If it could be summarized in a single post:
I’ve been back in the US for little more than 48 hours at this point, and things still feel a bit odd. I’m still momentarily surprised to see white people on a far street corner when I’m not really thinking about it. The “To Do” list I just wrote out to start catching up on is simply overwhelming. I’ve realized people wear lots of fancy, funny-looking clothes here. And I nearly made myself sick yesterday “eating all of Boston,” as my friend Carol put it. But Boston has welcomed me home in the wonderful and weird way it always has ever since I arrived here three years ago. This time, though, I’m not just passing through or stopping for a visit. I’m staying, for my last school year at least. And that is a wonderful feeling – to come home and be home and know you’re staying for awhile. But as I write this, sitting in the corner of one of my favorite cafes, wearing the same battered sandals that tread all over the kids’ schoolyard each day, through rain puddles, and even walked carefully across the border into Togo and a little less carefully back again, I’m fully aware a piece of myself is still experiencing Ghana, not yet fully returned, still mulling it over. It will take time, to be fair.
At one point early on, I sent a lengthy email to Carol about my trip so far, and in her profoundly impressive nature, she read it perfectly, appreciating all the good stuff with sincerity and attention, but not missing a beat on the glossed over bad parts, reading them with more clarity than I ever intended to convey. She’s amazing that way. Ironically, I had mentioned somewhere in passing that I had lost my old guidebook from last year, so in response to my unspoken thoughts, she wrote back, “One piece of advice though, do not compare your last trip to Ghana to this one. Look at this trip like an opportunity to rediscover yourself, use that new travel guide as a sign that this is not meant to be a repeat from last summer. This might sound weird, but I am glad you did not find your old travel book, that way you can start from scratch.” In many ways I wanted it to be the same, and it was. I read a thousand books, bandaged a million sores, helped with a billion homework assignments, and gave a trillion hugs and kisses. In many other ways, though, I had every intention of making this experience a different one. And it was also that, indeed.
My second experience with the West African Children’s Foundation was admittedly more difficult than my first, though I have valued this one far more. It started off much the same, but through the organization I volunteered with this year – Ghana Make A Difference – and under the amazing, devoted guidance of its founders Stacey and Cory Hofman, I was able to do more. In terms of long-term growth, I think I made a very minimal impact on their work, but a few contributions I can be proud of nonetheless. Working alongside the board members of the WACF, Ghana Make A Difference will continue to do good work for parentless children in many parts of Ghana. I have been deeply impressed with the amount they have done in just the last year, and even more by the careful concern and love with which they do it – especially when they have been confronted with difficult decisions and uncertainties. I have been honored to play a role in their work.
Likewise, the volunteers I lived and worked with this year amazed me, yet again. They were all entirely different than I expected, but they couldn’t have been more fun. As I’m known to do when I spend much time with someone, I absorbed curious parts of their personalities into my own, as they always taught me many things. Larissa reminded what it means to care for yourself in body and heart as much as you care for others, though we both struggle with that. She’s also now got me hopelessly interested yoga, kick-boxing of weird sorts, and natural food diets. It was inevitable after living in a shoebox of a room together for two months, I suppose. From both Polina and Linda, I learned that you can indeed pick up your life, change it entirely, move it across the world, and be happier – though we may be apprehensive to it at first. The many, many Brits in the house showed me good humor and poor drinking habits – however interesting that combination became. Many Americans from anywhere west of New York reminded me what a simple, unassuming, and fruitful life looks like – a reminder I always appreciate. Most of all, though, I was always endlessly impressed by the variety of individuals that all come from different walks of life, yet to the same place for whatever amount of time, then leave with very different impressions.
Ghana will always be simply awesome to me. It is the first country I’ve extensively traveled, the first piece of international work I’ve done, and certainly the first place I’ve made something of a life abroad. It is not however, an experience that exists somewhere far away, in its own time and place – as easily as it could be filed away as such. Through this second experience, I have learned more about all the things I love and find so curious about Africa. In the same vein, I have also seen the scars and struggles that could break a young idealist’s heart, and prove every pessimist right. But as I was having a singular experience that could do as much, in these same critical moments, God provided me with exactly what I needed for my heart to grow and my mind to respond appropriately in each situation. That came in the simple form of my children’s smiles, and a couple of excellent books, of course. My heart is not broken and I am not disillusioned. I’m walking away with a clearer picture of all the troubles I knew existed, but with no less resolve to continue carefully learning and faithfully serving, hopefully now with more wisdom to do so.
I know I will be back to Ghana. It isn’t a hopeful wish, as it perhaps was last year. I’ll be back sooner or later. And for that, I think the goodbye was easier this year. Things will continue to change at the WACF, and I know there will be kids I have grown to love very much who I will likely never see again. But each of them will always be in my prayers, and to a certain extent that is all I can do for those kids for now – and that’s okay.
Over lunch the day I got back (my second or third lunch, actually), I told Carol everything about the last few weeks of this summer – about a lot of the more challenging things I was uncertain how to put into words yet, but gave a first go with her. I also told her the many more amazing parts – about the kids, our adventures, my travels, all the people I had met, even the bits of Twi I had learned. In summary to it all before we left to walk about the city, she simply said: “You’re right, this summer was hard, and things weren’t easy. But you know, this is what you always do, really in everything that you do Cori – you see situations like this differently and understand them and always take something away from them, where a lot of others really don’t.” Then she repeated it, unprompted: “Like I said in the beginning, my dear, I’m really glad you lost your guidebook. Figuratively and literally, this was a new experience for you.” She’s right. I am also glad that I lost my guidebook. I am glad that I figuratively lost the planned experience of last year, and have begun whatever version it is that will grow to be my life and work abroad for years to come, where Ghana is no longer a place I once traveled and volunteered for a few weeks, but rather a wider window into all the things I, again, love and find so curious about Africa. My service has always started there after all, with that love and curiosity.