince again. But maybe not. And if he is no longer there, then that’s okay. That means he’s with his new family, a family that will give him the best shot at living a healthy, fulfilling life. And for those I came to know who are still there, I can spend 3 weeks reassuring them that they’re important.

This guy.

This guy.

I don’t really have a plan as of yet, no idea where I’m going to stay or anything. But I’ll figure it out. This is Ghana, after all. Finding a place to stay might take many misunderstanding-filled taxi rides and my poor bargaining skills might lose me out of a few cedis, but I’ll eventually manage to end up somewhere. I wish I could break out my Twi book to refresh myself on some phrases, but lawd knows where that book has since ended up. Probably in an Obruni Trap. I haven’t even begun thinking about everything besides Beacon House I’ll be able to experience again. Umm…those egg sandwiches? I don’t know if the Night Market remains open at the University of Ghana between semesters, but I will be booking it there on Day 1 to eat those $0.75 beauties. And jollof? Plantains? EXCITED. Honestly, there is so much to look forward to I can’t even concentrate on just one long enough to compile a mental list.

Again, this is still just a week of being a reality and there is so much that needs to happen before then, but having this to look forward to will probably be crucial through the rest of this semester. I’ll end by giving my thanks to my dad, who is somehow always willing to let me do these things. Even my mother, who would normally skoff at the idea of me being gone at a time when I could otherwise be home, and is never quick to approve of my travel decisions, seems to understand that this is something that I really need to do. And of course, there will be weekly updates, and none of this “waiting 2 months to share my stories” nonsense that unfortunately happened this summer.

I’m sure you’ll hear from me again before I leave. I’ll probably devote an entire post about how much I’m looking forward to drowning in my own sweat again. But if it results in the kids asking me once again why I’m crying, I’ll take it.

Can’t wait to see how many pounds I’ll sweat away in a three week period! And if The Lord is truly on my side those weeks, One Direction might be there as well.