Welcome to 2014! Another year done, another Christmas, another birthday passed. I’m a firm believer in not bemoaning another birthday, but being quietly thankful for another year passing. After all, it’s a far better option than another year not passing…
And so we are back in Ghana. We used the Christmas break not only move to Accra, but to escape the heat. And beat the heat we did…the pristine winter wonderland of the French Alps followed by being buffeted by the best the Irish Sea had to offer with a trip to Northern Ireland.
It’s a slightly guilty sensation taking Christmas holidays when you don’t live in your home country. The guilt can be manifest in two ways: that you have no desire to spend Christmas in your adopted country, or that you are not making your way back to familiar (‘home’) shores to celebrate, perhaps as you have always done, with family and friends. But this year we managed to celebrate not only with friends, but with family too.
One of the things I love about this expatriate life is showing the children what an amazing world we life in. At once so big, so varied and so beautiful, and at the same time, for us very fortunate ones, how accessible it can be as well.
Of all the thousands of planes taking millions of people around the world, one plane left Ghana, another plane left Kyrgyzstan and both arrived in Switzerland; and two families of old friends, who hadn’t seen each other for almost a decade stood in a hotel lobby grinning at each other. Two sets of lives, running parallel; with work dominated by the same industry and life dominated by the challenges of raising children and the trickiness of living in developing countries.
The familiar ease not lessened by long stretches of time, we had great conversations about life, about work, about child raising, about whether we should eat another plate of prawns or an extra bowl of gelato. And, of course, updates on the days skiing adventures. Celebrating over the amazing food none of us had been able to get for months, enjoying just one (or maybe two) more glasses of wine while our children, who had never met, probably decided it was just best if they get on with it, and leave the adults to their chatting and our incredulity of actually getting it together, and seeing each other.
Our week in the snow white beauty of the Alps ended and with our tropically acclimatised bodies barking with coughs and runny noses we pitted our immune systems against the Northern Irish weather and headed to Belfast.
Family is an amazing thing isn’t it? People we hadn’t seen in 15 years, welcomed us into their homes, and gave us a wonderful few days. Family who (apart from the children) hadn’t aged a day due to the apparent lack of UV radiation in their lives.
There was Christmas to be celebrated again, tea to be drunk, castles to be visited, and stories of mad Irish relatives to laugh and shake our heads about (and I’m just saying, I’m pleased it’s not my DNA). It was a gift to our children to show them the childhood homes and haunts of their Granny and Grandpa’s, and stories of them as children. We drove through ridiculously green countryside, laughed at the sheep, marvelled at the glorious light of the high latitudes, and the sunsets at 4.30pm! And of course, drank more tea.
Five days was not nearly enough time to enjoy not only family connections, but all the sights of Northern Ireland. We had to squeeze in the shopping too: good shoes and printer ink, pretty stationery and clothes for school, phone repairs and new underwear. Like country bumpkins we wandered through grocery stores and shopping malls. At once marvelling, but also feeling slightly overwhelmed and probably a little horrified at all the consumer choice. We stopped one night at a 24hour petrol station outside a small town, and the range of food there was better than what is available in Kumasi. I know it would only take a few weeks of living there and it would all seem normal again; but I like to hope that when we return to the privileged first world, we all remember those feelings of excess.
And then all the chats and the dinners and catch-ups were over. With suitcases and waists bulging, we boarded the plane. Seven hours later we pushed our way through the crowds and out into the heat and humidity of a Ghanaian night.