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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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).

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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.

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(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.

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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.

I Can’t Stop Smiling

There’s something in my water, I just know it. That’s got to be the reason I’ve been so happy lately. Or maybe I’m happy because I am. I haven’t stopped smiling since I got back from Germany. That vacation truly did wonders for me. I really needed it and I’m so fortunate to have such a loving aunt and uncle who knew I needed it too.

Why am I so happy? What’s been going on? It’s nothing major, but the small things just add up and make everything better. When I returned to site, it was a wonderful homecoming. I was actually happy to see my latrine (I needed to pee really badly). My neighbors were yelling my name, the small girls ambushed me for hugs, and the puppy almost had a heart attack when she saw me. I went to market on Monday and found my dear friend Vida waiting for me with open arms. She was so happy to see me. We sat and talked about my adventures in Germany. She told me about the new things happening at the market. We shared stories and laughs. I love spending time with her. She calls me her best friend. She’s not married and her son is older. She lives alone. I sit at her stand and keep her company. She’s a wonderful human being and sells the greatest batik. I bought 22 yards that day (there’s a story behind all those yards, but that’s for another time). I walked to my veggie stand and was greeted much the same, with enthusiasm. I made my way to Modern Way for lunch and it felt like walking back into your mom’s kitchen.

Yesterday, the small girls came by to hang out. I sat and talked with them for an hour about all sorts of things. I discovered an incredible secret though. Those girls drank so much water when I gave them one of those MIO water flavoring things. I’ve never seen them drink water and they were slurping it up like they had been running through the Sahara. I taught them the importance of water to a healthy body and they agreed to drink more, especially now that they had this great MIO thing. At one point, I was demonstrating different vegetables and how we eat them in America, when one girl squeezed a cucumber. It literally burst in my face. I was laughing so hard. Who knew spoiled cucumbers could explode?! We alternated between Twi and English. They are such a great group of girls, I enjoy having their company.

Today, I started working very early. The night before I finally finished my work plan for SAP. I spent a good amount of time making it beautiful and timeliney. This morning, with renewed vigor, I sat down to do some spreadsheets. I still have to finish my data analysis, but I love it. I love every minute of analyzing data in Excel. And nothing makes me happier than having new, fresh data to play with. After I worked on the data for a few hours, I did the rest of my wash. I sat down outside and began washing my underwear. As I enjoyed the sound of my washing board intertwining with the country music in the background, I watched the morning pass in front of me. I watched girls go to school, moms washing dishes, and unemployed boys sitting aimlessly. The rainy season weather was perfect, cloudy, windy, and not too hot. The sheep came storming by, freaked out by a pack of dogs. I watched as they leaped over each other in a mad dash to escape those wily dogs. The compound puppy came over to greet me with her all too sweet howl. She obeyed as I told her to lay down beside me. She loves to nip at my heels, but I began teaching her the meaning of NO. Gifty, the little 2 year old who lives next to me, came over to see what I was washing. She never talks to me, never has. She always smiles and runs away when I try to talk to her. I asked her where she was going in Twi. She answered me. She actually answered me!

The afternoon was met with those “seriously?!” moments, that I’ve come to appreciate in Ghana. First, I let the cucumber I was peeling slide right out of my hands straight into the trash. Then I dropped all my silverware trying to grab just one spoon. Then I burned my hands picking something off the stove. Then the rain began to pour, immediately after I had just come inside from checking the status of my clothes. I didn’t get upset at my downhill luck. I laughed. Watching that cucumber slide in slow motion out of my hands and into the trash was priceless. And as much as I hate pulling laundry off the line, there is something so quintessentially wonderful about running in the rain to rescue your clothes from sudden downpour.

I ate my delicious tuna salad lunch with a new cucumber. I sat back and enjoyed eating healthy. (For breakfast I had hardboiled eggs, toast with olive pesto and sardine pate.) I feel good. I feel wonderful. I feel happy. My work with SAP is incredibly fulfilling and will keep me busy through the rest of my service. I love spending time with the people around me. And I know that I have people all around the world who care about me and want to know that I’m happy. I love what I do. I love who I’ve become.

I could also just be smiling because I look fabulous today, but maybe that’s just as a result of how I feel. No, who am I kidding, I put eyeshadow on today. I look great.

And I feel great too.

Home: Where I Keep Myself Company

I just made it home from a very long journey. There’s nothing quite like visiting your latrine and thinking “I missed this.” I had to do a lot of cleaning, but once the place was dust free I felt whole again. I sat down on my bed, sighed and kicked off my shoes. I’m home.

As I sat down wondering what to do now, I checked my email. A friend sent me a Ted Talk that he thought I’d like. I downloaded it and listened intently as the speaker revealed exactly what my life has been like. The talk was about what “home” is. When someone asks you: “where’s home?” How do you answer? Is home where you were born? Or where you currently live? Is it where you pay your bills? Is it where you studied?

That’s a hard question for me to answer. What do I consider home? I grew up in two countries. I currently live in Ghana, but my service is slowly coming to an end. Is home where I’ll end up once I’m done with Peace Corps? The speaker went on to say “home is the place where you become yourself.” I like that idea. Home truly is where you keep your soul. For me that’s my spot on Earth where I can have peace and quiet, and where I can be alone. I need alone time. I need the ability to separate myself from the hustle and bustle going on around me. That’s home to me, where I can be with myself. The speaker continued to talk about stopping to enjoy the silence and stillness, instead of constantly moving. I feel like that’s the thing that always grounds me here in Ghana. We have more than enough free time as volunteers. We have more than enough time to contemplate. I’ve used the time to really discover who’s underneath the fabulous Ghanaian clothes. I revel in the silence.

I’ve found my form of meditation as well, my own form of zen: tro travel. I put my headphones on, zone out, and spend the entire trip just thinking. I remember happy memories from my service. I recall events that stood out in my life. I use the time to learn from my experiences, to reflect. If I’ve learned anything during my time in Peace Corps, it is how to learn from your mistakes.

I’m incredibly grateful for my Peace Corps service. It truly has taught me how to relax, reflect, and grow. Last week one of the Peace Corps staff members commented on how much I’ve changed since I’ve been here. High-strung me has all but gone, she appears every once in a while in very stressful situations though. I’ve learned to cope with circumstances beyond my control. I’ve learned to be a better team player. I’ve learned the value of good leadership. I’ve learned to live with very little. I’ve learned to appreciate fate. I’ve also learned the meaning of home.

Home is truly where you become yourself. Whether it is in curled up in a ball on my bed, wrapped up in a hug, or where my thoughts lead me – home is where I feel at ease.

Right now, home is sitting in my house in Ghana listening to Oklahoma country eating German chocolate.

There’s a Reason They Give You 48 Days

Running to catch my flight Sunday, I choked back tears leaving my aunt and uncle. I sprinted through the Frankfurt Airport half hoping to miss my flight. I only slept two hours the night before. I got to the gate just as the plane was boarding. I settled into my seat, sighed and fell asleep. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want my trip to be over. It had been so long since I got to spend time with my aunt. I haven’t been able to spend that much time with her since I was very young. My aunt has always been my second mom. She reminds me of my mom so much that it was like getting to be on vacation with both of them.

Arriving in Frankfurt, my bags came off the carousel fairly quick. I walked through customs and right there in front of me was my aunt. Carrying a very heavy bag I ran towards her and let out a stifled sob. I hugged my uncle and we were off. Walking into their house was like stepping into your favorite pair of slippers. It was so comfortable and so…home. I threw my bags down and marveled at how beautiful their home was. We went to Ramstein Air Force Base and I got my first taste of home. As I entered the massive BX shopping megacenter, I was instantly in culture shock. Where was I? Was that a Macaroni Grill? Is that Cinnabon? You mean to tell me there’s Taco Bell here? As we wandered through the never-ending isles of American shopping paradise I felt strange. Everything seemed so foreign, yet so familiar. As I passed the men and women in their uniforms, I felt even more at home. I grew up an Air Force brat. I don’t think a day went by when “Tinker” wasn’t uttered in our household. Being back around an Air Force base was like receiving a giant hug from your extended family.

The first evening we made s’mores and I was astonished by how late the sun set. I forgot that happens on other sides of the earth. I eventually went to bed and snuggled under the covers of the warm bed. It had been so long since I slept on a bed that I didn’t feel. I didn’t sink into the pit my ass has been carving away at for a year. I didn’t feel my feet dangle dangerously over the edge. I didn’t feel anything but comfort. Well I was cold too, so I felt my toes freezing off.

I swear the first week was just eating. We ate Greek, German, Thai, at home, everywhere and anywhere that had food. I feel like cheese was just flying at my face, ready to be eaten with open arms. And I did. I ate cheese every chance I got.

The first weekend, we jetted off to Spain for a few days in pure bliss. The weather was heavenly, the hotel was impeccable, the food was delicious, and my tan was perfect. Every morning at breakfast, I ate like it was my last meal on Earth. The cheese, cured meats, milchreis, sausage, and everything possibly unhealthy for you was consumed with glee. By the end of the trip though my body was clearly telling me to avoid the cheese plates, but I ignored it. We took a nice detour from the beach one day and headed to Gibraltar, which I didn’t know is NOT part of Spain. In fact it is a British Overseas Territory, like Bermuda. We took a tour of the rock and I was fascinated that I knew nothing about this place. I peered over the edge and waved at Africa while also appreciating the Strait. Overall it was well worth the trip, I loved learning something new. I was the only person stopped at passport control though, probably because I was wearing kente.

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I still don’t understand how the Spanish can eat so late though. 10pm is early for dinner. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve been up past 10pm in Ghana. I loved devouring seafood while I was there though. I have a new love for anchovies. One night we went out to dinner with one of my aunt’s friends. It was a steakhouse of sorts. I had Iberian pork. Three pork steaks which changed my life. I will never look at a pig the same way again, bacon doesn’t even hold a candle to how amazing these steaks were. I didn’t even speak until I got through the second steak. True bliss.

Upon returning to Germany, we were greeted with beautiful weather and the Fourth of July. We celebrated the Fourth with friends and the Air Force base. I had a funnel cake and a Corona. Life doesn’t get much better. As we watched the fireworks and listened to the Star Spangled Banner, I choked up. You never forget your are American, but being away for so long I’d forgotten what it means to be American. I felt a huge wave come over me and suddenly I remembered why I love my country. There is good and bad, but we are truly privileged to be Americans. I watched the fireworks explode and remembered Fourth of Julys from past years. It felt right.

A few days later we ventured into town for the Altstadt Fest in Kaiserslautern. There aren’t enough words to describe how fascinating, memorable, and remarkable that night was. I’m just lucky that the words Peace Corps don’t get thrown around too often. Chance and coincidence have a right real good time showing up unexpectedly.

My last week was fantastic. We went to the castle Berg Eltz, which brought back memories of my childhood. As we sat and ate lunch overlooking the Mosel, I couldn’t help but remember happy moments. I remember walking up and down the river, watching bikes pass by. I remember riding the boats on the river and watching big barges pass by. I remember the smell of the fresh air and the grape vines dripping over the hills. I remember being so happy. I truly had a magical childhood.

My last day in Germany was spent enjoying the beautiful weather by wandering through the farmer market in town. Olives with feta, a knackwurst, and salami were carefully eaten, savoring the taste of freshness. I breathed in the fresh German air and tried to inhale the happiness.

As I left Germany, I felt an overwhelming sense of purpose and loss. I was leaving my family again to disappear into the abyss. When would I hug them again? When would I get to laugh with my aunt again? When would I get to relive the happiness of those moments? I wanted to run back from my gate to my family. I wanted to give up and just stay. But I knew that I had a bigger purpose. I had to return to Ghana, to my Peace Corps family. I had to finish what I started. I had to be strong and continue fighting. I had to pull myself away from pure bliss, so I could remember what it means to be fulfilled.