I’ve been in Ghana for over a month now, and a lot has changed since I’ve arrived. Before coming I didn’t think that culture shock would affect me too much, but as I look back over the last 30 days I can say that my perspective has certainly evolved.
Let’s rewind to June 4th. I was staring out of the window of the Lufthansa flight I was on and feeling excited as I looked down at all of the city lights sparkling across Accra. But my feelings changed quickly once I got out off the plane and walked out of the airport. I was absolutely terrified. It was dark, there were tons of people trying to get my attention and “help me out”, and driving through the city streets at night instilled a fear of navigating this new chaotic world I’d be living in for the next 6 months. The next week was filled with experiences that put my comfort level to the test. Everything was different. Religion was everywhere! Billboards advertising prophets and priests line all the roadways. The cities are dirty, with discarded plastic water bags littered across the sidewalks and gutters. Most of all people lived with less. The cars were old, food was basic, houses were small and poorly constructed, and sanitation was lacking. But there was a life to this country that stirred excitement inside of me. The Ghanaian people were happy in despite of their environment and the lack of development. I was captivated by the cultural communication, and looked forward to understanding it better. Before long I was navigating the shops and markets like a pro, and travelling between cities was no big deal to me. Everything was coming together nicely.
It was the first few weeks in Sandema that posed the biggest challenge. After a few days it dawned on me that this would be my home until December, and I felt this desire to flee immediately. My house didn’t feel like home, my food choices were limited, water was never cold, the conveniences of home like a washing machine weren’t available, and I was stuck with a bunch of new people that I didn’t know very well. In essence I was separated from all that I known, dropped into this new place and trying to navigate the darkness of the unknown. In those first few weeks I was so worried about making friends with everyone, to the point that I pushed people away with my awkwardness. Work was frustrating because the Internet cut out so often, and there were few opportunities to go out to the field and learn more about the organization first hand. All of these stumbles and bruises accumulated until early last week when I was sitting at work looking at articles about the bloom; a new cultural movement towards embracing compassion, freedom of expression and new societal structures. This wave of emotion hit me when I was reminded about the life that I had been building for myself in Calgary. Here was everything I was passionate about, and I was totally separated from it. It was at that moment that I hit the peak of my culture shock, and I decided that this wasn’t where I belonged. I wanted to be back home working on my website and podcast. I wanted to be meeting people at festivals and getting involved in projects, and I wanted to spend time with my family and friends. I had chosen to come to Ghana to make myself uncomfortable and experience a harder life, and needless to say I had succeeded.
Luckily for me though this moment was to mark a change in my attitude. Over the next few days I decided to let go and not worry about these problems anymore. I found seeds of my healthy mindset that I had cultivated in Calgary, and I went about watering them and helping them grow again. Since then I have started to rediscover my inner peace. I’ve had some great times with new friends and work has become more rewarding now that I’ve almost completed the website and started working with school clubs. Best of all I’ve found small ways to make life a little better while I’m here. Sometimes I’ll freeze water so that I can have a nice cool drink on hot days, and I’ve also learned to cook some delicious meals. Most importantly I get to look forward to my girlfriend visiting in August, and the amazing adventure we’re going to have when we travel around the country. I guess the point of this post is that life can be tough, especially when you have to adjust to new circumstances. It’s not easy to take a leap of faith and push yourself out of your comfort zone, but it becomes a lot easier to flourish under stressful conditions if you can grasp onto some light that will help support you and guide your way. And at the end of the day I appreciate the hard times, because overcoming the tallest hurdles is often the most personally rewarding. As long as I’m alive I always want to continue growing as a person, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to continue doing just that.