I’m not gonna lie – when I first got to Ghana, I felt like a fish out of water. I think a bit of travel hubris had me expecting I’d be able to take my 23 countries and counting and jump right in. Instead, I found myself staying in an abandoned-feeling hostel on the outer edge of town, overwhelmed by the heat and freaked out by the bizarre practice of paying between 6 months to 2 years of rent up front (and here I was needing to find a room for only 3 months…). Add some personal drama and my time in Accra didn’t start out on the best of terms. For the first couple weeks I just didn’t feel like myself, and wondered if I’d be able to make the most of an incredible opportunity in a country I’d always wanted to visit.
My, how patience is a virtue.
As time passes and I mark my first full month in Ghana, I am reminded that feeling at home somewhere doesn’t always happen immediately. In some ways, I came into this experience with an intention to keep it at arm’s length – I didn’t want to “bond” with a new place, lest it be yet another home I feel pulled towards once I find myself somewhere else. At the same time, wherever I travel or live, I want to know it. For me, knowing a place means being at ease and able to take in the sights, sounds and realities of life as it happens around you. Now that I have a place to live (an amazing, blessing of a home) and a handful of friends, I’m starting to take Accra in, bit by bit.
Yesterday, as I walked through the Jamestown neighborhood downtown, I was less aware of the heat and more aware of the children running naked to shared spigots and buckets for bathing. I took in the women patting portions of Banku into plastic bags from steaming pots and the clotheslines strung with faded fabrics still vibrant enough to catch my eye. I took in the smell of strange meats and noticed the beautiful wrinkles and incredible white hair on the granny outside the church where my work was holding a meeting.
When the meeting started (with a group of borrowers from the partner micro-finance bank my organization is working with), I was awash with emotion. I realized that I had found my rhythm, found the energy and peace that reminds me why I travel, why I choose to live – even for brief periods – in places so far from home. As I listened to the facilitator call everyone to attention with a call and response, “Opportunity?” “For all!” “Opportunity?” “For all!” I snapped pictures of light streaming in through the weathered church windows and tried to memorize the faces of the people all around me.
Someday in the near future, I know I will think back on this time and realize that this was one of the first moments when I settled in and started to feel at home.