Saturday, March 28, 2009


I woke up in a different place. After 23 hours of travel you can completely change your environment; your accent; your approach; your diet; your clothing; your expectations; your feelings. You can change all of these things and fit right in to your surroundings such that nobody notices anything out of the ordinary. It somehow seems foreign to not be in a foreign environment. I can hear Canadian accents all around me from people I don’t know, and won’t make the effort to know. I can’t believe how much stuff women carry with them when they travel with infants. The stroller is a like a vehicle with a glove box, cup holder, and cruise control. Their arms are overloaded with goods that could neatly sit on their heads if they just coiled up one of those little blankets they have stuffed into the side compartment. Such an inefficient use of transportation surfaces.

Leaving Ghana was relatively easy. I bought a ticket. I packed some things, including a multitude of gifts from my friends and neighbours. I gave gifts to my friends and neighbours. We talked about how relatively easy it will be to keep in touch – especially if they can sign up for an email account. We talked about the time-zones and how calling me when they first get up in the morning won’t be well received. I boarded a bus that in true Ghanaian style took 5 additional hours and 1 additional bus than it required to get to Accra. I left Tamale, the dust, the sun, the heat, the rowdy children instinctively calling to me when they see me pass. I left Stephen, Esther, Alice, and their soon to arrive little son. I left my sisters Patience, Grace, Maggie, Amashetu and a compound full of activity, laughing, worries, song. I left Greg, Habib, Eric, Timothy, Zulfawu, Bertha and Yvonne to continue everything we had started in a year of assessing and planning for a stronger more deliberate approach to managing development in the Northern Region. I left Vida, Mahmud, Peter, Priscilla, Lydia, Amshawu, Stephen, Ibrahim, Matthew, Adam, Kobiru, and so many other faces that accompanied along my paths through Tamale, through 13 months of knowing that there was so much more to understand everything around me. I laughed, I cried.

Sleep Walking

I came back to an unfamiliar familiarity. Box stores, box restaurants, and recycled ideas that appear “out of the box.” It’s easy to see only what you want to see. I can stare at houses, furniture, flatware, and imagine making a completely comfortable home. I can imagine adopting a life like so many people, doing the same things everyday without much awareness of the majority of the world around them. Who would want to crush themselves by carrying the weight of the world when you don’t have to and you can’t solve it all anyway?

So much seems the same, yet of course I can’t see it that way. While I was away from Canada America elected its first visibly black president; Canadian politics had a temper tantrum and prorogued itself. Gas prices skyrocketed; the world briefly recognized a food crisis, the stock market crashed. Canada decided to “focus” its aid efforts on countries with easier markets to access and natural resources to mine. China went into space, and hosted a fabulously flashy and controversial Olympic Games. A lot happened, and so much didn’t. I can be angry and disappointed, but I can’t let it overwhelm me. Canada is no more a single attitude, a single background or a single outlook than Africa is a single country, a single culture, or a single destiny. There’s hope all around me in the hearts and minds of those swimming through all of the distractions, determined to do something.


I’ve really come to appreciate that the bigger picture always seems to present more problems than solutions. Digging deeper only complicates it all, and it’s easy to fall prey to cynicism or worse, apathy. But I’ve also come to appreciate that worrying about macro scales is only helpful if I recognize that all I can ever hope to do is make a difference in the sphere of people right around me. If I can do that well, and in a way that helps them to do the same, then despite not being able to truly attribute any change to myself, I believe I can still do more than anybody who from a distance tried to apply a far reaching policy or formula to stimulate change. For me it’s only about people, and it only ever has to be.

Real People

Sister Maggie: my next door neighbour
Mahmud: my tailor made friend
Yvonne, Zulfawu, Bertha independent women from the RPCU
Stephen and Esther: my Ghana family
Esther: my princess
The EWB Governance & Rural Infrastructure Team in Ghana
Timothy: friend and colleague from the RPCU
Greg: boss, mentor and inspiration & friend
Zulfawu: friend and sister on the move
Habib: friend, colleague and new father
Yvonne, Zeblim, new smock: memories of northern Ghana
Peter: friend and confidant for life
Sister Amashetu, Sister Patience: warmth for my soul

I left the work in Ghana in the very capable hands of my Ghanaian colleagues and another EWB volunteer, Dan, along with the 3 other team members working with the districts in Northern Region, to support them in implementing everything we’ve aspired to do. I’ve come back determined to support the work in any way I can from Canada.

The faces of the RPCU and development in Northern Region

I don’t know exactly what’s next. I expect this will be my last post on this blog as it is. At least until I have another story to write. My truly supportive father commented to me on my last day in Ghana that he was happy to have me coming home, yet feeling sadness that this part of my life was closing; that neither he nor I would be hearing about Ghanaians in the same way anymore.

Thank you for joining me in this incredible year. Thank you for supporting me, for filling me in on news at home. Thank you for asking questions, for reflecting on thoughts and ideas. Thank you, for believing in me and everyone you’ve come to know through my writing. I don’t know if any of this will inspire you to think or do anything different. It doesn’t have to. It’s changed me, as I knew it would.



Kyle said...

Great post Jen!

I know exactly what you mean when you mention baby strollers. I went into Amsterdam en route back from Ghana and couldn't help but point out the number of obrunis or notice how vehicles would stop for pedestrians. They seemed like such foreign concepts!

Looking forward to seeing you soon,

Michael said...


For the differrnce you made, and sharing this year with us in your blog postings.

I (we) are all so looking forward to seeing you again soon.

nicky said...