Next week I’m returning to Ghana for the first time in four years. As my regular readers would know, I lived there for a year in 2010 and returned once briefly in 2012. Until last week it was looking like I wasn’t going to be able to go, there was a myriad of reasons, and finances played a major role. Even though this trip was more than a year in the planning, due to circumstances out of our control, our long held dream to build a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence and the reason for this particular trip was under threat.
With the support of an incredible team of volunteers, in early August we sent a 40 foot container to Ghana ahead of our upcoming trip, full to the brim with building material, goods, donations, gifts and more things than I could count, such a bounty of generosity, love and enthusiasm was wrapped up in that container. Imagine our heartbreak when two weeks into the voyage our shipping company Hanjin went bankrupt. This left our plans up in the air and to this day we still don’t have arrangements in place for getting our container from Singapore to Ghana as all of the boats were offloaded on bankruptcy and everyone is still left with more questions than answers. The trip is still going ahead however, thanks to the kindness, generosity and commitment of our amazing volunteers, who want to do what they can where they can and much to my amazement they even bought my ticket, as I was going to remain behind to save the much needed money that we’ll have spend on the additional shipping fees. However I digress, which I am known to do, but background stories and context are important too. I am a storyteller after all.
So apart from finances there were some other things that came up for me and still do when I contemplate returning to Ghana, on the West Coast of Mama Africa, my husband’s country of birth and the country that taught me more in one year than I had ever learnt in the previous 44. I have always said I have a love/hate relationship with Ghana, and I still do. What do I love? The people, family, culture, music, dance, rhythm, drums, colour, community, connection, activity – so many things. Africa is the heartbeat and rhythm of the world, she’s also where we all came from, she truly is our original Mama. What do I hate? Corruption, poverty, hunger, politics, lack of infrastructure, inequality, religious domination, open drains, lack of access to toilets, frequent power black outs, but mostly corruption, the biggest killer of all developing countries.
Those things are all important and they certainly have an impact and provide unlimited challenges to overcome, but mostly it’s about how Ghana made me feel. She pushed all of my buttons, shoved me right out of my comfort zone, challenged everything I thought I knew about myself and the world and turned it on its head. She shoved me hard. I was forced to look at myself, my darkest nooks and crannies, my hidden places, my life and everything I thought was important and re-evaluate, again and again and again. And again. Until the version of myself that arrived in Ghana was not the same woman who left a year later.
Going back again will surely test me. It will remind me of those challenges, and bring them back to the surface to consider and learn again. As I started writing my book about the year I lived there (How I learnt to love my bum and other lessons from Africa) all of the emotions came flooding back to me, in full colour and real time. I was actually surprised at how much I remembered, the level of detail and importantly the emotions I experienced that year. One day when I was writing about corruption I got myself so worked up I had to take a break for a few days. Unless experienced first hand, it’s impossible to comprehend the impact this has on every single aspect of life.
Mama Africa taught me so many lessons, just like my own mama did. However she taught them to me in a way that lacked compassion and empathy, she threw me in the water to let me drown and allowed me to teach myself to swim. She pushed me hard against myself and others and she left me floundering, wondering who the hell I was and what this life was all about.
I will write more this trip than I did before. I just wasn’t in the headspace to do it, but with time and reflection I am now looking forward to revisiting the place of my life’s biggest lessons and learning whatever it is she wants to show me.
I love you Mama Africa but I ask of you just one thing.
Please be gentle with me this time.
This piece also appeared on the Huffington Post