Ugh, argh, and sigh

Area Studies makes me feel like a complete and total failure, so that’s fun. But on the other hand, it helps me defend my decision to not go to grad school. It also makes me really love management issues even more. Can someone give me a logistics issue to handle? Anyone? Gah, what I wouldn’t do for a terrible customer service problem right about now. Area Studies just makes me realize that policy isn’t my strong point. It doesn’t help that I have absolutely no background whatsoever in this part of the world. It also doesn’t help when people associated with the class let me know that I have no background, because I didn’t already feel like an idiot. I am learning, but I feel like my curve is Mount Everest. But, you know what? Not everyone has to get to the top. I’m happy to just schlep around the bags down at basecamp. I’ll do the dirty work and let someone else tackle the summit. I really do want to learn, but my struggle is the least of anyone’s worries.

Why does this class do such a good job of exposing my insecurities? Some days I hold back tears because I’m so lost, I feel like I’ll never make it in this profession. I spend half the class trying to just understand the words the lecturers are using. At least once I start Arabic classes, I’ll know it is a foreign language.

And then while, Area Studies is beating me to pulp in the corner, I’ve got other crap going on. I’m in a holding pattern, which means I’m still waiting to get my diplomatic passport and visas. I need to extend my stay in DC, which means I need to contact someone, I think, but I still need to figure out who that is. I always feel like I’m forgetting something all the time. But at least I’m keeping up with my TSP!

And then there is the glaring issue of life. A-100 made me question a few of my fundamental beliefs about how I want to live my life. I’ve been clinging on to my self-sufficient, independent attitude for so long. I can’t tell anymore if it was a coping mechanism or if I actually believe it. I feel like a piece of clothing, tumbling in a dryer. I’m just spinning and spinning and I have no clue when I’ll stop spinning. And the more I think about my own internal upheaval, the more I cling to anything I can, perhaps another lost sock in the dryer. So many things in my life feel like they have all flipped upside down and I don’t know how to look at them anymore. Maybe I just need to work on my Ender’s Game attitude – there is no up or down, only a different perspective.

I guess I’m just a little lost in this whole new world. I’ll find my way soon enough, probably right after Area Studies is over.

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Back on track

Even though I didn’t feel well last Friday, I still took one giant swing at my public speaking exercise and knocked it out of the park. I tend to be very hard on myself (hence the last heavy post), but public speaking is something I’m good at. Really good. I never get nervous and I can write a speech while standing in front of the mirror getting ready in the morning. I was so excited when I got positive feedback from my speech. Alas! I am awesome at something in this class! Last week was difficult and draining, but after I nailed my speech I felt so much better. Well that and I had so many wonderful messages and comments of support after my last post, it put some of the air back into me. I did well on my speech for a few reasons, but one of the big ones? Peace Corps. Oh yeah, that’s right my favorite thing to reference when I learn something. I did a lot of presentations in college and I did pretty well back then, but Peace Corps solidified my public speaking nack. Every time I did a training, I felt energized. I loved standing in front of a group of farmers and sharing ideas with them.

My strengths are definitely different from my classmates. Most of those are from my Peace Corps experience. Thinking outside the box – I don’t believe in boxes, there is no box. Maybe it’s a triangle? Critical of assumptions – I never trust assumptions, because I believe they are right next to communication in the root of all problems. Communication – I’m direct and concise. I’m not afraid to ask questions, even if the answer won’t be pretty. While many of my classmates are incredibly knowledgeable about policy and economics, I’m pretty good at customer service. Which is what’s critical for my cone. So there we go, I’m back on track and ready to go. Which is a good thing because something incredible is happening this week.

Flag Day.

Friday I will find out where in the world I’m going. I had a dream that I was posted to Bengali, that’s not a real place. That’s a language. But the jokes my dad made were pretty funny in my dream – Bengali gee we won’t be visiting you. Who knows where I will go, but wherever it is I’ll be happy. I feel like I should be more excited for the big reveal, but I guess it still doesn’t feel real. When I get my flag I’ll probably be like this:

 

Of secret gardens

Think of a dream you have or had. Did you want to be a firefighter or rocket scientist? Did you dream you could fly? Did you want to become a superstar or win the lottery? Everyone has dreams, whether they are just dreams or real goals. I had a dream for 10 years; I wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer. This past week that dream came true. Though it has only been a week, it is everything I wanted and more. It is truly a dream come true.

I’ve worked for so long with this goal in mind. Since I was 16, I’ve had a path laid out in front of me, by my own choice.  I’ve seen the path in front of me with one giant gate at the end. Though the path was often overgrown with weeds and rocky, I never gave up my trek. For a while, I lost sight of the path, but it turned out I was just walking parallel, my view was blocked by a wall. As soon as I could I found the path again I continued on my journey. I had to walk through muddy puddles, infested with mosquitos, and hack down the tall grass blocking my way, but I soldiered on, always with view of the gate ahead. When I returned to America, I saw the gate get closer and closer, while still seeming so far away. But one day the path shortened quickly and the gate grew near. This week I had the distinct honor of turning the knob on that gate door. As I stepped through the gate and into the secret garden I’ve coveted for so long, I found the flowers and foliage even more beautiful than I could have imagined. Your dreams can only imagine so much, for we don’t know what we don’t know. Having spent just one week in the garden, I’ve discovered that there are over 200 paths leading from the garden. Each one has it’s own set of obstacles and beauty to enjoy. But, each path circles back to the same garden. The flowers may change from year to year, but the garden will always be there. But no matter which path I take, I will always stop to smell the roses.

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.

You want to go where?

My intrepid band of small girls let me in on a little known secret. Right around the corner was a sports center full of delights for children. They told me they even have basketball. I was too shocked and excited to put my obroni thinking cap on and consider that it might be too good to be true.

Wednesday, after the girls decided that my kitchen needed to be scrubbed, we arranged to go play basketball the next day. I woke up extremely excited for basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a sports person. I love watching American football, hockey, and eating hot dogs at a baseball game, but I wasn’t the sporty type in school. In fact, the only real game I ever did play was basketball. In grade school. I was center because I was gigantic for my age. Honestly, I should have stuck with it. I needed to learn that everyone has a role to play on a team, just because you don’t get the glory, doesn’t mean you don’t have an important part. Yeah, SHOULD have learned that. Only child syndrome I guess. Anyway. I only played basketball.

Thursday was a chilly morning. The sun never came out. The wind was blustery and the fog sat heavy on the morning. Around 9am I spotted the girls lollygagging at the house across the way. I waved and made dribbling motions with my hands. It was like throwing blood into the water, there was an immediate frenzy of action as the girls quickly finished their chores. I put on exercise clothes and we headed out. We walked together down the dirt road to the main street. I looked to my side and the three girls were chatting excitedly. They were laughing at each other and frankly giddy. As I smiled at them, I was reminded of just where I was. Hannah was wearing a pair of flats from the market. They were clearly 3 sizes too small and she couldn’t walk in them. She brought them to play basketball in. It was the first time I’d seen her in shoes.

We crossed the street and turned down a side street. We walked past massive houses with real lawns. Then we passed a sign pointing to the Techiman Municipal Library. I’d seen the sign on the street for ages, but never really thought much of it. Come on, this is Ghana! I’ve seen what happens to libraries. Someone comes in and builds one with every good intention, but after they leave some big man swoops in and shuts it down in a power play. (When will these people learn that when you are 6ft under, it doesn’t matter how much power you had. You still won’t have the power to rise from the grave.) So, when we passed by the library, I noticed it was a fairly large building. Interesting. We continued walking past it, down the paved road. We get to the end and turn into the youth center. To the left is a run down soccer field with poles for posts. There is junk lying all over the lawn. It looks dilapidated even for Ghanaian standards. I talk to the woman in charge and she says they are undergoing renovations. I ask if they will have soccer balls, basketballs, etc. when they finish. No. What will you have then for the youth? She’s not sure.

It was too good to be true. It was another disappointment in a long string of hopefulness. So I called down to my heart and told the drawbridge to pull back up again. Time to bolster the defenses. After a while, you become so jaded by the lack of well, everything – service, agencies, resources, initiative, politeness. I think it truly hinders your ability to trust anyone. I was much more open, friendly, and frankly nice when I still had that shred of hope. Now that I’ve been tossed around in the wash for almost two years, I’ve become jaded. So I build up defenses so I won’t have to be disappointed again. (This isn’t just me either, I’ve seen many volunteers experience the same thing.) But I admit I was shocked when one of the girls asked me if instead we could go to the library.

You want to go where? The library? Ummm, yeah sure! So we walked back in the same direction and came upon the Techiman Library. I was ready for disappointment. I was prepared for it to be closed and derelict. We turned the corner and the first thing I saw was a front desk with someone sitting behind it. As we stepped into the library I saw shelves. Actual shelves with books on them. Then I noticed the people. Adults and children sitting, reading, studying. My jaw dropped and I was dumbfounded. The guy running the place came up to me and explained the resources the library has. I walked the girls over to the kids section and he helped gauge their reading level and gave them books to read. I admit though, my defenses were still up, and I wasn’t incredibly friendly to the guy. I didn’t know exactly who he was until later. I thought surely he wanted something from me. I figured he would be rude to the girls. I sat down with the girls and helped them sound out some of the words on the page. The man, Frimpong, came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. Here it comes, the plea for help or money. Instead he led me to a nearby room full of brand new working computers. He told me I’m welcome to bring the girls sometime and show them things on the internet, teach them how to use Microsoft Word or Excel, whatever I wanted to do. I could have hugged the guy at that point. I suddenly felt my icy interior melt away and a little flower of hope started to bloom once again in my heart. I rejoined with the girls and grabbed a book on the arctic to show them.

We sat huddled together as I flipped through pages of penguins, polar bears, and whales. Their English isn’t the best, so I spoke slowly and made them repeat the word ‘walrus’ many times (mainly for my own amusement). I explained how the different animals live out in the cold. I don’t think they ever knew that there were things in the ocean larger than a tilapia. As we finished the book, I saw their eyes light up and suddenly their chairs were flying back. They raced to the bookshelves and grabbed local story books. They asked me to read to them. So I settled in and began reading to them about the Danso family from Namase. After we finished that book, it was another three. I had the girls trade off reading pages and they helped each other with the difficult words. They didn’t want to stop. They wanted to read and read and read. I could hear their tummies rumbling though, so I knew it was time to call it a quits, but just for today. As we got up to leave, they looked at me with puppy dog eyes and asked when could we come back again.

As we walked home, they chatted excitedly about the stories. The girls let me in on a few neighborhood secrets and we laughed the whole way home. We returned home, but I still wanted to play some sort of sport with the girls. They went running around searching for a ball. After ten minutes, there was so such luck. I knew though that there was one good way to get these girls moving – music.

Back in May, I taught the girls how to do Gangnam Style. They loved it. So I put it on and cranked the music up. The girls immediately remembered the song and started doing the dance. As we flailed around wildly, the neighbors started to notice. (If I stand outside my house, everyone within 1000ft can see me.) The neighborhood kids started running over and dancing too. The adults were laughing and dancing in their own homes. Instantly, I created a block party at noon on a Thursday. I switched the song to Azonto and watched the kids pull out their best moves. I taught them the macarena and some line dance steps. I then busted out my best MC Hammer and U Can’t Touch This wiggled across my lawn. As the kids were teaching me some more azonto moves, Uncle Sam, the Program Assistant with Peace Corps pulls up in the official car. Here I am sweating and dancing, Uncle Sam couldn’t get enough of it. He was laughing so hard. The kids were too, I may not be the best dancer, my arms might be too long and lanky to be elegant, but damnit if I’m going to look ridiculous I’m going to make the best of it. Have you ever chased kids doing Gangnam Style off a small cliff? Well I have and it is incredibly funny. (Don’t worry no children were harmed!)

Exhausted, I told the girls to go eat lunch and I slinked back into my room. I smiled at how much fun I had that morning, reading to the girls and dancing. Is this really my job? Am I allowed to have this much fun? I only have a short time left. I need to soak up these moments, because I will never have a job like this again.

And I smile because I know these moments will stay with me forever.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

With less than 9 months left in my service, I’ve started reflecting on what I’ve learned so far. With a new group of Agriculture Volunteers settling into their sites, I’ve seen many of them struggle with the same issues I first encountered. When I check facebook, I see many of my friends back home moving on with their lives. Peace Corps is similar living in a fishbowl. In your town, you are visible to everyone. Everyone is staring at you, yelling for your attention, asking you thousands of questions. You are the goldfish. As the goldfish, you look outside of your bowl and all you can see is the world passing by around you. My friends are starting families, at least 6 of my friends have had babies since I’ve been in Ghana. My parents always have something new to tell me every time I call. Life moves on, I’m just not there to watch it happen.

I want to reflect back on lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses uncovered, and how I’ve changed since becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.

1. Never trust a fart. The wisest words an older PCV ever uttered to me. This knowledge has been essential, especially given my plethora of stomach problems.


2. I’m mellower, but more confrontational. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is true. I used to be slightly high strung, impatient, and a bit of a drama queen. I would get antsy if I had to wait more than 5 minutes. I would deal with it, but I was still in a heightened state of huffy sighs. Everything here takes time. I never wear a watch because it is rather useless. I still have moments where I actually do need to be somewhere on time and I can feel the anxiousness creep back, but I have to just shrug it off and realize, I’ll arrive when I arrive. I’ve adopted that attitude – it’ll happen when it happens. There are things you can control and things you cannot, it is useless to stress over the things you cannot control. But why am I more confrontational? That’s a direct result of two things – taxi drivers and my situation at my old site. Most people try to cheat you here, they see white skin and you can watch the $$$$ pop into their eyes. Market ladies are easy enough to haggle with, because once you speak in the local language they realize there ain’t no cheating her. Taxi drivers are a rare breed though. My fellow PCVs and I have often remarked that there must be a taxi driver secret school here in Ghana. A school that teaches drivers how to scream on top of their lungs, repeat a city’s name faster than imaginable, and how to cheat anyone and everyone out of their money. I’ve been cheated so many times that anytime a driver tries to cheat me, I go postal on them. Just a bit. Taxi drivers are my breaking point, they have no shame in what they are doing – so I like to make sure that shame resurfaces. It is hard not to let it get to you, you know they are just looking for more money – but I’m broke.

In fact, PCVs have recently diagnosed ourselves with “Obroni Travel Aggression.” This illness presents itself immediately upon entering a taxi station. Travel aggression is often manifested by rapid onset of bitchiness, short temper, and a low grade fever which induces blood boil. It is also common for patients to experience elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, and a low growling noise coming from the throat. By the time the traveller makes it to their final destination, the recommended course of action is a nap and possibly alcohol.

Back to the topic at hand, a part of that confrontational attitude has carried over though. I think it has made me play devil’s advocate more though and I think that is important. I’m no longer afraid of bringing up the messy alternatives because I might upset someone’s “perfect” idea. I think in order to have a great idea, plan, or direction you need to consider all facets.


3. Never go to the market “just to look” at fabric. Yeah, I’m addicted. It’s true. I love the feeling of getting a new dress or shirt back from the tailor. But going to the market just because the fabric is pretty often results in rapid loss of money.


4. Teamwork has been one of my biggest struggles so far, but for reasons I never would have expected. We work with such a variety of people and personalities here – both American and Ghanaian. With Ghanaians, you get the big man syndrome, with Americans you get the “holier-than-thou” syndrome. But there is one thing in particular I’ve noticed about working with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, everyone thinks they know it best. Volunteers all have an ego – we develop it when we join. We are sacrificing two years of our life to change the world, one person at a time, therefore we are awesome and our job is better than yours. We get catty when we think another PCV is doing better than we are. We compare ourselves to each other, despite the fact that we all have such different experiences that is pointless to try to compare. This ego gets in the way though.

When you join Peace Corps you imagine it will be a certain way. Most of the time people imagine Peace Corps as sitting alone in a mud hut in the middle of nowhere chatting with locals, eating the local food with a family, and teaching something under a tree in town. The key word in that sentence being “alone.” Most people imagine PC as a solitary assignment with little contact with other PCVs, friends and family. Maybe it is in some countries, but Ghana is small and we have a lot of Volunteers. My closest Volunteer is now a 5-10 minute drive away based on the taxi driver. If I took a car north, northeast, south, west, or east I’d be at another PCV’s site within 20 minutes.

The structure within the Agriculture sector here is focused on working together as PCVs on a set of projects – cashews, shea, bees, maize, and chickens. Working together is truly better than sitting alone trying to change the world. Here is where the ego comes back. Teamwork is essential in any job and it is becoming increasingly important in Peace Corps Ghana. In college, I had group projects in every single class I took. In all of my jobs prior to Peace Corps, I had to work closely with other people (wait, what? you do that in an office environment?! MIND BLOWN.). I’m used to working with people, but most of the time it is people from similar work backgrounds. There is only one other Volunteer in Ghana that has a similar work background to me – and she lives in the capital and I’ve seen her maybe twice. Here though, I work with people from all over the spectrum, people whose majors range from Philosophy to Environmental Science. This combined with the Peace Corps ego has made teamwork one of my biggest challenges and learning moments.

When everyone thinks they know best, wants to try and be the superstar Volunteer, is judgmental of everyone else’s work as a Volunteer, and has different priorities – it makes for a very interesting meeting or group dynamic. It has been challenging trying to balance the notion that Volunteers are largely self-serving with the idea that we are here for others. But Volunteers have to work together, we have goals larger than ourselves that we all find important. I know that I haven’t been the perfect team player and I have certainly been all of the above Volunteer ego categories. If Peace Corps teaches you anything though, it is how to deal with people.

I’m still struggling, learning, and actively working on improving my teamwork skills – but I have learned something invaluable. You won’t always be surrounded by people with similar backgrounds. In work and life, you have to work with people from all over the spectrum. In order to be effective as a team, you need to accept each other’s weaknesses, play off each other’s strengths, compromise, be willing to accept defeat, and share responsibilities. You have to accept that people might not like you and may not like working with you. Do your best, know that you are doing the right thing and it won’t matter. You can’t please everyone, but you can do your part to be inclusive, supportive, and a team player.


5. I now know what it is like to be a minority. I told my friend the other day – some days, I feel like I’m a lesbian Pacific-Islander living in a small town in Alabama. Sounds strange, I know. (I’m not by the way, clearly.) Being white in Africa makes you stand out, period. But even within Peace Corps, I feel like a minority. Here in Ghana, we have about 9 people who are business focused out of about 190 PCVs. And even being from Oklahoma puts me into a minority (although we are representing in Ghana). Oklahoma has only 47 Volunteers worldwide serving, 4 of which are here in Ghana. It’s hard to have your voice heard when it seems so small. But lucky for me, business tends to run the world so my voice isn’t drowned out so easily.

Part of being in a Peace Corps minority has made me also realize that I’m not a typical Volunteer. I’m not doing what I expected to be doing. I’m not alone in the mud hut. My work as a Volunteer is different from just about everyone else here in Ghana. I’m not really working in my village – I travel to other Volunteers’ sites to teach business basics in their communities. Just last week, I was in another PCV’s site teaching recordkeeping, how to track expenses, how to calculate profit, and how the global cashew market impacts their bottom line. I’m the Chairman of the Cashew Initiative, so I work on facilitating trainings, working with Peace Corps Staff, coordinating with partners. And with that I’ve also started basically doing business consulting. Entrepreneurs and businesses have started approaching me asking me how they can get involved with our communities, how they can bring new business opportunities to Peace Corps villages. And since the beginning of my service I’ve been coordinating pilot programs with SAP.

Sometimes I think: “This isn’t Peace Corps!” But my expectations of Peace Corps were romantic. I expected Peace Corps to be the 1960s version – cut off from the world. I’m something different and that’s perfectly fine. My responsibility is still to the farmers, the market ladies, and the communities in which they live. If my role is to connect them with resources and partners they otherwise would never have encountered, that’s perfectly fine. After all, Peace Corps is about finding ways to help locals help themselves, and sometimes that means connecting them with the people who can help them. Grassroots development of the value chain, or something like that.  


6. Be grateful for the luxuries in life. I’m grateful I have a seat to my latrine. I’m grateful I have plenty of girls near me that help me fetch water. I’m grateful when I get to take a shower. I’m grateful when I am cold. I’m grateful when I can talk to my parents on the phone. I’m grateful for cheese. I’m grateful for the love and support of my friends. I’m grateful for learning to live with less.


There you have it, six ways I’ve changed, six lessons learned, and six reasons I’m happy to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.

February Showers Bring March Unbearable Heat

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.