Friday, August 23, 2013

What Ghana Means to Me


Some are learned from study, from the direction and paths of those before us; others are learned by doing, they happen once the books are shelved and feet start moving. What Ghana meant to me is the difference between studying and living. And while my life continues, while my experiences never truly end, I find myself leaving Ghana and starting anew. (If there were ever a time for retrospection, I guess this is it.)

Peace Corps is a tough gig. We join to change the world, to make it a better place, to leave something  behind worthy of remembrance. Once we realize it’s not that easy (or quantifiable), we spend two years chasing lofty, pre-Peace Corps dreams. Nothing is enough, there's always something more to be done, that should be done. It isn't until we're leaving that we realize just how successful we actually were and that maybe we did enough. 

The Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to legitimately change people’s lives. And not in the ‘random acts of kindness’  way, but with purpose and clarity. Whether it be successful projects or personal relationships, the fact that I directly affected positive change in anyone’s life is quite possibly the most amazing, humbling thing I've ever experienced. That kind of responsibility, coupled with that kind of trust, changes a person; it changed me. 

I’m stronger; I learned about sacrifice and hardship. There were days when I wanted to pack it in, settle into a comfortable loneliness and question why I ever became a volunteer in the first place. I found courage. I found adventure and I found pride; in myself, in my intentions, and in the heart I was willing to put into the work I wanted to do. I learned to trust and I learned to forgive when that trust was broken. I learned the difference between empathy and sympathy, the truth behind respecting and loving others as I love myself.

I learned to love myself. I allowed myself to be an inspiration, found the balance between believing in myself and accepting failure without losing that belief. And as I opened my heart I found it easier to accept the people around me. I began to experience the world like a child. I found the root of life and I climbed its tree. I found laughter. I found soul. I experienced an incredible opportunity to live the life I wanted, to experience another culture intimately, to ask questions and discover motivations, to include myself in the conversation and make a tiny, Emma-sized difference in the world. I found a life I could be proud of.

At the close, I'm the kind of happy found in purpose and fulfillment. This means, of course, that I am also forever doomed. It’s like an itch that can’t be scratched - a nagging need for movement and adventure; a need for the satisfaction found out there in the world. I found my passion. I’m flexible and I’m resilient and I love. The Peace Corps taught me to learn; Ghana taught me to be happy.

Who I am today is grateful. I met the most amazing people and earned the privilege to call them friends. I found my voice, I found my vision and I gained much more than I gave. All of these things will always be with me, permanently inked on muscle and tendon and vein, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Ayekoo, Ghana. We've done well.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Life Worth Living

I only have three weeks until I'm no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. I'd like to let that sink in for a minute.

(insert minute here)

Understanding, of course, that I'll always 'be' a Peace Corps Volunteer, this realization - captured in one, simple sentence above - carries at least a dozen different emotions; and though I'm not one for abrupt endings, I'm pretty sure a lot of things are about to change abruptly.

My way of coping (read: ignoring) is to obsessively plan the details of my next travels and, like an excited child, I find it hard to sit still for very long. At any given moment I'm prone to random, public outbursts of excitement which include, but aren't limited to, the type of dancing I usually keep to myself and a wistful smile, put on my face by wine sipping, obviously touristy daydreams. It's not that I'm ready to leave Ghana behind, but I'm excited to continue my adventure.

Ghana is the home of over 70 different languages and at least as many different cultural practices and beliefs. While I admit that this became normal for me, I recognize that Ghana offered me over three years of unique daily experiences. It's why, even at its most boring, my time spent here was worth dozens of blogs, 36 paged letters, and a ridiculous amount of photos. With a new adventure at my fingertips (and each jump of my heart bringing it closer to my throat) I think I may have found the secret to a life well lived. A life well-lived is one spent in exploration.

What I think most people don't realize is that a life spent in exploration can be spent anywhere. Being in the Peace Corps simply made the adventures, the diversity, more obvious. I felt obligated to experience the world around me. It was my duty to share those experiences simply because I was having them. It was part gratitude, part curiosity. I appreciated my life here because it was unique and it came from a completely different perspective, but who's to say that needs to stop?

Traveling to Europe is obviously exciting; it's not every day I get to run my hands along terribly dirty, terribly ancient buildings, but (along with all of the other things I managed to find in Ghana) I found that I've rediscovered my curiosity. Too many people forget, as they get older, as the bills pile up, as life gets more complicated, that the world is interactive. It's meant to be enjoyed. As three years slipped past me, I realized that it's not enough to survive each day; we must engage in the world around us, appreciate our capacity for helping and learning and loving, find something exciting about its smallest detail.

Before I moved to Ghana I was in love the idea of traveling, but it was still an idea; I was determined to become a citizen of the world, an active member, an avid explorer, an ever-lover. Somewhere along the way I succeeded. Maybe I'm not a perfect citizen - there are days when I ignore the world, cuddle up with a good book and fall in-love with a fictional universe - but I'm here. I'm here and I'm committed. I've put a ring on it - a metaphorical ring in the form of tiny, plane-shaped carbon footprints that, I hope, will lead me anywhere. Yep, I said it: anywhere.

You see, it doesn't matter where I end up as long as I'm doing something I love and actively exploring what the world has to offer (which happens to be something I love). When I joined the Peace Corps I took a giant leap into a life that offered something new every day. What I realized was that grand gestures weren't necessary; every moment anywhere has something new and exciting to offer.

Shift your focus. Explore and stay curious.
A life well-lived is as simple as that.