We are entering the hottest part of the year. The next few months will be filled with endless strings of cursing, sweat dripping down every available surface, chugging liters of water and still only peeing once a day, and of course counting down the days until the rains come again. Even while sitting directly in the line of sight of a humming fan, you can still feel your body aching to sweat. Like the beads of sweat are just under the surface ready to pop up the second you move an inch away from the fan.
The Harmattan has broken and with it the sweltering heat has returned. Yesterday, I decided to walk to my new favorite chop bar. Modern Way just so happens to be on the opposite side of the town. Unfortunately for me, my supreme love of banku has rendered me hopelessly devoted to the sweetly sour taste that is Modern Way’s banku and groundnut soup. Their soup is thick, rich in flavor, and not watered down. The chicken is tender, meaty, and very dry. The fish is good and consumable. I’ve become something of a banku connoisseur. I can taste the subtle variations from day to day and from chop bar to chop bar. So yesterday, I decided to walk there. Lights were out and I figured I was going to start sweating in a matter of seconds anyway. So I dressed and headed towards the chop bar with the red painted fence. I knew Modern Way was far, but I really didn’t know how far away it was. Miles, kilometers, feet, everything is relative here. Does the route have shade? Is the route hilly or sandy? How many people do I have to stop and greet along the way?
I finally made it to Modern Way and I ordered my typical two balls of banku, two pieces of chicken, and some boiled okra. I then set off in my quest for home. I looked at my cell phone to register the time and I headed home. Techiman is fairly flat, so I didn’t have a problem there. By the time I left Modern Way it was about 10:30, not even the hottest part of the day. I slowly advanced towards home and with every landmark I thought to myself “almost there.” The heat was starting to ramp up and the sun was pounding on my shoulders. I was thirsty, but I didn’t want to stop and buy water. That would require taking my sunglasses off, fishing around for change, greeting people, speaking in Twi, and all manner of things that didn’t involve walking home. So I trudged on, past the intersections and little shops. Finally I made my turn onto my road and I felt so relieved. As I walked into my house, I checked the time. It took me almost 30 minutes to walk home. I was covered in sweat, my entire arms were shiny with wetness. I sat down my food and reached for the fridge door. I ripped it open and quickly grabbed a slushy bottle of water. It reminded me of Sonic ice. It was so refreshing. I refilled the bottle and made some Raspberry Lemonade with the slushy water. Now it really tasted like Sonic. I ate my banku about 15 minutes later after waiting for the African heat to subside from the bowl. There is nothing quite like sweating from the heat, sweating from the hot touch of soup on your hands, and sweating from the spiciness of your food.
That night I woke up around 3:00 am from the sound of the wind beating the curtains against my burglar bars. Even over the white noise of my fan, I could tell the wind outside was howling. I walked outside and was engulfed in a gust of wind, bringing humid and cool air to my face. It had to have been in the high 70s or low 80s that night. The clouds were low and puffy, but they weren’t black. They were a light gray, probably reflecting some of the moon’s rays. It smelled like rain.
I laid in bed and watched the shadow of the curtains dancing across my wall. I inhaled the refreshing scent of coming rain. I listened to the wind rattle the curtains and blow dust around. The temperature, the color, the wind, it all reminded me of those stormy days in May in Oklahoma. Those nights when you watch the thunderstorm roll in and open your windows for the smell of Oklahoma spring to invade your house. I could almost hear the tornado sirens blaring in the background. It felt like I was home again. It felt like I was sitting in my room in Oklahoma. And that’s when I felt it, the longing for Oklahoma. I wanted to feel like a kid again, running outside when the sirens went off to look for the tornado. To open the windows, the doors and listen for the rain to start pouring. I wanted to smell the cottonwood trees as the wind blew the blossoms all around during a storm. I wanted to wake up the next morning and look for downed tree limbs and scattered leaves. I wanted the Oklahoma I remember. I wanted the Oklahoma I love.
It is funny how certain things trigger memories. The balmy night winds brought back so many memories of growing up in Oklahoma. Suddenly, I could recall roller skating in my tiny backyard; picking strawberries from our garden; endless days of swimming in the backyard pool with the neighbors; barbeques with marinated steak and corn on the cob; playing house with Lauren in her garage or the treehouse; driving home from school down the back roads; listening to the Backstreet Boys nonstop with Martha; taking cover from tornados; and standing on the back porch watching sheets of rain come tumbling down. There is truly nothing like an Oklahoma storm, the smell, the intensity, the beautiful sunshine after the fact. Oklahoma was a fantastic place to grow up, a great place to be a kid.
When I think back on my time in Oklahoma (all 17 years of it), I remember the good and the bad. As an adult, I hated the politics and the backward views constantly surrounding me. As a teenager, I hated the drive – 30 minutes to get anywhere. As a kid, I hated the hot summers. But politics, the heat, and long commutes seem so unimportant now. I know what hot is – I’m sitting in it. I know what a long commute is – it takes me 8-12 hours to get to the capital. I know what politics are – I survived the politics of my last town. Peace Corps gives you perspective. It allows you to reflect on the things that once bothered you and realize how trivial they seem now. I’ve gotten to the point in my service, when 8 hours on a tro is just another day in Ghana. When the power goes out, you find something else to do, and some other way of staying cool. Peace Corps has taught me to deal with it. Ain’t no use pouting, when you can’t do anything about it.
It won’t be long before I smell those Oklahoma thunderstorms again. I’m sure I’ll sit there thinking – I remember the rains in Ghana. I would love to stand outside in the rain again, throwing buckets outside collecting the water. I’ll remember the smell of Ghanaian rain and the sound the rain makes on the hot, tin roof.