what I learned from our time in Ghana

I’m on my third day of malarial treatment, so I am feeling the full effects of life in northeastern Ghana.

It is hard living in the developing world.

I knew that the moment the airplane door hatch opened as the humidity blasted me with her welcome. We’ve been here less than a month and throughout the entire time, someone has been sick.

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I was listening to a podcast while lazing, recovering from malaria, in my air conditioned room this morning — learning about gluten-free, whole meals. A fruit smoothie with a slice of Ezekiel bread and nut butter. Sounds heavenly. But hilariously unreachable where I am.

They eat in season here, because they have to. They eat locally, because they have to. Some of the pineapples taste really delicious, but some definitely taste past their prime. Pesticides make for pretty looking produce–not a lot of pesticides here, so lots of fruit looks nasty.

Can’t says I’m totally against pesticides when I’ve become accustomed to a world without them. Gluten-free here? Ha, impossible! You eat what you get. Thankful for the runny oatmeal for breakfast. Or a slice of that sugary white bread. Rice in the evening. I know for a fact that most people don’t eat three times a day, and their bodies declare it with their non-enviable zero percent body fat.

I dip into feeling “Beam me up Scottie!”–I have had enough. This place does not suit my sensibilities. The bugs flicking off the ceiling fan into our lunch and dinner meals in the dining room has lost its ambience.

I want out, and I want out as fast as I can.

I’m certain it was no coincidence that one of the first missionaries we met here, a long termer from Burkina Faso, told me to see this as an adventure. I knew that coming in. Because the first time I walked onto African soil two years ago, I told myself to see it as ‘coming home’–perhaps we’d make this place home–that made our trip very, very hard. An adventure this certainly is.

There are moments of exhilaration. Do I see where I am? Can you see the black sky with its twinkling lights–I might never see the stars sitting in these southern hemisphere positions above us as I do now. Do I see that toddler strapped to her mother’s back, all skin and bones? The threesome riding the back of that motorcycle? The chubby little black babies tucked into their mommy’s sides in brilliant coloured fabrics? The taste of half-flavoured candies sitting in plastic bins on the shopkeepers’ table? Do you know how far you have walked out into the lonely wilderness of Africa–one and a half hours with only your husband–as you passed four feet high millet stalks and find yourself at a lonely splash of a creek? Do I see how healthy my fingernails are? Exhilarating moments!

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What I have learned was implanted quickly. That’s what happens when you set yourself into an intentional growth ground.

1. We’re ambassadors for our country. No one else here from Canada. I don’t really just represent one country though, rather, the entire western civilization.

When I pull out that book on my local community and share with the local kids, Sam, Muslim, Simone and Thomas, about our life in Canada, it might be the first time they’ve seen snow, even in a picture.

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I can tell Sam that it might not be better for him in our country, that he might find himself in an ethnic ghetto in a major city, with an underpaid job, far more expensive housing and food–if he wants to come to Canada, he will have to work very hard in school, qualify for a profession and have to retrain in North America. Not an easy path for him.

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I can show the feeding center director that we shouldn’t use the same unclean spoon to mix the antibiotics or supplements for the twenty children who will receive them.

This might be an opportunity to share that westerners don’t sell their children in marriage. Nearing a dozen times, I’ve been asked. Even our five year old son was proposed to by a thirty year old woman…”I will wait for him”. Unlike Karim (a local shopkeeper), I’m not eager to give permission for my thirteen year old daughter to marry him. “No,” Hannah said, “It’s not the colour of your skin. It’s because you’re a complete stranger”. He didn’t know why else she wouldn’t marry him.

I can declare emphatically to the pastor’s son, Emmanuel, that, “No, I really don’t call African people the “n” word in my country”–I told him I’m pretty sure I’d be brought up on charges if I did (I can’t even spell the n word in a blog). We really don’t see you as “less than” because you’re black. Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world… My kids are glad that this time around, I didn’t sing this haphazardly to complete strangers like I did to the Kenyan schoolchildren two years ago.

2. Sometimes our sense of purpose isn’t what we thought it would be. But our purpose doesn’t have to be profound to be purposeful, our purpose doesn’t have to be affirmed by others to be purposeful, and it doesn’t have to reap money or reputation to be purposeful.

When I might have lofty ideas of what I can accomplish here, I learn that I came to support those that are here long term, to encourage them, to befriend them, to befriend their kids.

That I’m here to support my husband, to help my kids through a forced difficult time.

That by honest, considerate dialogue, I have the most impact on those to which I feel the least familiar.

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3. We are reporters. We are the eyes that see for those who read our words. You might be not be able to travel here, or wonder if you even want to. But you can see this part of the world through our eyes.

We’re a witness to what is here, to a part of the world QUITE unlike our comfortable one.

We are the eyes to report that the World Vision commercials that we see on television aren’t theatrical presentations to wrench money from our wallets–the stories are real, with people as real as your next door neighbour. There are full countries, disorganized in their ways, unable or unwilling to give their people what they need, be it roads, medical care, services. Don’t know it can happen, but may justice prevail.

Stuff can’t get done if we don’t talk about it.

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4. And I can move beyond my fears to do things that I might never think I would have. Sometimes our fears are the only object to be afraid of — there is no reason to fear, but fear itself. I can be courageous.

5. This month in Ghana affirms what I already knew. We, every human being, want the same things: health, happiness, and harmony. We are all created by God, created with equal value but different purposes.  So I hear the message again: live to share, live humbly, do justice, show mercy wherever we see inequities. And live life on purpose.

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