Friday August 27th 2010
My time in Ghana has come to an end—I can say it aloud but my brain still won’t compute it. Although the logical side of my head understands that this experience was never going to become longer than 4 months, I’m still struggling to understand how this is all wrapping up so quickly. These past few months have at once felt as brief as a two-week whirlwind and as long and spanning as my entire lifetime.
The goodbyes I experienced in Hohoe were both beautiful and painful. As we parted ways, I was touched by the love sent to me from the families I connected with in the Volta region. I tried to justly communicate the magnitude of my thanks to them, but often had trouble finding the words. I’ve realized that there’s no easy, clean cut way to say goodbye to this experience. It’s bittersweet: you do what you can to tie up loose ends, make trade-off decisions when necessary, and try to remember to breathe and smile along the way. My goodbyes in Hohoe already feel like a lifetime ago—a beautiful memory tucked safely in my pocket as I follow a partly confusing, partly exciting, but absolutely certain path back to Canada.
It seems like now more than ever I’m looking back and thinking about what I could have done, should have done, or would have done differently with my experience. I could have invested more time in my family. I should have worried less about the timeline of my experience and more readily embraced the pace of progress here. I think that I would have felt more at peace with my leaving had I done so. I’ve come to realize that you can spend all of your energy thinking about the things you could have done better, the things you should have done but didn’t, and the things that would have altered the course of your placement for the better. I’ve thought about it, but have come to see that going through that process isn’t the point of these concluding days and hours. I think it’s natural to have regrets; it’s indicative of my inexperience making decisions in the ambiguous environments so often encountered here, but not of my lack of trying.
In retrospect things could have gone different. I could have chosen a million and one different forks in the road. But, I think that’s okay. Realizing things could have turned out differently and learning in hindsight from past decisions can cloud your sense of accomplishment quickly, but only if you allow it. Right now I’m concentrating on coming to terms with what I’ve accomplished in these few short months and keeping an open mind as familiar life in Canada barrels towards me like a freight train. Although there are areas in which I could have done more, I’m proud to be going home feeling like I’ve been successful with my time in Ghana.
This week, on the first day of in-country debrief in Cape Coast, the JFs were challenged to depict the story of our placements. I’ll share with you now a stream of consciousness style story I wrote in response to the challenge. There have been many monumental realizations along the course of my junior fellowship placement this summer, and certainly this does not describe all of the events in which I encountered, but it does hit on many of the big peaks and valleys.
Arriving was a rush, and I was surprised by how quickly I became independent. I can see now that Medina market scared me into believing in my own abilities. I remember meeting Ben on my first day in Hohoe and thinking that he was someone so different from anyone I’d ever known before in my life. I asked myself how I’d ever honestly get to know this person and I couldn’t come up with an answer. Days in Hohoe turned into weeks. My networks expanded, I found my footing, and I started feeling like I was functioning well on my own. Not long into my placement I began hitting walls I had never anticipated or had even known existed. I was trying to take off full speed ahead, but was continually brought back down to earth by a big heavy blanket called complexity. I started questioning my abilities and losing hope in my work. I teetered back and forth between being stagnated by scale, and seeking venues for optimism. I began investing a lot of time in my family. I found their acceptance and happiness comforting. I ran myself into the ground trying to explore opportunities in too many conflicting directions. I became a little jaded and had a chip on my shoulder at mid-placement retreat. I left and regretted it. I struggled for a period of time without a clear direction when what I really wanted was a tangible win. I eventually recognized that my contributions to the project’s direction would not be earth shattering. I travelled to many different areas around Ghana, learned an incredible amount about agriculture, and fell in love with the beauty of farming over and over again. I started feeling happy with the pace of my personal development. I recognized how powerful my personal relationships were on my perception of the progress of my placement. I started regretting not making more of myself available to my community. I spent my last week re-investing in my relationships in Hohoe and learning as much as possible from my individual connections there. I finished strong with work, but left realizing the personal impact I want to measure is not found in the bureaucratic side of development.
Right now, with my last few hours in Accra, I want to table my big questions, let myself simply enjoy being in this place, and come back to Canada brave, without answers, and looking forward to the incredible potential the future holds.
Thanks for reading,