It Goes to Eleven

It’s hard to believe it has been 8 days since my birthday already. It feels like just yesterday I was standing at the station in Techiman, waiting to board my final bus to Accra. I didn’t expect my service to end this way. I never expected anything that happened to me during my service. But I did expect these final moments to be a mix of emotions. In just eleven days I’ll board a plane bound for Germany. My service will be over. It already feels over though. I no longer have a site. I no longer have attachment. I’m just ready to go home.

For the past week, I’ve been a robot. I’ve had to forget my emotions and set aside my beliefs. I became numb to everything. The days passed by and I didn’t even realize it. I’m tired. My bones ache. I long for a sofa. I long for a bed that my feet don’t dangle off the edge. I long for home. Home is no longer here. Home is America. Home is my family. Home is so close, but still so far away. I’m ready.

I said my goodbyes to my community. Today I said goodbye to my favorite batik lady in all of Ghana – Auntie Esther. She surprised me with a gift too. I felt humbled and loved. In the coming week, I’ll say goodbye to my Peace Corps friends. And I’ll be heartbroken. They have been there for me through the many many difficult times I’ve endured. I’ve listened to them cry. I’ve listened to them rant. They’ve heard me scream. They’ve heard me laugh. We’ve been to hell and back together and that’s something no one will understand. Now it is time to return to my friends who’ve waited patiently for my return, for my friends that supported me even though I could never fully explain what has happened here. I hope they will still recognize me underneath the plethora of freckles and African fabrics.

Life will never be the same.

Last night I attended a cultural event that was fantastic. One of the most powerful moments of the night came from a famous Ghanaian singer. She didn’t sing, she told her story. She told the story of a famous woman being denied the privilege of singing the National Anthem at a World Cup match because some Ministers, big men, said a woman was a bad omen. At this point, she couldn’t even continue telling her story. It was too raw and too emotional for her. To have the honor of being the first woman to sing the National Anthem at such a big event and then watching it slip away from you because some men think they know what’s best. Her story seemed simple on the surface. It seemed typical to me. But it stirred something in me. It reminded me of the injustice I’ve dealt with being a woman in Ghana. It reminded me of the times I had to work twice as hard to get even a shred of respect, because I was a woman. It reminded me of the times I wasn’t taken seriously because I was a woman. It reminded me of all the times someone treated me like I wasn’t good enough. It reminded me of the fear I’ve experienced living here. The fear I still carry with me.

Her story made me reflect on my service and the challenges I’ve faced. And I came to one conclusion:
I’m strong.

Despite everything, I’m still here. I’m going to finish my service. I’m going to get the hole punched in my ID that proves I’m now an RPCV. No one can tell me I’m not worthy. That I’m not capable. I’m not good enough.

Africa has shown me that hidden beneath this freckly white skin, I’m really a sassy black woman.
And I’m damn proud of it.


My Last Trip to the Market

The Techiman market is famous for its wide selection of just about anything. It is one of the largest markets in West Africa. I’ve enjoyed my weekly jaunts to the random stalls dotted along the market. Today my first stop is my friend Vida’s shop in the fabric section. She isn’t around so I tell all the neighbors I’ll be back later. I meander through the stalls stopping to look at the random assortment of clothes. I don’t have anything in mind to buy today, I just want to wander. I check out the jeans stalls to see if there are any hidden treasures, there are! But alas, they are all too small for my Ghana mama hips. I make my way over to the piles of clothes baking in the hot sun. This is my favorite part. Last time I pilfered through these piles I found a dress for 50p that I wore to Ghana Fashion Week. I made my way towards the start of the piles and slowly snaked my way through the crowded mess. There was one table with coats, but unfortunately the only decent and warm looking one wouldn’t fit around my hips. Cursed hips.

I found my favorite pile to look through. The pile with clothes from India. The silks and beaded tunics are beautiful. The colors are so vibrant and unique. Sometimes you find a matching tunic and pants. Sometimes it is just the pants. Today I opted for some pants. One pair is made from soft silk, another from comfy cotton, and another from some sort of synthetic fabric that doesn’t matter because they are ridiculous.


The bright chartreuse ones have an intricate beaded design at the bottom. In America, I never would have bought anything like that. I would have thought – gah, how am I supposed to wash these? Now I know – you throw them in a bucket with soap and wash them. Easy, done. And what’s not to love about harem-style pants? I now have the coolest pajama pants. All three cost 1.50GHC (about 68 cents).

As I worked my way through more piles, I stopped and decided on a whim to turn down a small alley between two buses. And I’m so glad I did, sitting in front of me was a pile about 3ft tall of scarves. The lady in charge of the pile would scream out the price and then pick up the pile and turn it. I stuck with this pile for a while because I knew it would contain some real gems inside. (After all was said and done I spent 2GHC, or 90cents) I saw a scarf that made me smile, but opted not to pick it up. I regretted it immediately because the lady then turned the pile. Would I ever find it again? There had to be hundreds of scarves tangled in a giant heap. I pulled aside one because I liked the colors and it was larger, so I knew I could actually wear it. I’ve developed a real fondness for random bits of orange since being in Ghana too.


The next one I found I grabbed immediately. Pile shopping is a very visceral experience. If you like it, grab it, you can decide on it later. But countless Peace Corps Volunteers before me have always said – if you like it, buy it, because you’ll never find it again. (Like that Jar Jar Binks head backpack I regret not buying almost two years ago.) Anyway, this one reminded me of my Oma. One of the only things I have of hers is a necklace with a pressed Edelweiss flower inside. The flower reminds me of my childhood and it brings back the happiest memories of growing up in Germany and time spent with my Oma.


As the lady was turning the pile once again the scarf I regretted not grabbing resurfaced and I latched on to it. It just makes me smile. Yes, those are frogs and a princess. Who would ever give away a scarf this whimsical? (I found another scarf with roosters wearing Nikes that I thought the same, but I hate roosters, so screw them and their scarf likenesses.)


Lastly, as the suns rays started to wear on me, I decided to give it just a few more pulls and then call it a day. Tirelessly throwing clothes around is exhausting. I noticed a pale blue busy scarf that just caught my eye. I flipped it around and tried to take it all in by letting it billow in the wind. I stopped dead in my tracks. Suddenly memories from my childhood came flooding back to me. I thought of my father and all my extended family in Germany, including in the Schwarzwald. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this scarf. I won’t wear it, but I needed it. I needed those memories. I especially needed them this week. I’ve been struggling with so many different things. I needed to remember that happiness is mental. You chose to be happy. Some things trigger sadness and despair, but you can always choose happiness. This scarf reminded me of that. I walked away clutching it in my hand, knowing that I will always treasure finding this at my crossroad. A German scarf that reminds me of my family, my childhood, my future, and I found it in Ghana.


The past, present, and future. As I walked away from the market for the last time, I didn’t look back. I walked away smiling and happy that I found joy in the simplest things. These past two weeks have tested my resolve, but I know that I’ll leave Ghana with happy memories. Yes, I have scars. But a scar is always a reminder that you lived to tell the tale. And I’ll have many tales to tell, both sad and happy. It is the happy ones I’ll tell well after the sad ones have faded.

One Month

October is slowly changing. Instead of the leaves turning colors and the crisp air filling my lungs, the days are getting hotter and the rains are slowing down. My time is coming to a close and it is as if the universe wants to give me every last test possible.

I’ve been sick since September. I had bronchitis, which was not pleasant, but bearable. It disappeared for a week and a half, although a cough lingered. And as soon as I was feeling myself again, it came back. Was it the stress of working so hard for two days straight? Was it the pollution that fills my lungs every time I walk out of my house? (Seriously, have a lung illness living next to a soap factory that burns lye and being in the transport center of Ghana does not make for a good combination for fumes.) Or was it simply Ghana’s way of saying: “We can’t let you leave without one last good illness?” Whatever conspired against me did a good job. This past week I’ve been all but bed ridden. Friday was the worst, I deteriorated so fast I was terrified. All I could think about was how Danni had just one month left too. That thought of not making it to see my parents again, or my friends, or my dog, or my Oklahoma, or my aunt it gave me the strength to do everything in my power to heal. Plus, the 2g of antibiotics I’m taking everyday seem to help too. I will heal because there ain’t no way I’m going to let bronchitis ruin me after all I’ve been through.

And if I thought that would be the last thing, of course I’d be wrong. The truth has a funny way of coming out, right when it simply no longer matters. This month I’ve watched as my neighbors have become drunker and drunker. The other day as I walked to the latrine, boiled cassava came flying by me. And then my neighbor threw a crab on the ground. As I sat in the latrine, I heard someone rambling in English nearby. Upon leaving the latrine, I found my drunk neighbor right outside the door talking to me about heaven knows what. There were a few people sitting there and the sober ones all looked contrite. I’ve heard this guy’s ramblings before and most of the time it involves me being white and him being black. His wife (?) recently moved in and I saw her on my way home yesterday. She decided to come with me home. I told her I was sick and going to take a taxi, but since she didn’t have money she could walk home if she wanted. I wasn’t going to pay for her taxi, why should I when I barely even know her other than by appearance? She proceeded to tell the taxi driver a whole slew of lies. In Twi. Well, lucky for me I understand Twi. The taxi driver understood English. So I told him the straight story and that I would not be paying for her. Now, this may not seem like much of a to do, but after two years I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of being taken advantage of. I’m sick of my skin color being some sort of unspoken code. I tired of people treating me like a pet. This woman has begged me for gifts and money since she moved in. I was not about to reward her for taking advantage of me while I’m sick. Later that day, the drunk neighbor (her husband), dragged my small girl away because she didn’t wash the dishes. The day before I asked the family if the small girl could help me wash my suitcase the next day. She was probably two minutes away from finishing when the man came over and dragged her away. I asked him to have a little patience since she was almost done. He proceed to rant and ramble at me about doing things properly and her needing to do her job. He kept going on and on about how she doesn’t know her place and I don’t know mine.

And that’s when I lost it. I felt myself grow 8ft tall and take a stand. I let him know that it simply didn’t matter. The girl could do both things and it didn’t matter when they were finished because in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? No. If the dishes don’t get washed for another five minutes, the world was not about to end. She works all day slaving away and he treats her like dirt. I puffed up and told him to stop yelling at her for the most ridiculous things and to have patience. I watched as the air deflated out of him, but then he went to say something else. And I stopped him. I told him our conversation was finished and this discussion was over. I organized the other small girls and turned my back on him and walked away. The whole neighborhood was watching our exchange. The whole neighborhood of women. They were smiling. The small girls told me afterwards that he is crazy and a drunk. But they smiled at me. I stood up for all of them.

The truth continued to ooze out for the next few hours about how that family has been stealing from me for months. When I had an old padlock, one of the guys had a key. They stole my water. They lied to me about entering my house. The girl stole my food and something very dear to me. The guy who used to live in the house stole the money I gave him monthly for the light bill. The mom lied to me about the light bill and stole my money just this past week. One of the brothers wants me to go with him to a big man to show off that he has a white friend. It drives me crazy that the family still treats me like a five year old. Last time I checked, I’m competent enough to know how to wash clothes, close a door, and walk across the street.
They have told me lie after lie. I could taste the bitterness on my tongue as the lies all unfolded in front of me. This is the taste that will linger in my mouth when I think about my home. This will be my last taste of Techiman. But I won’t let this cloud my memory of my time here.

I have my fabric lady, Vida. Her sweetness will compensate for the rest. And I have so many other wonderful things that I will remember that will make up for the disappointments.

But I’m ready. I’m ready to go. One month and my Peace Corps service will be over. Two years of life changing experiences will come to an end. When I get back to America I want to buy a t-shirt that says:

I survived.

Why Obamacare is Fantastic, Albeit Confusing for Peace Corps Volunteers

For many Peace Corps Volunteers serving out in the bush somewhere, we’ve all but forgotten about Obamacare. Why? Well, the days blur together and no one is ever quite sure what year it is. Also, the bush part. Yes, we have access to news and facebook and email, but sometimes that means standing on a rock waving your arms wildly in the air hoping to get a signal. So I’m sure it simply slipped the minds of many PCVs worldwide that the online marketplace has gone live. Or they have no idea what that even means.

For the Volunteers returning to America in the next 6 months, Obamacare is fantastic. We are perfect candidates for the new system. Most of us will be returning unemployed, previously uninsurable (chronic Montezuma’s revenge should be a pre-existing condition), and likely in serious need of insurance. Peace Corps provides one month of insurance upon returning to the States, after that you can decide to purchase AfterCare for some months. (Word on the bush path is AfterCare will no longer be an 18 month contract, but 3 months instead.) After reviewing the premium cost (about $240/month) and reviews (terrible) of AfterCare, I’ve decided that shopping for options on the marketplace is a better alternative.

Shopping for plans hits a snag though for Peace Corps Volunteers. Firstly, you need to know what state you live in. Secondly, you need to estimate your 2014 income. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that all Peace Corps Volunteers returning to America hope that their income will be higher than their in country allowance. If I go back to America and I get a job making $175 a month, I’m coming back to Ghana! So you can see the difficulty here – we don’t know where we will be living or how much money we will be making (if we can get a job). We might move back in with our parents while we look for a job, but odds are many PCVs are looking for jobs in multiple states. So, what’s a poor, homeless RPCV to do?

Well, let’s learn some facts about the new Obamacare roll out and answers some questions (scroll down for some insurance related definitions as well):

Income Related

1. 2014 income estimation determines whether you qualify for tax subsidies or Medicaid. The tax subsidies can change your out-of-pocket premium expenses in the long run. If you earn enough though, you won’t qualify for subsidies. Let’s do an example of what a returning PCV might have to pay:

Example A: a 27 year old PCV has just returned to America. He’s living with his parents right now in Oregon as he readjusts to running water, stable electricity, grocery stores, and hipsters. He is applying for jobs in Oregon and estimates that once he gets a job, he’ll be making $30,000 a year. Here’s his estimate for the Silver plan:

$164/month ($1976/year) premium
No subsidies

Example B
: a 25 year old has just returned and wants insurance. Since she’s 25 she still qualifies under her parents’ insurance. She tells her parents to add her as a dependent on their insurance. Done.

Example C: a 26 year old RPCV is looking for jobs in many different states, she needs insurance in the interim though. She doesn’t know how long it will take to get a job, so she’s living at home with her dad in Texas. She’s looking at nonprofit jobs though for when she does get a job. She guesses her salary will be $25,000. Her estimate:

$223/month ($2680/year) premium
$951 tax subsidy
Premium after subsidy: $144/month ($1729/year)

(All estimates are from:

2. If you estimate your income incorrectly, it will be adjusted for your 2014 taxes (read: April 2015). But what does that mean? Here’s a breakdown:

You estimate $30,000, but end up making $42,000 (first of all, congrats!). You don’t qualify for subsidies either way. You’re fine.
You estimate $22,000, but end up making $37,000. You qualified for subsidies with the lower income, but since you made more money, you’ll have to pay the subsidy back.
You estimate $40,000, but end up making $20,000. You probably qualify for subsidies now, which means you’ll be getting money back.

So, my advice: estimate high. It is better to be pleasantly surprised with a subsidy check, than disappointed when one doesn’t come. (Although, not having a subsidy means you are doing well, so win win either way.)

3. Does my readjustment allowance count as 2014 income? If you COS before December 31, 2013 you don’t have to worry about this question.
For the past two years, you’ve been paying taxes on your readjustment allowance since it has been adding up each month. In terms of income, it isn’t the lump sum in tax terms you think it is. If you COS in 2014, your income should be adjusted based on whatever remaining months you had for your readjustment allowance. (Disclaimer: I am by NO MEANS a tax accountant or professional, my mother is and this is what I understood from her.) So that means:

If you COS in March, that’s $825. It isn’t going to affect you terribly when estimating your income, but if you feel wary overestimate.

4. If I take cash-in-lieu does that count as income? Again, according to my tax-loving mom and the Peace Corps (, it does not.

Where do I live?!

1. If you move after you apply/receive insurance, you are qualified for a 60 day new open enrollment. If you apply for insurance in Oklahoma, but move to Texas a few months later you will have 60 days in which to reenroll for insurance. After 60 days, you have to wait for the next time to sign up for insurance – October 2014. If you COS in 2014, you will most likely apply for this exception as well. So you can apply for insurance after returning to the States.

2. What if I get a job that offers insurance and I already bought a plan through the marketplace? You will have to decide if you want to keep your current plan or switch to the insurance provided through your employer. If you want to cancel your current plan, you will have to contact the actual insurance company and discuss with them cancelling. Be sure to ask about premium proration! If you want to keep your current plan, but switch later – talk to your new employer about the next open enrollment period. Mark that date on your calendar and switch then.

What are these terms?

open enrollment – a couple months during the year in which you can sign up for insurance. This is the only time when you can sign up for new insurance or switch.

premium – consider it like a monthly subscription cost. This is the amount of money you pay each month in order to have insurance. (Just like car or renter’s insurance)

income – if you are curious what qualifies as income and what doesn’t check out this website:

subsidy – The health care subsidy is in the form of a tax credit, but unlike most tax credits, you won’t have to wait until you file your taxes to receive it. The subsidy will be applied directly to your insurance premium when you purchase a plan through the online marketplace.


My Recommendation

You have until March 31, 2014 to purchase insurance through the marketplace. Starting April 1, you will have to pay a penalty for not having insurance. For Peace Corps Volunteers returning to America with our incredible amount of parasites, worms, and scars – Obamacare is a great thing. So ditch AfterCare and pick a plan that works for you.

If you are looking for jobs, estimate your income based on the salary of jobs you’re looking at. Check glassdoor for more ways to estimate salary. If you move, just reapply for insurance. You never know, you might get a better deal in a different state!

If you are still curious about Obamacare and how it impacts new RPCVs, ask away in the comments below. Or check out these websites for more information:

Wary about Obamacare’s impact on your taxes when you return to the land of paying taxes, here’s information about how Obamacare/Affordable Care Act is being paid for:

You can find the marketplace at:

Update: October 21 – for details on the prices I found for plans check out this post:

My Peace Corps Service

On October 6, 2011, I emerged from the Lufthansa plane into the steamy evening air of Accra. I stepped foot onto the African continent for the first time. Two years later, I can still vividly remember the feeling of arriving in Ghana. Two years later and I’ve accomplished a lot, but only time will tell what my impact has been.

Standing on a cliff overlooking a tree dotted savannah, shadows and sunlight fill the scene. My service has been much the same. The shadows sometimes cast doubt on the effectiveness of my service, but the rays of sun pouring over the landscape reveal the true story.

Two days into my service as an official Peace Corps Volunteer, I sat huddled over a shiny metal table, pen and paper in hand ready to dive into the conference call. Beads of sweat formed on my neck and temple, slowly rolling down my front as the screechy fan circled above my head. I leaned forward to hear the speakerphone over the din of the bar’s crackling TV. As the conference call finished, I could feel the corners of my mouth slowly pull back into an unmistakable smile. This was going to be my primary project. Ideas started to form in my head, cogs started turning, and a pull deep inside my stomach told me that this project would become my baby.

A few days later, I sat in a dusty office surrounded by binders, papers, and cobwebs. I quickly opened my laptop, ready to prove myself to my new Ghanaian counterparts. As SAP stated exasperatedly during our conference call, farmer registrations were far behind schedule. I sprung into action, creating a plan for tackling the registrations in the next few weeks. We had just three weeks to register farmers from over 16 communities, spanning half the region. Christmas eve, I set out from my house to Muslim area of town. As I approached the first house, I suddenly became anxious, this was after all my first introduction to my farmers. I was greeted by a group of about 15 men who had just finished prayers. This group would turn out to be my biggest supporters and friendliest farmers. As we documented each farmer, I took pictures of each person (an added transparency measure for the software).


Our taxi would bump along the dirt roads surrounding Wenchi. Dust would fill the car like a fog entering the vehicle, it would grab hold of my throat and linger softly on my clothes. My short red hair would turn redder and lighter with the dust settling wherever it could. As we jostled around in the taxi hurtling toward Nchiraa, I noticed the land change slightly. Crags burst forth from the mix of maize and cashew farms; palm trees rose high above the grasses. We climbed slightly and as we emerged from a dense section of teak trees, the view broke through and you could see for miles. Miles of farms, untouched land, and Africa.

A few weeks later, we were making our way down another bush path. This time the journey took much longer. I dozed off and on in the backseat as we passed bushfires, cashew farms, and tiny villages huddled around a water source. We stopped in a small village to register a few farmers. We parked in the shade of an ancient mango tree, dripping with thin, waxy leaves. I set my laptop on the roof of the tiny Daewoo so it would be eye level. My counterpart, gently grabbed my arm and pointed towards a little shack across the street. The closest gas station for miles and miles.


(The yellow jerry can is the gas station.)

The hot wind pushed my bedroom curtains higher and higher as I sat on my makeshift desk, my bed. I furiously added data into a spreadsheet, enjoying the monotony of the work. I coughed and reached for more water. One of the 800 farmers I shook hands with likely handed me the flu. But the fever and body aches weren’t going to stand in the way of my data analysis. I poured over the data, fascinated by the trends that were emerging and their implication for this project. Not only did I have a great sample of cashew farmers, but I had insights that would help me plan my future trainings.

January melted into February and with it the hot harmattan winds continued to blow. One night, the team from Germany arrived, and we discussed logistics for the next week’s training. As the sun set over the hills of Wenchi, the bats sleeping restlessly in the giant mango tree began to stir and disappear into the dusk. The furious sound of their wings beating against their bodies and their cries of hunger echoed into the night. The stars began to slowly pop into view and I listened to the team from SAP conversing in German. I chimed in on occasion as we discussed details. As the night wore on, one of them snuck off and came back with a bag bursting to the top with German goodies. I was ecstatic to see some of my favorites – Weisswurst, Knodel, and Haribo. The full moon slowly rose over the horizon, distorted by the harmattan winds, it glowed orange illuminating the town.

The cashew season slowly soldiered on. The intoxicating smell of cashew flowers filled the air. March became April and the first shadow crept over my service. As I laid in bed, writhing in feverous pain, I drifted in and out of delirium. Sweat poured down my back as I tossed and turned during the hottest month of the year. Suddenly, I would wake up from my terror strewn dreams and stumble wildly to the bathroom. I couldn’t even remember the taste of regular water, I was drinking so many oral rehydration salts. I don’t remember what or how I ate, but somehow in that month I received sustenance. Nor do I remember travelling to Kumasi to visit the lab. As I teeter-tottered back in forth in the lab chair, I willed myself to stay conscious. Leaving the lab, the Peace Corps car had left. I walked in a stupor towards what I hoped would be towards a vehicle to take me back to the office. The next days were a blur as I got progressively worse. My energy was sapped wholeheartedly from my body, leaving me to crawl to the bathroom. Four weeks passed since the start of my illness and finally I was prescribed medicine to treat typhoid fever.

The rainy season arrived in thunderous fashion. The sky seemed to open up and a deluge issued forth. Roads became rivers and rivers became violent. My curtains remained almost horizontal for the three month monsoons. I could barely leave the house for fear of being swept away. The rain would hammer on the tin roof deafening my ears. Loneliness began to affect me and sadness slowly seeped into my daily life. But eventually, the rain died down enough that I could carry on with my work.

I quietly organized my handouts for my basic recordkeeping and accounting trainings. Everything was prepared and I was thrilled to begin teaching. Before I joined Peace Corps I envisioned myself giving basic accounting trainings in some far off land in a different language, well my vision became reality, except it was in English. The farmers surprised me with their attentiveness and participation in the trainings. I was shocked to find women participating with the men. I drew out the shy farmers and asked them about what they learned. I provided pencils as incentives for participation. For seven weeks, I trekked around Wenchi providing trainings to over 100 farmers. I was thrilled at the progress they made and satisfied with my work. 

A few weeks later I set out for the adventure of a lifetime, traversing around South Africa for three weeks. The cold Atlantic Ocean took my breathe away as I lowered myself into the cage. Being careful not to dangle my appendages outside the confines of the steel cage, I watched as great white sharks swam past me in the water. They leapt with such force over the choppy surface of the water, I could barely believe the experience was real. A week later and I was awestruck when I saw my first giraffe. As the baby giraffe was chased by devious warthogs, the sun set over the savannah. The air grew cold as we spent the evening chasing lions and tailing rhinos. The lion’s roar reverberated throughout my entire body, enticing goosebumps to ripple across my skin.


The next month was bland in comparison to my South African escapades. I travelled back and forth to the district offices, pleading with bored officials to support my bushfire prevention event. I had been looking forward to planning this event for a year and I was excited when the agencies were all on board. I left the final planning to my counterpart and I hopped down to Accra for Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s residence. I stayed with an amazing couple who have embraced me like a member of their own family. Thanksgiving Day, I slipped on my specially designed and tailored dress and blow dried my hair. As I sat down to eat, I invited those at the table to share what they were thankful for – a family tradition. That day I was even more grateful for gravy, lots and lots of gravy. Later that evening, I joined my embassy family for second Thanksgiving. I waddled to bed that night.

I returned home to Wenchi, eager to conduct my bushfire event. Then, it all crumbled to pieces in front of me, sabotaged by one individual. By the time I got to the event location that morning, I was already fearful and severely shaken up. I still haven’t recovered from that day, and I doubt I ever will. Peace Corps arrived like a knight in shining white Nissan armor to carry me far away.

Another dark shadow cast no light over the month of December and I struggled. I came very close to quitting and accepting defeat, but through the strength of my friends and support from my APCD I made it through those dark 51 days of homelessness.

As I sat on the edge of my new bed contemplating the boxes and bags of stuff in front of me, I wondered where to start. Where do you start over? I pulled clothes out of boxes, books out of crannies, and decorations out of bags. I was determined to make my quaint, tiny space my home. I purchased beautiful batik for my curtains. As I went to hang them, the table I was standing on gave a giant creak and suddenly split in two. Only one word came to mind as I slowly tumbled backwards onto my concrete floor, and that word was inappropriate. I healed and moved on with my work.

February approached once again with a flurry of events, one of which I had been planning for a long time – the Peace Corps West Africa Cashew Conference. I’m incredibly proud of the results of this conference, but it came at a price. Another shadow was quickly filling up any sunlight visible.

My friend Ralph encouraged me to go to a spot with him one evening, but the moment I got there I knew it was a terrible mistake. The gurgles and deep resonating growls coming from my stomach had nothing to do with hunger. I looked around frantically for a latrine, desperate for any sign of relief. The cramps hitting my stomach caused me to double over in pain. I pleaded with Ralph to let me go home immediately. I just made it in time. That night I laid in bed drenched with sweat and feverish, the food poisoning felt like I was being eaten alive. Over the course of the next month, the effects of that food poisoning became clearer and I became sicker and sicker. But again I survived and over the next few months healed.

Despite healing, the shadows grew darker as I struggled with a project and the sudden death of a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ve unfortunately often heard the pained screams and wails of Ghanaians as they discover the news of a loved one’s passing. I couldn’t help but echo those same wails as I heard the news of Danni’s untimely departure. I headed back to Accra, where I dealt with my sorrow by hiding away and baking. I’ve held my friends closer ever since her funeral and hope to never cry such terrible tears again.

I returned to work determined to excel and I set ahead furiously studying for the Foreign Service Test, which I passed. The happy news of my score reached me while I was on a much needed vacation in Germany. We’d just stepped foot inside the house, returning from a wonderful few days in Spain, when I received the email. The next few weeks I spent enjoying the crisp, fresh air of Germany with my aunt and uncle. It was exactly what I needed and a wonderful treat. I truly didn’t know how much I valued fresh air until I inhaled it again.

There must always be balance between the amount of sun and shadows, so after my magnificent trip to Germany, I should have been on guard for the shadow that began to creep up again. Rays of sunlight still flooded through hoping to break the shadow, but again one individual was bound and determined to cast darkness back into my life. Despite being scared and shaken, I survived this security threat with my head held high. I refused to shrink back into the ease of the darkness.

Happiness once again returned after I received my official Close of Service (COS) date: November 20. With just a short amount of time left, I set a course for closure and began wrapping up my primary project. This included a World Cashew Conference and a round of meetings with my project partner, fresh off the plane from Germany.

One week will mark my two year anniversary in Ghana. I have just 53 days left in West Africa. Only 53 days to ensure my primary project will be well looked after. Only 53 days left to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made and relationships I cherish. I don’t know what my impact has been. I know what I’ve done. I know what I’ve taught. I know how my primary project has expanded beyond my dreams. Time will tell if I’ve made any impact on Ghana. But Ghana has surely made an impact on me.

The Good Old Days

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” As I sit here vacillating between excitement over going home and sadness about saying goodbye, I remember all the stories of my service. When will I have an opportunity like this again? When will I be able to experience such highs and such lows? As I heard that quote from my favorite show, the Office, tonight I shed a tear. I’m in the good old days. I’m in those memories of adventure. I want to go home, but I don’t want this to end. I don’t want to give up my dream job working on my dream project doing things that matter. I don’t want to say goodbye to my best friend. And I surely don’t want to give up this amazing healthcare. Yes, there are things I will not miss like strange tropical diseases and being covered in filth after a 100km ride in a totally unsafe vehicle. But there are things I will always look back fondly on, that I will carry with me like a badge of honor.

Here are some of my favorite memories:

Just this past week, I attended the African Cashew Alliance World Cashew Conference. Also in attendance at this event was the Chairman of the Wenchi Cashew Association. I didn’t know he was going to be there and when I found his name on the list I instantly broke into cold sweats and I felt myself close up. Suddenly, all the bad memories from my old site came flooding back and I thought I would have a panic attack. Then I saw a white truck and I thought I would just crumble into pieces. Instead of succumbing to my fears, I decided to become a secret agent and do everything possible to avoid him at all costs. I actually had fun suddenly finding hidden alcoves and learning to spin quickly on my heel and duck behind a plant when I saw him. Despite me seeing him, he never saw me. I became a master of hiding and camouflage. I went the entire week without him even recognizing me. I’m very proud of my sneakiness and ability to overcome my fears.

And over a year ago, I remember so vividly hearing the news that the President of Ghana had died. I was in Richie’s tiny village. We stood on a rock with the phone in the air trying to get service so we could verify the villager’s claims on the internet. The next day was full of such craziness that I still can’t even believe what happened. We walked through 5ft tall grass looking for the sacred hole, sacrificed for the ancestors, drank spirits in their honor, and found wild orchids. I will never forget singing Lion King songs on the way back and showing up in town to find the entire place dancing. We literally emerged from the bush and danced our way through town. Apparently, the villagers still remember me for that very reason.

I remember the Fourth of July in 2012. We didn’t have a grill for our steaks, so we improvised and purchased burglar wire. We broke a set of pliers shaping the wire into a grill that would fit over two coal pots.

I remember my initial site visit when Sam came to meet me. He talked to me about the SAP project and set me up for an amazing next two years.

I remember the first Peace Corps party I went to. While many parts are fuzzy, I still remember dancing into the wee hours of the night and returning around 4am. I remember the fence was locked and someone scaling it to unlock it, despite the fact that we didn’t have a key.

I remember the look my Tess’s face when she saw me crawling to the bathroom for the umpteenth time during the last part of my typhoid. It still cracks me up.

I remember opening the door at Richie’s house to find an entire gaggle of students who should be in class, instead they were delivering us a chameleon.

I remember sitting on the hard concrete ground looking for shooting stars with my Ghanaian family.

I remember rolling through town with my Ghanaian brother and Richie screaming Kwabena at every guy we saw.

I remember standing on my rickety table thinking “oh god this is bad news” and hearing the table crack in two. I still remember the slow and gradual fall as I grabbed for the rope hoping that 1mm of flimsy rope would save me.

I remember sitting at the table with my expats eating something delicious with their new neighbor. I turned to him and asked where he was from. I will never forget the shock on my face when he said Oklahoma.

I remember my first trip to Accra, I thought my stomach wasn’t going to make it as I bumped along the Kumasi Accra road. I didn’t care how terrible I felt, I made a beeline for the closest supermarket where I proceeded to purchase 20cd of cheese and ate it all immediately.

How could I forget the countless dance parties that started on a whim? Or the moments with Richie? Or friends who have come and gone. Or the lessons learned, mainly the hard way?

I’ve had quite the adventure and I wish it wouldn’t end. I’m in the good ole days. I’m here. And I’m going to leave soon, but until then I’m going to soak up as much good as I can.

I’m Afraid of America

I’m terrified of going back to America. I’m scared of becoming complacent. I’m scared that I might actually think about donating money to a charity. I’m scared of driving. I’m scared that I will scream at someone because they complain about something mundane. I’m scared of gaining weight. I’m scared of processed food. I’m scared of having a job that isn’t satisfying. I’m scared I won’t feel fulfilled. I’m scared of sticker shock. I’m scared of cold weather. I’m scared of having to resettle. I’m scared of money. I’m scared of politics.

For two years, I’ve lived in my comfortably harsh bubble. I’ve become accustomed to eating the same six things: banku and groundnut soup, kenkey and pepe, egg sandwiches, tuna salad, popcorn, and spaghetti. I’ve learned to enjoy the simple life of latrines, walking everywhere, and bucket baths. I don’t mind three hour long tro rides to go just 100km. I don’t even mind 8 hour trips to the capital. Air conditioning makes me cold and I’d rather sit outside in the hot sun chatting with the neighbors than watching a movie. Food tempts me too much and I know that as soon as I get home the pounds will begin to stick nicely to my squishy parts.

Honestly, I’m just scared of leaving. I never been unemployed before and searching for jobs is difficult when I know exactly what I want to do, but I either have to wait for the stars to align or fight tooth and nail. I’m scared of leaving my job. As I continue to say, despite the low points and illnesses, I’m still very happy with my service. My primary project was a dream project. I’ve learned so much from the successes and the many failures. Even yesterday, I had to say goodbye to my SAP contact, Carsten, and I fought back tears. This project has been my life for two years and Carsten’s been there conference calling me through it. I don’t want to leave this project, I simply don’t. Giving it up and handing it over to another PCV is like handing your baby up for adoption – I’ve nurtured and cared for this thing for two years, take good care of it, so be a good parent and don’t screw it up!

I’m losing everything again, just like when I left for Peace Corps.  I’ll leave a piece of me behind in Ghana, as everyone does. It’s time to start again on a new adventure, but not before I give myself time to reacclimate to American life. I’ll need time at a grocery store to not freak out over choices. I’ll need time to relearn how to drive. I’ll need time to cope with first world problems. I’ll need time to learn how to be polite again. I’ll need time to merge my Ghanaian self with my American self without hissing, yelling, or generally degrading someone’s religiosity in order to get past the greeting stage.

But most of all, I’m terrified of losing the knowledge I gained during these two years. The knowledge of how to get by on so little and how to be happy no matter what comes my way. The knowledge of how to find fulfillment.

Please America, don’t let me lose myself.