It is extremely important to remain present, as a living, aware, conscious entity, fully alert in the existing moment, remaining inwardly still. Otherwise we might get caught up in changing times on the outside and forget our true nature on the inside. – Random quote I cannot remember where I read it.
One challenge foreigners have while working and living overseas is remaining present in our daily experiences. To me, remaining present requires a realization – mental, physical, spiritual – of the situation you are currently in. Not the one you were once in, or the one you are moving towards, but the current situation. The state of presence to me is initiated by simple things such as, a smile, handshake or statement and is dependent on a personal frame of mind. Fellow development workers claim that because of stress, frustration, distractions or the drudge of ordinary life, remaining present is a difficult task. It seems the longer I live in Ghana the less I reflect about my life here because what seemed so strange and foreign is now part of my life. Without reflection and realization, appreciation is difficult for me. I think the significance of remaining present is less about realizing what is in front of you and more about appreciating it. Reflection has been of utmost importance for me here because of rapid personal and professional growth. Remaining present fosters realization and appreciation for how I have grown – the ultimate goal for why I have come to Ghana.
What started my thinking about this was a conversation I recently had with work colleagues. Usually our conversations begin with statements such as, “you people…” meaning us white people or foreigners, followed by sweeping generalizations about cultural assumptions and actions. We spend most of the conversation breaking down stereotypes and falsities.
Differently, this conversation was about me and my actions, not anyone else’s. A few people mentioned that they were impressed with my adaptation to Ghana. Not just to the heat, the language barriers or even malaria, but they were impressed that I could stay positive and pleasant, while remaining so far away from family and my home. I explained that they were right, I am happy, but I do miss home every day. I miss my mother and father who I appreciate for their worry, strength and sincerity about my health and lifestyle here. I miss my brother, who just turned 21, an important age in my culture and who I was not able to celebrate with. I miss my grandmother and her loving pleasantness that always brightens my day. My friends, aunties, uncles, cousins, I wonder how they are moving forward and I am unable to take part in the ways that I want to.
I explained to my colleagues that despite these thoughts, it is because of “you people” or Ghanaians and the community here that has welcomed me so I can remain positive and pleasant. I did not think it was possible for a culture to be so open, free and generous and explained how different things are in Canada. I am happy here,
Because strangers are interested in having conversations with me about anything and everything; Because I am greeted by all the children every time I walk by, every time; Because I am called by 10 different people over the phone to make sure I am ok when they have not heard from me; Because they are genuinely sympathetic and take action when I am physically struggling; Because I am accepted at my office and encouraged; Because I can play soccer with a serious boys team, despite me being nowhere near fast or skilled enough; Because when I cannot get my motorcycle up the hill or started, someone will do it for me and wait to make sure I am ok; Because I am ALWAYS invited to eat, even from the same bowl sometimes; Because I am brought random vegetables from the farm by colleagues just to try; Because I am given gifts for working with farmers, instead of the other way around; Because I am always shocked when given a bag full of eggs as a gift from the village; Because of the smiles and hearty giggles that are matched by my equally large smile; Because of the hand gestures and shakes with a snap followed by a movement to your heart and head; Because I can join anyone and sit with them at anytime; Because of the small random surprises and gestures of kindness for free – greetings, knocks at my door, fixing my water meter etc.
Although this happens every day of my life I am reminded that it was once never part of my life. Calling a friend back home for her birthday, she reminds me of how much I will need to again adjust when I return to my own culture. She explains how conversing, while walking her dog in the neighbourhood she grew up in has become difficult. Here, if I do not converse, even from my motorcycle or on my way to the latrine, people will assume something is wrong, as it is an expectation to ask about someone`s sleep, how their body feels, how their children and husband are, even if you have never met them.
I am also reminded of appreciation and presence by the new EWB volunteers who have arrived. From their inquiries and their challenges, I remember to ask myself “what would a Ghanaian do?” before acting. This will probably be a statement I will carry with me for a long time.
I feel lucky to have spent 8 months in Ghana and even luckier to have another 3.5 months left.