We’ve never been Valentine’s Day people. I know it’s all very sweet to share the love and all, but it’s always struck me as a Hallmark sort of holiday. As a couple, we’ve always looked at it with cheesy distain. But two years ago, on Valentine’s Day we arrived in Ghana, and is has become in our family language, our Ghanaversary.
Before writing this post, I looked back over two years of photographs and the one above is one of my favourites. It was the first photo I took when we arrived at our new home and Bill’s workplace. I can still recall the optimism and excitement we all felt. The heat and humidity, the soaring raintrees casting dappled light on the path, giant orange-headed lizards scuttling away from us, the genuine welcomes from Bill’s colleges, our surprise at being saluted to by every security personnel on sight. The absolute, irredeemable fact that we were in Africa. But mostly, the great sigh of relief that we were all together, at last. After months of being separated from Bill, the emotional and physical exhaustion of packing up our family home and trying (naively, optimistically) to tie our lives up in a neat little bow before we left.
Other photos were taken so full of hope, but are now stained with the disappointment of what came afterwards. Photos of amazing holidays which could never have happened has we stayed in Australia. Photos of pet goats, pet cats, pet monkeys. Experiences and windows into other lives which we hope will shape our children’s views of the world. The first year we travelled so much, but as time passes we travel a little less, more content in our place in the world and the choices we have made. All capturing a moment in our new life.
More than anything, on that Valentines Day two years ago, we felt optimistic. Convinced our new lives would bring a break from our quite regular (albeit, lovely) suburban lives, and provide experiences and adventures which we could never have experienced in Australia. But looking back my overwhelming sense is one of naivety. Living in rural Ghana, we were mistaken as to cultural norms and acceptance, to the challenges of schooling and commuting in a developing country, and to just how challenging life could be. I’ve been joking for the last two years of the irony of arriving on Valentines day. You want to really test a marriage?
What living here has taught us is the unavoidable nature of change. If something isn’t working, you need to fix it. One of our children was very resistant to change when we first moved, not even wanting furniture rearranged in a bedroom. As a necessity we have all had to push against that fear of change. Thankfully each change we have made has brought improvement to our lives, better opportunities, some sacrifices. If you had told us on that first Valentines Day that two years hence, that we would still be in Ghana, our eldest not starting high school in Australia as we expected, but making new friends at an amazing school in Accra and attending her first teenage birthday party on the roof of one of the most iconic buildings in Accra, we would never have believed it.
A lot has been written on the impact of change on children, particularly with reference to expat children (the whole TCK movement speaks of it in great detail). The good (resilient kids) and the bad (restless kids who feel a rootless sense of identity). We have struggled with the guilt of so many changes in our children’s lives, but we have also celebrated their openness to new opportunities and experiences. Time, and the therapy bill’s that will follow, will tell the tale.
For all of us, whether we are expats or living in the town we grew up in, life, like love, is an unexpected journey. Curve balls are thrown, some are caught and some are dropped. But we all keep moving forward because no one wants the journey to stop.
p.s believe it or not, I wrote this post…yes on Valentine Day. I’ve been struggling to get an internet connection to upload the photos…Vodafone you sure ain’t “giving the power to me”. Grrrrrr…….