Today is a very special day for me. Today is my Peace Corps Anniversary! One year ago today I swore in as a Volunteer. I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. I’ve been in Ghana for over a year now and now I have less than a year left. I’m starting over in a new community and I have yet to find housing. I’m worried; I’m nervous; and I’m excited for another year of discovering myself. Ghana has taught me much more than I could ever teach it. So to celebrate this momentous milestone, I want to share with you why I love living here so much.
Don’t you wish you could go back to simpler times? When things weren’t so complicated, when life didn’t pass you by at 70 mph on a eight-lane highway? Living in a developing country is a bit like going back in time. I’m not living in the stone age, I’m living in the simple age. There are plenty of reasons why I prefer the laid back pace of Ghana and here they are:
1. Testing yourself. Having lived in the developed world for all my life, I have been accustomed to running water, electricity, paved roads, and always available internet. When you move to Ghana, those things aren’t always available. You realize how little water you really need to bathe, how little electricity you need to stay connected, and how wasteful you have been your entire life. Hand washing your clothes teaches you patience. Spending hours sitting and talking because the electricity is out teaches you the importance of family. Being isolated from your family and friends brings out the best and worst in people. Through the hours of isolation, the moments of despair, the joyous occasions, and the moments that make you question everything you know – you discover yourself.
2. Food. Everyone knows how much I love banku and groundnut soup with a heap of chicken. But my favorite part of living in a developing country is the absolute lack of high fructose corn syrup. If I want to make popcorn, I take kernels and oil and put it on the stove. If I want a salad, I eat lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers – no dressing. If I want to make chicken noodle soup, I make it from scratch, I don’t pop it out of a can. There are very little processed foods in this country. Yes it is harder to eat a nutritious meal here, but that’s my fault. If I cooked more, then it wouldn’t be so much of a problem. Most of the time I see the meat I am about to eat before its head is lopped off. I know exactly where the corn I eat comes from. I watch the ladies mill the flour for my bread. I haven’t had near as many migraines in this country and I think it is because I’m not eating processed foods.
3. Technology. Here in Ghana, almost everyone has a cell phone. Even the farmer in the field. Some of the younger people have laptops and I only know of two people who own tablets. When I come across technology in this country, I see it helping people. People don’t use technology simply to fill their spare time. Farmers can get time specific text messages relating to their farms. A buyer can purchase cashew instantly with a smartphone and track all data for an entire season. GPS units are used to measure farms so that farmers have a more accurate picture of their farm. Data is being collected for agencies so that they may better serve their targets. I don’t see Ghanaians wasting hours of their day watching cat videos on YouTube. Technology is aiding in the spread of information and access to resources, it is a force for good.
4. Safety. I feel safer in Ghana than I ever did in America. Even with all the turmoil related to my site, even with being evacuated from my old town, I still feel safer here. Ghanaians don’t own guns. Violent crimes tend to be domestic disputes, robberies, or tribal related. You never hear of a massacre in Ghana. People don’t go out and fire round after round with cold blooded murder in mind. The Ghanaians I know are peaceful, friendly, and would protect me no matter what. I’ve only heard a Ghanaian curse once. The Police in Ghana have guns, but I’ve been told they don’t have bullets. The only people I know who have guns are bush hunters and they are giant shotguns with just one or two rounds. Living in Oklahoma, I have personally witnessed too many brutal, senseless, and heinous crimes – many of which were too close to home. Ghana is bound and determined to be a peaceful country, they take pride in that fact.
5. The pace. Life is simply slower here. It takes a longer time to go a shorter distance. You can spend hours just sitting, waiting for people to show up. Sometimes it is frustrating, but patience is the name of the game. I used to drive an hour and a half from Tulsa to Oklahoma City quite often. I felt like that was the longest car ride in the world. Now, I travel the same distance and it takes me over 3 hours to get to my destination. The time just goes by quicker. I don’t need to listen to the radio or read a book. I can just stare out the window and be content. You learn to love your mind in Peace Corps. You learn to embrace your stream of consciousness. You learn that time is of no consequence. You’ll get there when you get there. There is no late, there is only Ghana time.
Despite the difficulties I’ve faced, the hardships I have endured, and the brutal realities I have had to deal with, I don’t doubt that Peace Corps will have a profound impact on my life. This past year has shaped me into a different person. A person who sometimes forgets I’m the only white person for miles. A person who has learned to love her body because Ghanaian culture has taught me I’m beautiful. A person who cherishes the little pleasures in life – like a shower. I’m different. I’m changed. And I’m so grateful to Ghana for showing me who I can be.
This is me one year ago today.
This is me, a little less than a year later (at Thanksgiving).