I can hardly believe how quickly the end of this whole Ghanaian adventure is approaching and I have recently begun to get panicky about the lack of time that have remaining. As part of the service learning portion of the study abroad program that I am participating in I have been working with a small group of women in Madina since last September. I am however, having very mixed feelings lately about ending my work here. I suppose it is somewhat normal for me to feel this way and I no doubt could find some journal articles about the volunteer withdrawal experience. I really like the work I have been doing with this organization and I have grown very close to these women and care about their lives and have been doing my best to offer whatever help I can. They have accepted me into their community. We laugh together and tell stories. They have shared their food with me and giggled when I showed them some of my Traditional African Dance moves (don’t blame them there). The matriarch of the family who is nearly 100 years old, stops to bless me every time she sees me.
I have realized something though….I go home in a few weeks and they stay here. I don’t mean that in the simplistic way it sounds. What I mean is I am not sure how to process going home to my life, not as it was before because that is not going to happen, but to my life. The one with a beautiful home, a husband, kids, cats and dog. I will probably have a margarita by my pool with my hubby on hot evenings. I have regular access to electricity and I can safely drink the water right out of the tap in my kitchen sink. Even if I felt uneasy about that, I have a filter in my refrigerator that gives me clean water from there. I don’t even brush my teeth with tap water here in Ghana.
I guess what I am trying to get at here is how do I reconcile that life of mine with the lives I leave behind. The ones where one broken sewing machine, one illness, one mishap is the difference between survival or not. I read recently that over 80% of the workforce in Ghana, like the women in Madina, is in the informal employment market. What that means is that they have no health insurance, no job security, no pension, no sick leave and no security. They are highly vulnerable to supply and demand, to extreme weather conditions and changing governmental policies and much more.
I was talking about this with a friend of mine today. He is a Ghanaian man who is a former student of my husbands from Pepperdine University. My husband contacted him when we knew I would be studying here so that I would have someone in Ghana that I could call in case of emergency. He is a government employee, in the formal employment market, who today gave me a tour of his workplace. I got to see the entire control center for the power grid for all of Ghana it was really cool. Anyway, we were talking about the high unemployment and poverty and lack of access to basic essentials for living. He is a thoughtful person who sees a huge problem in his country. He desperately wants to see Ghana head in a more positive direction but feels overwhelmed as to how. It is a very complicated and nuanced problem. He called it a hydra-headed beast because there are so many pressing problems here that need to be addressed, where to begin? Where indeed?
This brings me back to my friends that I work with. I am running out of time here and I feel like I have barely even scratched the surface of giving them any kind of lasting help. Sure, I raised some money for their organization and I have taught them a few new skills to utilize their scrap fabric. It all feels so inadequate though. I certainly did not come here expecting to swoop in and singlehandedly save the day in some kind of heroic fashion. That is so imperialistic and naïve and not at all what I thought I would do I just felt like I would have been able to do more. I am but one person though.
All of this brings me circling back to the gentleman I wrote about in a previous blog entry that I met on my flight over here last August who told me that he could see I had a kind heart and to remember that the need here in Ghana is much bigger than what I can give..…….. I am not sure I understood what he meant until now. I thought I got when I wrote about it the first time but I didn’t. I thought I knew a couple of months into this journey, when I saw the enormity of the struggles here first hand, but I didn’t. It is only now, as I prepare to leave and go back to my comfortable life, when I feel so impotent and like I want to do so much more than I have time or resources for. Now I get it.
I think that I am glad that going back to my life as if I never saw and experienced Ghana feels so unimaginable to me. I get asked all of the time, especially by the locals, why did I choose Ghana? It is a good question. I could have chosen any of a number of countries. I could have studied in Italy, or France. I could have gone to Japan or England. All of which would likely have been easier to adapt to. I suppose they all have their cultural differences. But as I said before I wanted a culture as unlike my own as possible, otherwise what is the point? Well I have certainly managed that. I did not have the foggiest notion how much my making this decision would impact me.
I am one person…but I thought that even though I am but a pebble tossed in a pond, that my ripples would extend out and make a difference….maybe they will. What I did not realize though, and am just starting to grasp, is that Ghana has been the pebble in my own spiritual pond. How deeply those ripples impact me from here, I have yet to see.
Peace to you,