Had we not chosen to leave Australia and embark on this African experience our eldest daughter would have just finished primary school. She would have joined her oldest and dearest friends, and maybe even shed a few tears (I know I would have), to be clapped through a guard of honour, to mark the transition from childhood to the teenage high school years of growth, transformation and sometimes, tumult.
The last day. It has shone in our expectations since January 2007 when she started Kindergarten. But today, she headed off to her Ghanaian school to say goodbye. Where the close friends are fewer in number, and to be honest, most we are less likely to meet again. She says goodbye in the middle of a school year, to a middle school, and in many ways a school culture so very different to what she had experienced in Australia.
So we didn’t make the familiar walk from our family home, up our steep hill, past the cathedral and the sweeping views of the harbour and ocean to our sweet, little primary school. Instead we left our apartment, now scattered with packing boxes almost ready for another move, climbed into my little car and drove over potholed roads, through the chaotic traffic, past the water sellers and the yam stores, to say good bye to another school.
Becoming an expatriate family with older children is a tricky business. From a place of stability and familiarity, we wrenched them into another culture, another world. We were naïve in so much of what we expected, and so much of how we prepared all three of the children. There have been intense feelings of loss and of disappointment. But through all of this, there have been extraordinary experiences that would never have been possible had we stayed at home. Amazing holidays and intensely close views of another society, another culture, another way of life. A society which we will never truly be a part of, leaving us sitting with the other expats, on the periphery.
But positive and negative, it all has been a privilege.
The greatest privilege has been to watch our children grow. To watch them navigate across cultures, to adopt local figures of speech to make themselves understood, to develop the resilience to walk into a new school and be the new kids…again. Our eldest had the highest expectations of her new life here, and as such had the furthest to fall. But she has probably grown the most. We watched with breaking hearts when it all felt so very hard and hopeless for her. We watched with pride and trepidation when she returned to running as a solace and a way to regain her sense of self.
The end of primary school is a major transition for any child. And I see this long, lean girl, still mad on meerkats, transition yet again. Our journey, often as a very solitary family unit, has given her the time and the space to start her own journey. In a school where everyone aspires to be a lawyer, our girl with her creative flair confuses most of her classmates when she states she wants to be a set designer. The education system here has channeled her competitive streak into a glad seriousness about her studies. And we listen and talk and watch her opinions form. Whether it’s about her favourite singer or why it’s difficult to respect authority figures when they demand bribes, it’s always an interesting conversation.
And so as another year closes, with a new city and a new school to look forward to, we are so very proud of them all.
And while she may have missed her clap out and guard of honour, we look forward to being with her as she leaps into her future.