January is upon us with another season of Harmattan cloaking us in a grey blanket of dust. In my rapidly dwindling romantic notions of Africa, I am still surprised that the air here is not a cloud of red, (‘a rain of blood’, as harmattan is described by Almasey in The English Patient), but indeed it is a grey fog which leaves a film of red dust over everything. And if we keep up these romantic notions, can I extend this fog metaphor to the January time of reflections, resolutions, and for our family, anniversaries?
From the end of December, our family marks Christmas, the anniversary of my darling mother’s death, my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and in February (14, oh the irony!), our third Ghanaversary. This is all combined with the excitement, expectation, and to be honest, the sheer relief, of an annual holiday. So to say this time of the year is emotionally charged is somewhat of an understatement.
This January also marks the one year anniversiary of the children and I moving to Accra. It has been, without doubt, the smartest thing we have done since moving to Ghana. School is great, we all have the simplest of happiness’s: friends! A social set. But the move to Accra has also meant a whole new adjustment, which to be honest swings from hectic happiness to feelings of jaded frustration and lack of focus. Clearly this has impacted my writing, as life in Accra has taken a turn towards the decidedly ‘normal’. This, combined with a loss of the sense of the new, means I have been less inclined to find the frustrating fabulous and the irritating exotic. As an example I renewed my drivers licence a few days ago. Around the licensing authority is a hive of related industry, a sprawling, dusty courtyard of sorts where photocopies and passport photos must be made, and of course food vendors, who all push their wares from bubbling pots of oil to brown stews and giblet kebabs. Inside the office are ambiguous queues of people, whose emotions range from frustrated to almost despondent. In a society where information is power, a few signs directing us to the correct proceedure would be inordinately helpful, but are, of course, absent. As my time here progresses I have become more determined not to pay ‘the dash’ to facilitate any official process. But after asking the security guard where I should queue first, their very helpful response was followed by ‘Remember to pay me small small when you are finished’. But 45 minutes later, with a small sense of pride, I walked out with a renewed licence, 10GHC worse off, and smiling only at the comment from a man sitting next to me who bemoaned ‘We can’t organise anything in this country’. I guess I can’t always find such mundane activities a perverse adventure, sometimes they are just mundane.
While my draft folder is full, the lack of blog posting is intrincally tied to the absurd fear of failure being worse than doing nothing at all. Even writing those words emphasises to me absurdity of failure on my own blog. But I have struggled with my voice over the last few months. From the feedback I get from people in Ghana, they want to read about the practicalities of life here (of which is there is not a great deal of information for expats online), while the swing to the more mundane aspects of life in Accra makes me want to write more generally about life. The writing is a strange dichotomy of wanting this to be record of our lives here and providing information that others may find useful or meaningful in some way. I have let this indecision about the direction the blog should take paralyse me as to posting ANYTHING! Ridiculous, I know. But I’m a classic first-born daughter, always looking for the gold star.
January is for most of us a time of reflection. I have used these last few days before reality comes crashing back down to read Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project’, and while I lack her focus on examining every aspect of my life, I do firmly believe that the human condition is to be happy. The most important thing I took away from the book was that for happiness to flourish, it must occur in an environment of growth. We all need to be working towards something meaningful, whether it is as simple (and as difficult) as enjoying our children more, to more challenging tasks like writing a novel or learning French or becoming an astronaut.. I have also read the supremely enjoyable book by Chris Hadfield, ‘An Astronauts guide to life on earth’. Chris is a force of positive energy whose focus is second to none. From a nine year old boy to accomplished astronaut and media personality, his drive and sense of preparedness is extraordinary. And maybe that’s the secret, that this is life….and we’d better make the most of it. It will be over before any of us realise. As a very good friend of mine says, there are three secrets to happiness: 1) Something to do, 2) Someone to love and 3) Something to look forward to.
And so January comes and I am probably no wiser than I was in December, but now have a sense that this is writing is for me. I hope this brain dump will break the proverbial wall, and the writing will flow more smoothly. Hopefully youwill derive some pleasure from it as well.
And before I procrastinate any more, how about I just push that damn “Publish to six degrees north’ button!!