With Christmas rushing into living rooms everywhere and the hope that the sun will come out of his coma to bring us a hot and sunny Boxing Day (if not Christmas Day), it seems appropriate that now is the time to end a year’s worth of story telling.
I’ve been home now for 13 days and am still finding myself running back and forth to the washing machine to make sure that it’s moved from the wash cycle to rinse cycle so that I can add it to the spin…oh wait, it’s automated. Needless to say, life in Australia is amazing, with all it’s wondrous technology, road rules, working traffic lights, and public transport systems. I think about Ghana almost every day and have developed this weird obsession with ironing my clothes (thank Mama!), I struggle to wait at pedestrian crossings, preferring to jay-walk and am shocked at how quietly music is played in shops and restaurants.
I still don’t know what to say when people ask me “how do you feel about being back?” because home is where the heart is and as much as my heart has been in Ghana for the past year, my heart never left Australia…
I’ve come to accept that it’s OK that I don’t know what’s going to happen next in life, but incase you ask, I want to study and I want to work, and I will be in Australia for a significant period of time, so come visit because it’s a grand country!
I thought I was still tech savvy and up-to-date with all the music but apparently all those “new songs” I’ve heard…been on the radio for months, and all the things I don’t know about new technology…could and have filled Wikipedia!
I thought I was cool, I am definitely not as cool as I thought I was…
I’ve realised that I obviously didn’t smell as good in Ghana as I do here proven by 2 ladies telling me I smelt amazing. With 1 so close to me, her breath tickled my neck hairs as she whispered “you smell amazing!”
I’ve realised that mum will still not like my shaved head but in my defense, it’s growing and will be nice and long by winter!
I had forgotten and underestimated the power of a Chinese parable; the way my dad explains so many life situations and puts into perspective why things are the way they are, in line with a Chinese man and woman competing against each other in Kung Fu.
I’ve learnt that a multitude of anything and everything will never bring you joy but the quality of even something small will get you through the day.
I’ve learnt that what you may think is a simple sigh, has the potential to increase the anxiety of another, 10-fold, that as you offload your burdens, you are potentially increasing the burdens of another.
I’ve learnt that letting go can be as easy or as hard as you make it, but doing it alone is not wise.
I don’t miss the 3am wake up calls, but I do miss that vibe of community.
I don’t miss the pollution, but I do miss the hustle and bustle of Accra living.
I don’t miss the smell of garbage, but I do miss laughing at people peeing on the side of the highway.
I don’t miss crying babies, but I miss Aku every. single. day.
and I don’t miss Ghana, but I miss the people, the experiences and all those things that made my year great.
But all good things must come to an end, and Christmas time is the best time to start something new. For everyone back home (Australia and Hong Kong) who have supported me this year, family, friends, random stalkers (?), the biggest thank you to you, for reading my rants in your coffee breaks, for laughing at my silly, silly stories, for your conversations and for your prayers, for being such great pillars of strength and support, and especially in the last few days for making the effort to bring me home. For those of you in Ghana, or now in various parts of Africa or the world who have supported me in country, I have loved every single moment with you and I’m excited to see you again somewhere in the world.
For people I haven’t caught up with yet, I am looking forward to catching up with you and hearing all about your life so get your stories ready! For all the people I’ve already caught up with – there’s a reason for that and I’m glad you’re in my life!
And with that, a very Merry Christmas, to my Jewish buddies; Happy Hanukkah, and to those who don’t celebrate…that’s cool – just enjoy!
Sitting having a cuppa with a friend in their lounge room. Having a great catch up when the lounge room suddenly turns into my office and my friend turns in to Sister P. All of a sudden, our accounts man walks in and starts talking to me in Ga! Not only that, he tries to shake my hand and I get confused! Where am I? How do I shake hands?! Click? Shoulder Bump? Shapshap? And all they can do is laugh at me about how I’ve already forgotten how to greet people properly! I wake up in a cold sweat. There goes my 1 hour of sleep for the night…I’ve been home for 4 days and I’m having nightmares about how to greet people!
I could have been dreaming about elephants…
Maybe even hippos…
Or some cheeky zebras…
But nope..just a handshake nightmare!!!
Leave Accra. Enter Cape Town. Leave Cape Town at 545 a week later. Enter Addis, hungry. Bump into highschool friend..in Bole Airport of all places. Converse through the windows of the airport because they have weird rules. Cut to 5 mins later. Run and Jump into Elly’s arms. More importantly, finally get fed because we all know how I get when I’m hungry. I mean, most importantly, seeing Elly (dah?)
Ethiopia, steeped in culture, history and good coffee. The weather is cool, the people are gentle and their features – stunning. The landscape is beautiful, the altitude is high, the churches are amazing, the food is vegetarian friendly and delicious, and although you sometimes feel like you’ve entered a warped 70s vibe, the vibe is worth feeling…and if you’re me, you never really want to leave…
Important fact number 1: Elly is Amharic for Turtle!
Important fact number 2: Meeting Elly’s (and housemates’) security guard will probably be one of the most important moments of my life…
Important fact number 3: Harar is the 4th Holiest city in the world, and so for the end of Eid, where else would we go? 5am next morning, we’re up and ready to head to Harar.
Hang out in Harar over the weekend. See a few slaughtered goats,goat skins, decapitated cows, see a few festivals and celebrations, see a few mosques, see a few gates, have some Boona (Coffee) and Chai (Tea), feed some Hyenas…Elly makes friends with probs the most good-looking boy ever with the most beautiful smile who will eventually become probably an amazingly beautiful man!
Beautiful moment number 1. Tick.
Did I mention feed some Hyenas? Cos we did. Ignore OH&S ladies and gents. We just got right in there with the raw meat, sticks in mouths and ready to feed apparently tame hyenas. It was insane.
Only in Africa would it be possible to feed hyenas with sticks, no indemnity forms, nothing. Just a simple, sun goes down at 7ish, we’ll go feed the hyenas then, sure.
Crazy moment number 1. Tick.
We’re back in Addis by Monday evening. And the vast differences between East and West continue.
Ethiopia, it’s all about coffee (boona) and mani/pedis, and all for a relatively good price. Ghana, it’s all about going to the pools to avoid the heat and humidity.
Ethiopians. Quiet, a place where my hard bartering skills are severely out of place. The streets are cool and quiet and the people get up later. The food is much cheaper and there’s more variety. They also have a strange obsession with burgers and pizza.
There’s also the Derg. That I knew very little about (and still know very little about). But if you’re ever to visit Addis, “Red Terror” is definitely a museum to visit. Dedicated to the many who died, and opened by a mother who lost all who children within a day, it’s the revelation of mass human mistreatment, they’re still discovering mass graves.
Highlight 2 of the trip: Hamlin Fistula Hospital (read “Hospital by the River: A story of Hope”)
Ethiopia boasts approximately 140 Obstetricians and Gynecologists for approximately 80 million people. If you ask me, that ratio seems a little skewed. But the Hamlin Fistula hospitals work hard to look after the thousands of women in Ethiopia affected by Obstetric Fistula, in the hopes that one day Fistulas will be eradicated in Ethiopia and the hospitals can be turned in maternal and child health hospitals.
Important fact [number who knows what]: By the 1920s, fistulas were eradicated in England. But to this day, women are still affected by fistulas in Ethiopia and other developing countries.
Important fact [again]: Fistulas come about when a woman goes through long, painful, or obstructed labours, some for as long as 5 days (if not more) – can you imagine?
Walking through the hospital, it was amazing to see the years and years of work of Dr Hamlin(s) and the continued work of so many amazing people. The most memorable moment was walking through the Delivery ward, where a woman had just given birth to her first child. The baby was absolutely beautiful and the mother’s smile was absolutely infectious. After an operation about a year and a half ago, travelling over 700km to reach the Fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, her fistula was operated on successfully and now in 2011, just a few weeks ago, her and her husband have had their first baby via C-section. It truly was “Desta Menda” – the village of joy.
But the beauty of Ethiopia continues. In 4 days we see Lalibela, Axum and Gondor
Lalibela – the city of rock churches. The beginning of civilisation meets the beginning of Christianity, or at least Christianity. Thousand year old churches carved out of the earth itself. Whether you’re religious or not, Lalibela is an experience not to be missed, when you walk through your first church, if you can ignore the hundreds of tourists, within the cool walls of these thousand year old churches is serenity that you could probably touch. If you’re me, upon exiting this fabulous experience you will slip on the steps of an ancient church but it’s all part of the experience of walking on stone that has been touched by millions of bare feet for thousands of years…
Lets just say I felt a bit better when I saw a participant of the ceremony taking photos too:
Axum – the city of the Steles, heavy stone obelisks that have been erected and chiseled by hand. The story is that elephants were used to move these obelisks from the quarry. And Did you know Queen Sheba and King Solomon (yes THE King Solomon) made babies…namely 1 baby – Emperor Menelik – the first Jewish Emperor of Ethiopia. Well my mind was blown. FULL STOP. And where the Arc of the Covenant is apparently housed. (insert question marks)
Gondor – the most developed little country town out of the three of them. Gondor was the place of castles and also where I experienced my first cultural bar. I shoulder danced and the performer was nice enough to joke about me being a China. I have now decided that people are only allowed to comment on my Asian-ness if they sing about it.
Gondor also houses the biggest baptism pool I’ve ever seen. On Jan 9, every year, they have mass baptisms where the priest will baptize the people of Gondor, proceeded by the entire town having a swim in this giant baptism pool. Some people go to the Super Bowl, some go to NRL finals, Gondor-ites go to a baptism, where men throw lemons at women in the chances of woo-ing their future wives. I know where I’ll be going Jan 9.
Hint – if offered Honey wine – share it between a few people. Just one sip is enough.
And to top off an amazing trip, a fake birthday party at an amazing Italian restaurant to properly say goodbye to Addis (and Elly).
Just before we left Ghana we played “the game” – what you will and won’t miss from Ghana…my list was cynical, a list of a person burnt by too many angry taxi drivers and hard bargains, but if I had the opportunity to revise it then top on my list will be that I will miss the the purity of human touch.
It’s not misconstrued, there are no negative connotations (most of the time), it’s just the acceptance that we are created to need that intimacy. Shown so beautifully in Ethiopia. Where men can walk down the street arm in arm, where women can walk down the arm in arm, where young children walk the streets arm in arm, perhaps because they’re brave enough to just admit that human touch is what keeps us human. And it’s not weird, it’s just beautiful, that’s it, the way it should be.
If I could bring 1 thing back with me from Africa, just one thing, it would be what Africans seem to have grasped so well, community, proximity and the understanding that everyone needs a good hug and a lil human touch every single day. I’ll admit, I used to think the extended handshakes were weird, and sometimes they still are, but I’ve learnt to accept that sometimes, people just like to hold your hand while they talk to you and most of the time it’s not weird. I’ll sit a little too close these days, there’s an entire couch but I will have to sit right next to you, you might want to have you own food, but it’ll always taste better if it’s shared, and a greeting is not a greeting unless there is a hug, or in the case of Ethiopians, a handshake and shoulder-to-shoulder bump (once you start those, you never want to stop). Maybe you don’t need it, or maybe you just don’t realise you need it – but if I leave Africa learning only one thing, it’s that I need it, and that’s OK…
And so the Exodus of Ghana was softened by the richly historical Ethiopia and a gentle reminder of what I did love so much about Ghana – community…the end of another chapter in Africa.
So I’m sitting at Kaldi’s yesterday, having a chai latte, as you do, when in Addis…minding my own business, when this man comes over to my table. In his broken English, he asks me if he can sit down and talk to me, well I was caught between a rock and a hard place wasn’t I? My veggie samosas hadn’t arrived yet so I really couldn’t say no.
So he sits…and the broken conversation begins, “My name is Omar (a Sudanese visiting Ethiopia)”, “I am Dee, like A,B,C,D”, “Are you a China?”, “No”, “oh – Korean? Japanese?”, “No, I’m Australian”…”But you look like a Chinese” [Genius right? Not exactly the best way to get into my good books...]
And the conversation progresses, slowly, with difficulty, and with no sign of an end. Topics covered include:
1. The potential of African people, with Omar leading the way telling me all Africans are dumb and not clever and with me telling him that here are plenty of clever and smart Africans in the world. With my favourite catchphrase “There is plenty of potential in Africa”
2. That people don’t go to psychologists in Africa because if you go to a psychologist then you are crazy
3. That the development of Ethiopia is about 15 years behind that of Sudan (really?)
But to top it off, the real highlight of this conversation was when Omar, politely, in his broken English asks me “Are all Australians cold?”
To which I cleverly reply, oh no, sometimes it gets very hot in Australia, to which he replies, “No, um, I mean, emotions, are Australians cold?” to which I reply in a somewhat surprised tone, “Oh no! Australians are very friendly people!”
….“So just you then? Only you are cold?”
WELL! Mind. Blown. I have now been put in my place by a Sudanese man in Ethiopia.
Needless to say, Elly was absolutely beside herself when I told her, he managed to get me to talk to him for an extra 30 minutes as I was unconsciously trying to prove I wasn’t cold.
It didn’t work.
Reverse culture shock…a load of bull? Or is it? As I sat in ‘Mugg & Bean’ on my first day in Johannesburg, the smallest inklings of “a freak out” began to appear..perhaps it’s because I’m a terrible flyer and was definitely feeling sick, MAYBE it was because I’d had 3 hours of sleep or MAYBE it was because within 30minutes I had ordered my food, eaten it AND had a cuppa?! I am not lying..I was freaking out?!
Not only did I not know what to do with myself, my waiter INTRODUCED himself after he took over from my previous waitress, repeated my order and then proceeded to ask me if I needed condiments and a refill of juice. Well YES! YES I DID! I received 3 types of chilli sauce!! AMAZING! (For the record, I had Orange Juice and Eggs Benedict! Ah-mae-ZING!)
Why did I even bother having a backup order? Oh because I was expecting to hear that “it was finished” but it wasn’t…it came with condiments instead?! And the opporutnity for Avocado on the side?! Stop it!
So, I spent the first two days of my stay in South Africa looking like a little Korean with half a functioning brain, but I couldn’t help being a complete, nervous wreck. None of that Ghana-toughness, I was all please and thank you and passive whispers. Ghana, you would have been shocked. That inner lion? Well it had turned into a new born cub…and it was seriously confused!
I’m asking questions and getting answers, eye contact and smiles, people are TRYING to help me out and all I can do is smile back. I feel like Charlie entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for the first time. And how appropriate because as I sat there in amazement, right next to me is Veruca Salt, Mike TeeVee, Augustus Gloop and Violet Beauregard!
“My food wasn’t ready within 15 minutes”, “My waiter was giving me attitude”, “My food is cold” (VALID!), “I’m going to call customer service right now and complain”…Well you’ll be absolutely shocked to know that I was the one who wanted to tell them to shutup, calm the farm and enjoy the absolutely amazing service! It’s better than a “I’m coming-o”, half an hour later, on a good day, when you’ve already been waiting about 45 minutes for food.
Hout Bay is absolutely beautiful and my first few days have been absolutely amazing, I’m still thinking and dreaming about Ghana loads but am already realising just how much I’m appreciating life, while I miss Ghana…It’s continually amazing to see just how different Africa is and I am shocked and amazed at it all, from the road rules to drinking tap water, from the chai lattes to the brekky buffets, from sunset to celery, it’s a whole new world, and it’s bright and full of colour and all a little overwhelming that there are times where I want to go back to gutter filled Accra…
it would probably go something like this:
Dear Mama, I probably would not have gotten through this year without you. You are absolutely amazing and selfless! I have never met anyone like you before you are soooo willing to help someone out, help everyone. Not only do you babysit someone else’s children for free, you look after your own children and then other random grown up white people who are basically incapable of doing anything for themselves!
When there is a problem you are there straight away to try and find a solution, you make the phone calls that need to be made, you provide when you barely have enough for yourself and your family and even when you have given you are still sooo willing to keep helping. You don’t even have a polytank and no water and yet you are giving us water! And even after you have given us water you are still willing to give us more if we need it! You are amazing!
When something needs to be done, I know that I can always rely on you, and I also think it’s hilarious that you pretend not to speak Twi and then whip it out when we really need someone to talk “local”!!!
You’re also probably one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met! Up at 330am every morning and going to bed as late as 10pm sometimes! And then always willing to help us out and always offering to cook us a meal so that it’s ready for when we come home from work! WOW!
I am pretty sure you have absolutely made my year here! Even when I get annoyed at the country and think wow, everybody is hassling me, I can always think about you and how much you are always helping me out! Not only that, I love that you are so willing to fight for me! Physically and verbally!
And even when I’m not receptive to being treated like a child again, you are still always continually nice to me! Mind. blown. I love that you ask me every time I leave the house where I am going, even though I’m only walking down the road and I love that for at least 330 days of the year, every morning you have said to me “Go and Come!” Every. single. morning with the biggest smile on your face!
And I’m pretty sure I could go on and on and on and on but I actually can’t express just how appreciative I am of everything you have done for me! You have made Ghana for me. 100%.
Even right up until the end, you are always there for me. I have never met someone who is 100% there for me 100% of the time! In my 23 years of life, meeting people who can have everything, they are not as selfless as you, they are definitely not as amazing as you! If I could tell you all of this Mama without you blushing like a lobster because you are just so shy and humble I would…it’s definitely not your job or your duty to have to looked after me this well this year but you have, and I could not have asked for a better person to hang out with in Ghana!
Thank you Mama!!
If I could say that to Mama..well I would, but I can’t, so perhaps a beer will have to do, I honestly probably would not have enjoyed Ghana half as much as I did if I didn’t have cheeky little Mama calling me all the time and yelling through my window. She has been amaz-balls!
Who knew that subliminal learning could be so important? I’m pretty sure I can credit my “anti-trash throwing out the window ways” to none other than CAPTAIN PLANET AND HIS PLANETEERS!
And perhaps Ghanaians have caught on to the craze because they have also started playing Captain Planet reruns (and by reruns, can I just say that Captain Planet was playing in the early 90s when I was still a kid?!) on telly.
Although I’m not sure if Captain Planet is aimed at the young’un’s here or the oldies here…all I know is that when I walked in on a family yesterday both the adults and the kids were loving Captain Planet…I’m just not sure if they really got the whole “You’re destroying your planet every time you throw plastic out the trotro window” message. But you never know…I have faith that, perhaps, the tides are turning and we’re going to be seeing a cleaner Ghana in a few years time, with rubbish bins, a recycling system, with adults and children alike holding onto their trash after eating on the street, clean if not closed gutters on the sides of roads, less smog and maybe even less of the bagging of the bags happening…cleaner beaches, well let’s just take it one step at a time ok?
Captain Planet, I have faith in you, still! (and Wheeler, as a kid I had the BIGGEST crush on you and it may have been reignited yesterday!)