Thursday, November 29, 2012

Some Things Never Change

I know I’ve been talking up my new digs like it’s nobody’s business, but I thought I’d revisit a few things that haven’t changed in the name of nostalgia (you know, for those tiny moments that make me realize I’m still in Africa):
1    1. My roommates:

Nothing says you’re in Africa quite like the mummified carcass of a lizard *falling out of the closet and smacking you in the face*

2. Lights Out!

I know I live by the ocean and I know a lot of power in Ghana is water powered, but thinking that I get steady, reliable electricity because I live near a steady, reliable source of water would be foolish. The only thing that connects our frequent power hiccups and the ocean are the pirates who stole our oil on its way from Nigeria.

3. Oh, is that the ocean?

It’s torturous, really. I work on the harbor, I pass the ocean on my way to work and I have this beautiful plumbing system with all of these taps attached to it and yet … I still store water in giant drums, I still bathe from a bucket most days and my office – on the second floor  – still pays a man to fetch water and haul it. I’m starting to realize that this is just how things are.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja … yeah, I’m not going down there, dude.

You know that moment when you walk out of your apartment, holding a flask of piping hot coffee, and walk right into a wall of odor that stops you in your tracks? You don’t have an open sewer right outside your gate? My bad … I thought that was a problem for everyone.

5. Goat or baby?

I cannot tell you how excited I was to hear a goat behind my house the other day! I live in a city, which makes my favorite game ‘goat or baby?’ really hard to play. Plus, baby goats are hilarious and I found one.

6. Oh my God, I LOVE your shoes!

Now that I have an office job, it’s tempting to wear high heels everywhere I go. Except that high heels are pretty inconvenient when the sidewalks are busted. And I don’t mean a few cracks here and there, I mean an open sewer drain covered by a plank of wood; I mean sidewalks that lean to one side; I mean hazards that could cost me an ankle, if not my life.

Okay … so maybe that last bit was an exaggeration (I would never twist my ankle in high heels – I’m a pro), but I mean it when I say it’s a jungle out there – a heel-unfriendly jungle that will probably make me look ridiculous in the near future (because let's be honest - I’m not going stop wearing high heels).

7. I know I look like I just showered, but you’d be mistaken; that was hours ago …

There’s nothing like looking your best walking out the door and showing up to work looking like someone tried (and failed miserably) to baptize on your way there: mascara running down my cheeks, tendrils of hair sticking limply to my forehead, a shirt that looks like some kind of ink blot test (maybe it’s a bird, maybe it’s Lionel Richie, but it's definitely not normal) …

You know what? I’m sure it’s fine. I’m sure I look really impressive; you’re right.

8. Hallelujah!

If you ever visit me, you may start to wonder what that sound is from 6-9pm every day. That, my friends, is salvation. Friday through Sunday are all-day extravaganzas – a cacophony for Jesus. I may have gotten a nice apartment complete with guards and no neighbors, but I also have three churches surrounding me … and they have generators.

There’s no lights-out for Jesus.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Think Like a Man

[A reflection on 'If Beale Street Could Talk' by James Baldwin]

I wonder what it's like to be a father, not just a father, but a father to a daughter. Women are born mothers, we embrace the world and long to soothe it of its woes; men are born with its weight, resting there, on their shoulders. Struggle as we might to adopt that weight women can never truly carry it alone, and man could never survive without a woman. She is always the pillar and never the roof.

I wonder how this changes their minds, turns them away from us; I wonder what it's like to love as a man, to fear as a man; to know that, in addition to loving someone, you must also protect her and support her and in doing so accept that you might hurt her - even as you love her deep into your organs and the crevices in-between. It must be a painful, terrifying kind of love; seeing the carnage of those before you and knowing they expect you to will fix it, not make it worse.

I imagine what its like to experience that, to hope vehemently against it when it becomes my own daughter; knowing all of the things I did in youth and stupidity, seeing all the damage I created, and knowing I have the potential to do worse, still, even as she stares at me with those big, innocent eyes.

And you always end up doing worse - out of fear, mostly - and all you can do is hope to God she'll be strong enough to grow past it all and forgive you for being so goddamn scared.

You love her, of course; you love her so much it hurts to breathe, to blink, to live and watch her move about the world. You pray for the day she finds someone who loves her a fraction of the amount you do, because you'll have to trust him to take care of her; to make her believe. You just want to be able to feel that relief, knowing that she'll be happy and safe and all the other things you ever wanted for her. You could never give her away otherwise, this tiny little thing that managed to change everything - everything you thought about women, everything you thought about everything.

If you'd had a boy, your view of the world would have stayed exactly the same, but thank God, because you realize now that James Brown was right -  you just had to hold her; just had to know you would do anything to make her world spin. And you realize you don't want her to be like those other girls, the broken ones you've met along the way. And it's this awesome responsibility - greater than the stars in the universe, greater than the universe itself; and while you're proud, always proud, goddamn if you aren't scared shitless.

I know what it's like to be a woman, what it means to love as a woman, but sometime's I wonder what it's like to love, to fear, to feel, like a man.

Tell me your secrets.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Last Day: In-love

Well, I did it: two years.

I didn't realize until Lauren mentioned it; I kept thinking of the continuation, of the next step, forgetting completely what I'd accomplished - the fulfillment of two years. What an awesome thing to suddenly realize; what a wonderful thing to celebrate! And then, there I was ... eating my last meal with Mary, spending my last morning at Travelers Inn, and leaving the Upper East as a resident for the last time. Just like that; two years.

I feel like I'll live in Africa for the rest of my life; I'll always be in the Peace Corps and I'll always be an O'broni. It's written forever in my sky - the people I met, the things I did, the simple fact that I was here. I can't name all of the things I learned about myself, but I do know that I fell in-love here; with life and potential and, dare I say, myself.

Any love is a good thing, an amazing thing, but the kind of love I found in Africa is different; it's hard to explain. It's a love of complete vulnerability - the honest kind; the kind of love that looks like a halo; the kind of love that feels like a furnace; the kind of love that's contagious because there's just too much of it.

I've never known a light like this - directed not only at the world around me, but inward as well. It's close kin with gratefulness, it finds inspiration in adventure and calls empathy a friend. It paints the world in dazzling frescoes, makes music of the simple things and the poetry - oh, the poetry ... I walk taller; I smile wider; I laugh all the time. I'm so happy that I can't explain it and the only thing I could do to express myself was to apply for an extension.

Maybe my insecurities will come back sometimes, maybe they'll always exist because I gave birth to them, but most days they grow quiet and I can finally think. I don't pretend to know anything about the world - three years here and I will still be its student. I can venture only to say that now I know myself. I love deeply and endlessly, unapologetically. I have finally accepted a lot of things, learned to be calm about them, learned to let go and let my heart breathe a little.

I know more about the atrocities of life - things I should never accept because the world is worth so much more. I learned when to find balance, when to pick my battles; that tugging on the rope around someone's neck - the shackles on their wrists - will sometimes make them cling tighter, struggle against you harder. I learned what it means to invest in people, to protect and nourish something as precious as their potential.

My heart must have grown three sizes, my tear ducts have sprung a permanent leak. I got lucky; I realized I'm not hot shit. I fell over, but I found people who helped me get back up - some of them complete strangers, some of them close friends. I've experienced a lifetime - a separate life, completely - that seems more real to me than the one I'd already led. I wouldn't say I'm different, but I'm changed. Everything is still in order - I've been the same person since the day I was born (just ask my mother) - but my perspective is new, and the distance between lives impassable.

I love people in a way I never loved them before; I've forgiven people, taken the time to understand and let go. Having so much free time managed to do that - allowed me to think, threw everything into sharp relief; a photograph made of words and actions and emotions scratched into the surface. Ugly things were there. And I had to be honest with myself about the fact that some of them belonged to me.

I think that's what's made the most difference - taking responsibility for my part in my life. I stripped myself of pity and talismans and began to define myself anew. I reinvented myself, not to run away, but simply because it was time. Meanwhile, I became an inspiration to others; I was emboldened, validated. And, once, I needed these things; I needed the Peace Corps. I don't anymore. My decision to stay is purely my own.

My third year is what I want; the first two were what I needed to kick me in the ass (and show me some sugar). I mention love so much because it changes everything. I don't think many people take the time to appreciate themselves or their place in life. It's one thing to love and appreciate the life one leads, the luck one encounters; but to love one's place in that life is rare. And important. And it's something I finally found here, finally allowed myself, and for that reason I will never truly leave this place.

Nor do I ever want to.