Being Kind to Myself

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I spent much of the last week or so in the Toronto area, visiting friends and spending time in the city I’ve called home for the past few years. It was amazing to catch up with so many of the people I love as well as just take time to assimilate back into Canadian culture. On this trip, I had many hilarious moments, meaningful conversations, and I ate lots of delicious food, all of which made me feel supported and safe even while also feeling a little turbulent as a result of the emotions and stress of coming home from Ghana.

I definitely have had moments of reverse culture shock, which I expected but I’ve still found surprising nonetheless. I thought life back home would be perfectly simple and easy but I’ve changed in the three months I spent in Ghana, which has meant some friction here and there with my Canadian surroundings. For example, I spent a bit of time in the Eaton Centre downtown Toronto a few days ago between meeting with friends. I was proud that I was feeling calm in a place so large and busy that it can be overwhelming to anyone, let alone someone like me who’s hasn’t been in a building so imposing in quite some time. After an hour or so wandering around the bookstore though, I was sitting on the windowsill and looking out into the massive shopping centre when I suddenly felt melancholic, even near tears, for seemingly no reason. I realized in that moment that coming home is a process and that it’s okay to feel a little unhinged here and there.

It’s been over a week now that I’ve been back on home soil. Much of this time has been spent with friends and family, relaxing and catching up. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time running, one of my favourite exercises and something I just didn’t do in Ghana since I’d get a lot of attention so I preferred working out indoors. While in Toronto, I met with my co-op coordinator, who is working with me to secure a new co-op placement. It looks like I’ll be able to go abroad again for about five months, which I’m very excited about! I’ll not be on the road for probably over a month from now so, in the meantime, I’m at home with my family.

So far, it’s been very nice to ease back into the Canadian life. I’m trying to be patient with myself as I go through all sorts of emotions reacting to being home much sooner than anticipated. I keep reminding myself to be kind to myself, which is why I have no problem spending time doing the things I love like chatting with family, drinking tea and reading a good book, or thrift shopping with friends. I still haven’t even unpacked from Ghana, as I’m just taking my time to settle back in at home. I’ll get around to it eventually!

Missing the Little Things

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In about three days I went from thinking I’d be in Ghana for at least another five months to flying back to Canada early, so I had little time to mentally prepare for the shock of coming home. Seeing my family has been incredible and I’ve set off to connect with many of my friends in the Toronto area this weekend, which has already been such a relaxing and fun time! That said, I’ve definitely experienced some reverse culture shock.

For example, I stepped into the shower when I arrived home after the long flights from Ghana to Ottawa and I was completely weirded out by the whole not-showering-in-a-bucket situation. It’s also been strange driving as my main form of transportation instead of walking and taking tro-tros. Even going to get a snack is a completely different experience here than in Ghana. At home, I have a kitchen where I can prepare food found in the cupboards or in the fridge but just less than a week ago most of the food I ate was coming from streetside stalls.

I am missing Ghana, for sure. I find there are little things that throw me off being back in Canada. Driving up to Oshawa with my brother on Thursday, I was frustrated by the lack of West African dance music on the radio. I complained at every song (they all sound the same all of a sudden?) and eventually gave up, preferring silence to the reminder that radio here just isn’t the same.

I miss the noise of Ghana. I find this funny because when I was in Ghana, I was often searching for quiet, which is one of the reasons why I loved peaceful spots like Lake Bosomtwe. In rural Ontario, where I live in Canada, there is so little noise. But I’m still used to the constant cacophony of goats and roosters, tro-tro mates calling out their cars’ destinations, people greeting each other, music, and so much more – the sounds that are the constant background to life in Ghana.

Another thing I’m missing is the amazing fruit I had access to while in Ghana. I’ve never had sweeter pineapples than the sugar variety I ate in Nsawam and the mangoes I ate everyday for three months were so juicy… The frozen fruits I use for my smoothies at home just can’t compare so the first smoothie I made in Canada was dramatically disappointing. I took a sip and thought sadly, “This tastes like sawdust.”

I’m easing back into Western culture and the North American lifestyle. For my first couple of days back in Canada, I was a homebody, preferring the company of my family to the adventure of the greater world beyond my own warm and amazingly comfortable bed. But then I went into town and then into the city and now I’m touring around the Toronto area to visit friends, whose company always makes me feel safe, happy, and at home.

Coming home

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As many of you likely know, there is an outbreak of ebola both west of me – in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia – and east of me – only confirmed in Nigeria but patients are being tested in Benin, as well. It’s the worst outbreak of ebola the world has ever seen. As such, the WHO recently made the decision to describe this outbreak as an international public health emergency. And, with the threat of ebola spreading to Ghana quite near, I made the decision to come home from my co-op placement early, a decision made with full support from my host organization WUSC and my university.

While I am devastated by this, I must acknowledge the privilege I have in being able to get myself out of a situation before it becomes dangerous for my health or for my ability to leave the country (if borders are closed to contain the virus). I am a Canadian citizen with the support from the Canadian government, a wonderful NGO, and a massive university institution behind me. Unlike so many in the affected countries, I am able to leave and keep myself safe, while they must stay and fight the outbreak with too few resources as a result of a lack of development that comes from colonial history.

This is the adinkra symbol of the wawa tree. Its seeds are firm and strong, so their depiction represent hardiness, a lesson I'll need to be reminded of  as I persevere through this bump-in-the-road.

This is the adinkra symbol of the wawa tree. Its seeds are firm and strong, so their depiction represent hardiness, a lesson I’ll need to be reminded of as I persevere through this bump-in-the-road.

In the coming weeks, I will be working with my co-op coordinator to figure out what my next steps are. As a University of Toronto student, I will not receive any academic penalty for my decision. When I return to Canada, I will soon work to develop options for me to complete my IDS co-op degree all the same, despite this situation.

This past week has been quite rough, as I monitored the spread of ebola and went through several stages of grief, I’m sure, as I realized it was time to go home. I’ve received an immense amount of support from my friends and my family and I’m incredibly grateful to have all of them in my life. Without them, I would have been a little lost this week, I think.

Moving forward, I’d like for this to not be a ‘big deal’. Instead, I want coming home early to be an unfortunate hiccup in a successful co-op experience. I am not quite at the point where I’m looking forward beyond my flight home this evening, but, when I am ready, I know that I will look optimistically ahead to new adventures, keeping Ghana always close to my heart.

Photo Flashback: Fairy Tale Moments at Bia National Park

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When I was at Bia National Park, just a little while ago, I stumbled upon the most amazing experience. Near the guesthouse where we stayed in the park, there was a massive hibiscus bush with many full and vibrant blooms glowing in the sunshine peaking through the clouds on what was supposed to be an overcast day. As we walked by, we realized that the bush – beautiful in its own right – was covered in swirls of butterflies drinking from the flowers. I nestled myself under some of the overhanging branches and let the butterflies get used to me. Pretty soon, they were flying all around me. It felt like a fairy tale, like something that would happen only in an animated Disney movie. It was incredible. Here are some photos of the butterflies as they flitted in and around the flowers. I spent over an hour watching them, completely in awe of what I was seeing.

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Walking Tour of Jamestown

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Last Tuesday, I spent much of the day walking through old Accra. I’d seen much of it over the past few days before but there was one neighbourhood in the area I had yet to visit: Jamestown. So I set off to explore it. I was surprised at how close it is to Tema Station, especially since I’d spent several days exploring its near-environs without realizing just how close I was to such an interesting place.

The Jamestown lighthouse

The Jamestown lighthouse

For the first time in almost a week, the sun came out, making for a lovely and sunny walk through Jamestown that took up most of my day. Jamestown is a part of Accra that was first built up by the British in the area when they colonized Ghana. There are two forts there as a result, as well as a lighthouse. The first fort was converted into a prison and then eventually discarded when Ghana gained independence. I tried to get a look inside but unfortunately the tour guide wasn’t around and I was told to come back another day. I got a chance to look inside Fort Ussher, but the ‘tour’ provided little information on the history of the structure. Instead, I was guided through a small museum housed inside the fort that has a short overview of the slave trade in Ghana. While it was interesting to see inside the fort, it wasn’t really necessary since the tour was not informative and the museum was much less well developed than those at the castles in Cape Coast and Elmina, both of which I’ve visited before.

Ussher Fort

Ussher Fort

The other fort, which was at one point a prison

The other fort, which was at one point a prison

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