Living in the Gray Area

There exists this place where you are neither here nor there. A constant state of transit with no real timeline. A world lost between extremes, cultures, and norms. This place exists only to confuse outsiders. You are both part of a group and a fleeting thought in the wind. You are only here for a short time, but you don’t know how long that time period will be. You are always just passing through.

It can be hard to reconcile the need to feel accepted and part of a group, with the desire to be constantly on the move. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I’ve had difficulty leaving my Peace Corps family for my own. It has been over six months since I’ve returned and I still have trouble finding where I belong. People don’t understand Peace Corps, how can they possibly understand me? The people I knew before Peace Corps remember the old me, the person before I had this life-changing experience. The people I’ve met after Peace Corps only know this quirky person who went to Africa to do something in a village and who is now moving on to do something overseas again. I feel like when I say Peace Corps these days it’s a curse word. I’ve stopped trying to explain my experiences. I’ve stopped talking about them, period. I live in the grey area where I am both still here and moving away permanently at the same time.

Some days it feels like I am making memories, just have them slowly erased in a few months. An old school movie reel slowly starts to crank up. The black and white movie appears on screen after a few seconds. The sound is blaring and the picture is punctured with splotches where the reel was slightly damaged. As the movie plays, at first it is in bright contrast. As the movie progresses, the picture starts to wash out, to fade, until suddenly there is nothing left but reel after reel of grey tinged screen in front of you.

So I live in the grey area. A place where I try, but also accept defeat. A place where I am always looking forward, yet still peek backwards from time to time. A place where I am both a person and a job title. A place where I belong, yet don’t.

For the next few weeks I’ll continue to live in the grey area. I will transition to a new grey area with new contrasts. I can’t wait to see what shades of grey are in store.

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.

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.

My Progression as a Peace Corps Volunteer

A long time ago, in a village far far away, I posted about the different types of Volunteers. I used Disney characters to highlight the different roles and personas we take on. I’d like to revisit those Disney characters to show how I’ve changed during my service.

First I was like…
chip

So excited and eager to be part of the Peace Corps.
Then after a month of training, I was like…
zazu

Getting sassy from sitting in sessions all day.
After another month of training, I was like…
beast

I turned into a completely different angry animal.
As training came to a close, I was like…
peter pan

Freedom! I was so excited to go to my site.
As I started working at site, I was like…
hercules

I can do anything! This is fantastic.
At our reconnect conference, we I returned to sessions I was like…
scar

Bitter and disenfranchised, but quietly plotting new outfits.
Then it was my first All Vol, and I was like…
belle

I just wanted to dance and be pretty.
Then I got typhoid, and I was like…
dopey

Completely off my rocker and asleep for a month.
Then rainy season hit and I was like…
stich

Incredibly stir crazy and about to eat my tin roof, so it would stop pelting.
Then I went on vacation, and I was like…
cinderella

All my dreams came true!
Thanksgiving came next and I was like…

abu

Free food? Washing machine? Please, can I have more?
Then my incident happened, and I was like…

ursula

Angry, just angry.
As I struggled to find a new home, I was like…

cogsworth

Frazzled and stressed to the max.
But then I got a new home and I was like…

ariel

A whole new world to explore!
Then I fell down hanging my curtains, a day after moving in. I was like…

mean girl finding nemo

Really, not happy.
Things picked up at site and I was busy with conference planning, so I was like…

shang

Let’s get down to business!
Then shit hit the fan, and I was like…

ezema

Crazy, upset, and about to put some boxes in a box and smash it.
Then I got sick with the curse of April, and I was like…
carl

Couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs.
Then there was All Vol round two, and I was like…

evil queen

Damnit I’m going to look fabulous.
Then everything magically went away, and I was like…

lilo

Hi, I’m back and I’m happy again!
Then I got back to business and was busy, so I was like…

doc

All’s good in the world again.
Then I got to go on vacation again and see family, and it was like…

genie

Someone just granted me three wishes.
Then I got back to site and had wonderful work to do, and I’m like…

buzz

To infinity and beyond! Warp speed ahead and into COS.

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.

Shadows on a Cloudy Day

When you join Peace Corps, two years doesn’t seem long. But as time wears on, you feel yourself slowly shrinking away from the world. There comes a point when you realize you are living in a small fishbowl off in some dark corner of a forgotten room. Life moves on around you, but no one really takes notice of you anymore. They learn to live without you. They move on. They keep in touch, but the memory of you starts to fade. You’re just a shadow of a memory chasing the pavement on a cloudy day. As the time slowly reaches the two year mark, your shadow comes back into focus. They start to remember where they left that fish. The excitement returns. You’re back in their life.

It’s that period of time when you feel like a distant memory that just aches. Your shadow tries incessantly to jump up and down, “I’m still here!” I never left, I’m just somewhere else.