Saturday, April 24, 2010

Seeing the Finish Line

 Thursday, 22 April 2010, Last Week in Accra--

About ¾-mile away from my home in Accra yesterday, I got caught in a dark, heavy rain.  I had been wanting to go on this run for weeks (weeks!) and was not about to let the maddening may-teem-now/may-teem-later rainclouds keep me from reacquainting myself with the sanity and satisfaction yielded by a good, long run. 

So after work, I set off on my usual route: across busy Ring Road, through Labone neighborhood and into Cantonments, behind the blockish US Embassy, past Togo Circle where prostitutes will later prowl, and back through Labone.  According to my rough estimation, the loop is a bright 5.5 or so miles, which is a perfect post-work, pre-sunset length if conditions are favorable, but which can also feel like a leaden 15 if the weather is oppressive or the traffic is belching exhaust or you’ve had one too many Club beers the night before.  As with most things in Ghana, never assume you know what you’re getting yourself in to. 

That being said, I wasn’t at all surprised when the rain actually came, but I was surprised at how far I’d gotten.  Considering the distance I intended to cover, I made it pretty far before the sky went completely black and the rain twisted the roads and footways into assorted-sized pancakes of slick, reflective evil. 

I watched the rain fall steady and generous from underneath an awning.  I thought about how hard it would be for me to see my surroundings once I decided to make a move; how the darkness would totally compromise my vision and depth-perception.  But then I realized that—entirely exclusive of the weather and shocking in profundity—throughout the course of my seven months in Ghana I have gradually and amazingly become blind to the things around me. 

I haven’t “seen” a woman carrying anything on her head in months—and women carrying things on their heads are everywhere, everyday, all the time!  Everywhere!  I haven’t “seen” garishly decorated taxi cabs or tro tros, I haven’t “seen” Purewater satchets littering the streets, and I haven’t smelled the curdled, fetid, stagnant waste in the gutters.  I haven’t noticed chickens or goats at my feet as of late, and I can’t even tell you the last time I saw a stray dog.  I don’t hear taxi cab drivers when they honk in my direction anymore, nor do I acknowledge strangers who yell “hello” as I’m walking.   

What the heck?!  What is going on?  Am I “assimilated” or something?  Indifferent?  Is it really possible that all the differentness of Africa has become familiar? 

Desmond came to visit last week and it was so great watching him “see” and experience things for the first time—the goats, the women, the gutters.  I planned a million things for us to do and shared my ideas with my friends here in Accra.  One of them very wisely advised me to go slow and keep my enthusiasm in check so as not to overwhelm Desmond or freak him out.  Africa can be tough, and having to adapt to or accept the vastly different ways of doing things can be really intense. 

As weird as this recently realized lack of enthusiasm and response seems to be, it isn’t abnormal or regrettable—at least that’s what I’m telling myself.  On the contrary, I think its most people’s natural response to routine and everyday-ness.

For me, it’s kinda bittersweet.  I’m finally feeling somehow settled, just as I’m packing up moving to Kenya. But then again, maybe it’s time.  Maybe, among my travels and roadtrips and Club beers and dinners at friend’s houses, the mosquito bites and the rashes and the water shortages and sweat-drenched nights, I’ve seen all that there is for me to see in Ghana.  Maybe it's time for me to tap into my final reserve of energy, focus, and call it a good run.  


  1. No women carrying things on their heads? Don't animals usually hide right before an earthquake? I'd be careful. Be careful anyway. Holy cow GHANA? Want a plane ticket out?

  2. "As weird as this recently realized lack of enthusiasm and response seems to be, it isn’t abnormal or regrettable—at least that’s what I’m telling myself. On the contrary, I think its most people’s natural response to routine and everyday-ness"..... < i still can't get used to it no matter how long i live here.

    Culture is a crazy thing if i say so myself. i won't 'adjust' even in 400 yrs. the gutters stink every morning and torture my asthma every morning! i could taste it by small... worked in a kitchen for too long... sigh... (i know!) pessimist to the end!