I seem to have lost my voice. I think it is due to the reality of our second year, our new living arrangements, and compounded by an absence of the thrill of the new.
Not long after we had first arrived in Ghana, while riding the highs and lows of all that was new and different and exotic, I came across a graph much like this one. Now, stay with me, as geek that I am it gave me great comfort.
As much as no-one likes to be typecast, this graph matched my experience very clearly. The initial thrill of the new, followed by frustrations and setbacks, culminating in an acceptance of the new life. But unlike other smoothly elegant U shaped graphs, I like the reality of the sharp bumps along the way, as satisfaction bottoms out and starts to rise again. Though on bad days I wonder if the sense of satisfaction in the adaption phase (4) will ever reach such dizzying heights.
The honeymoon phase (1) is indeed like being in love, where everything is new, exotic and exciting. But it is followed by a profund sense of dislocation. All that was rich, or simple or easy about the old life, can be gone, No more playdates, support networks, where the hell are the local shops, why doesn’t it work, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen at home…the level of negativitity can be confronting.
While the inital bottoming out (2) was at times shockingly deep, it is the cultural adjustment phase (3) which has been a complicated affair. In the writing of this blog, and in life in general, I try to stay pretty positive, interested and engaged. I still love watching the life on the streets, and people are, by and large, very friendly. Ghana is a stable and safe society.
But there are times, when all those little things, that make for a great story when traveling, become a tiresome slog. The attitude towards inconvenience changes when you are faced with it daily, when you are not a traveler, but a foreigner. The negative experience at the store (where Ghana does not love to shop, you know who you are). The constant low level stress when facing that traffic everyday. Being called obruni on a daily basis. [I bite my tongue, when all I want to say is “Yes, you’re right, I am white. Congratulations on you observation skills”]. And plenty of other inconveniences, frustrations, breakages which seem too petty to write about.
And before you are too horrified by me, I am aware of the profound hypocrisy of a ‘rich’ white woman, moaning about her bubble-like existence, in a country she volunteered to move to.
The result of this daily tedium, is that there is a tendency to retreat into your home, to stay inside the bubble. I put things off and miss out on some experiences. Call it self-preservation.
I have had the great experience of meeting some wonderful women since we have moved into Kumasi. Some of which have lived in Ghana for the majority of their adult lives. And every one of them I have spoken to, whether long term expatriates married to a Ghanaian; long term expatriates married to another foreigner, who also call Ghana home; through to the shorter term, more typical expatriates (like ourselves) all admit to retreating into their own bubble. From admitting they spend a lot of time in their garden, to complaining there is no exciting food in the house because they don’t feel up to facing the traffic and the shops, so have a cup of tea for lunch instead (guilty as charged!)
And these challenges, particularly in regional centres, away from capitals (where expats tend to congregate) are often compounded by a profound sense of isolation, when all the usual support networks are gone (and being simultaneously missed). Concerns about healthcare and children adapting; and a spouse that is typically working very long hours. After all, that is commonly why we are here.
And so why would you do it? The reasons are as multifarious as the people you meet in this situation. There are the big reasons people move: for love and family; for work and financial reasons; to expose themselves and their families to a different culture and a different vision to how the world works.
And then there are the spinoffs, which are sometimes just what you expected, and range from big to small. Being able to be together as a family to avoid avoiding grueling single parenting schedules. I have spoken to women here who saw their husbands 4 times a year while they were raising children in their home countries. Smaller, although welcome spinoffs, include the chance of some help in the home. Or as we have embraced, the ability to travel. Or the excitement of seeing a different way of life, that can be colourful and exotic.
One of the nicest spinoffs of this life, particularly since the move to Kumasi, has been the variety of people we have met. Everyone has their own story to tell. Their own reasons and their own experiences.
I, and I think most women, find the need to share, support and just talk to each other very important. One of the hardest things in settling in was losing my support network of great women.
Fittingly, a chance meeting on International Women’s Day this year, brought together several expat women in Kumasi. And something as simple and profound as a group of women chatting together has made everything seem much more ‘normal’. And indeed, has helped smooth those bumps on the graph into something a little more elegant.
I hope everyone had a great long Easter weekend. We’re on school break for a few weeks, with some very exciting plans!