Monday, 26 January 2009

The biggest danger in West Africa...

I’ve made various introductions to the driving experience here in Ghana, but haven’t really given an in depth description as to what one could expect upon traveling via motor vehicle here. Prior to coming, I was given fair warning about the road conditions and the need for 4x4 vehicles to travel anywhere out of the city (this is no hyperbole.) However, the actual experience of being in a vehicle (paved roads or not) is an adventure all its own.

I’m going to start with a description of the vehicles. In Accra (Ghana’s capital city) it isn’t uncommon to come across beamers, Audis and a good ol’ Mercedes Benz once and a while, but the high majority of traffic noise is made up of broken down taxis and tro-tros clogging the road ways.

I’ve mentioned the honorable condition of the tro-tro’s before and I’ve discovered that the ones that appear to be in the best state tend to break down first. They are beat up old 12 passenger vans and it seems almost mandatory that duct tape be some how incorporated into the inner décor and multicoloured panels on the outer. The exhaust comes in multiple colour choices from blue to black to white, and sometimes all three at once!

They are the most common form of public transport from within city “milk runs” (the term for ones that stop frequently) and the long distance ones from village to village. Usually, they are run by the driver and a mate; the mate’s job is to make sure the tro-tro is full and collect all the money. Sometimes the mate’s duties are a lot more intense than that (like when we were driving to Tamale and he literally had to run to every water hole to fill a jug with a water to keep the radiator full and the engine from over-heating.) Now, when I say “keep the tro-tro full” I don’t mean 11 people full. I mean 16 people full, sometimes 18 or 19 people full. It’s not uncommon to be squished 4 or 5 in a row between two enormous market ladies with pans full of commodities taking up any possible head room you might have had and bags of yams under your feet so that you are curled into a upright, immobile fetal position (now imagine 3 hours like that.) If you are lucky enough to get a spot on the end next to a window, you will receive the luxury of smacking your noggin on the low curved corner of the roof where it joins to the window seal. Riding shot-gun doesn’t combat any of the glories of traveling by tro-tro. You just get an up front and personal preface to the horror that is traffic in Africa (or the smell of burning rubber as the frame of the vehicle bounces off the front tire.)

Most of the people who own cars will hire a driver, paint the fenders yellow and send it out as a Taxi to bring in some coin during the day. I always thought this was an ingenious and resourceful use of an asset that in no other way could make you money in the long run. Ranging from North American standards to “Oh my God, you want me to sit in there!”, they tend to be an equally dangerous, but more comfortable way to get from A to B.

There are two ways of traveling by taxi here and it is extremely important to clarify with a driver before getting into an empty cab which one you want. The first is called “dropping” and it is the same as how we use Taxi’s in North America, where you are the only customer and are dropped off right at your destination. “Picking” is the other, and it is when multiple customers who are heading in the same general direction will take the cab together and pay a smaller fee and be dropped off when the are near where they are going. It sounds annoying, but for 35cents, it’s totally worth it. Numerous times I’ve almost got in cabs who wanted to charge me for dropping rather than picking – this is dangerous when you are white because they will undoubtedly try to rip you off. That is why it’s also important to agree on a price before getting in the cab (they don’t have meters, so it’s all based on negotiations.)

Drivers have to make a certain amount just for the owner of the vehicle before they can claim any of it for themselves, so they are as aggressive as one can be about giving rides to sell their services. Horn honking becomes a language all its own that can communicate easily with hand signals. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the beeping and blasting of the cars and it will make you feel a little jumpy behind the wheel if you are used to driving in North America. There is a joke that the only time cars in Ghana go for repair is if the horn is broken (all jokes have some amount of truth, this one more than others.) After some time here the blaring horns stop making you jump and you become accustomed to their meanings, which varies. There is the typical “Get out of the way” that we like to use in North America. The “Need a ride?” that the taxi drivers are so good at pronouncing. The “I’m passing you”, which still freaks me out. The “It’s ok to pass”, which I often sounds a lot like the “It’s not safe to pass” (it’s a very slight difference I’m told). Then there is the “Hurry up”, the “Slow down”, the “Get off my ass”, the “Pull over”, the “Pull out”, the “Where’s the nearest chop joint?” and “Does that come with a coke?”. I’m serious when I mean that they honk about everything. When Darrin asked a Ghanaian why this was, he was told because they forget they are driving, and if you don’t honk they won’t remember. It’s really just a safety precaution if you look at it that way.

One night driving through Accra with a Ghanaian friend (who hates the honking as much as I do), he tried to make it all the way to our destination across town without using his horn. He didn’t make it. It seems silly, because I actually don’t think I’ve ever honked the horn in a vehicle while driving. I’ve also never been in a situation that would require that kind of urgency. But still, the idea of not being able to simply drive across town without having to honk your horn is a little bit insane.

I think the drivers here follow the passage “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” They pull out/ open their doors/ pass around corners/ drive through intersections/ drive backwards down highways and will ask questions later.

I am 100% serious when I say (whether I’m in the car or not) that the biggest threat to my existence in this country is the traffic.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Dude, where's our self-efficacy?

I’m not arguing naivety, and I’m definitely not quarrelling narcissism, but I am never going to give in to the envious, loathing, manipulative, discouraging, DISHONEST evaluations that my elders are using during this global crisis to label and postulate the future of my generation! It’s outrageous! It’s maddening! And, worst of all, it’s only going to make the situation worse for the ware!

I cannot count the number of Net Gen and Millennial articles I have read over the past year that continue to mark who we are (who I am!) and predict where we are going (where MY life is headed!) based on a stereotypical view of the oh-so-special treatment we received growing up. It was the “Dude, where’s my job?” article in the most recent Maclean’s issue that withdrew the last coin from my piggy bank of patience on this matter.

I know we are naïve; I know we still believe the world revolves around us; I know we have been fed vast amounts of self-esteem raising desserts growing up; But why should any of this predict that we are a generation that has been “left poorly prepared to weather a tough economic storm”? I’ve never heard of a generation that didn’t pass through seasons of inexperience and narcissism. It’s not solely us who have gone through this - every man and woman to leave behind their early twenties have wrestled it. It’s simply a part of growing up, and if we deny ourselves that, we are missing a huge step in growth and learning (and that might actually have a negative effect on our abilities.) And as for the self-esteem raising attempts of our parents, while the small percentage of us can be labeled spoiled, the brain-washing of our childhood didn’t stick. I’m not close to exaggerating when I say that a large majority of my generation continue to battle with low self-esteem and self-efficacy. And it’s because those are issues everyone needs to work through during their life - it’s not something 20 years of cake and trophies can magically prevent!

I despise how these articles paint us all with this brush of blind, deaf and dumb zombies who are now asking for over-the-top compromises from the companies we want to work for. The way I see it, we are offering the world a new perspective on employment and work-life that needs to be embraced. Why should we get called lazy and spoiled simply because we think there is nothing wrong with enjoying our work? After all, it was the generations preceding me that taught me to look for a career I would love and to always take time to smell the roses. Now, because I’m actually taking that stuff to heart, I’m being criticized for it like it’s a bad thing! NO! I will not stand for that. Why are journalists continuing to make wanting recognition and positive feedback over monetary motivation appear negative?

This article in Maclean’s by Lianne George verges on manipulative. Life’s going to be hard - yeah, I get it. Why is everyone acting like we were promised this huge life package after graduating that we all of sudden aren’t going to get anymore? Yes, I imagine we felt a little more fortunate than previous generations that allowed us to set our aspirations and expectations slightly higher, but it’s not as though multiple generations before us didn’t have startling, eye-opening obstacles in the way of their dreams. This articles irritates me to the bone because it plays on the one lie my generation grew up believing more than all the others: We do not have the power to create change.

I despise looking around at my peers and see how they continually feel at the mercy and control of large institutions, universities, corporations, and governments - do they truly believe that they can’t make a difference? I so often point the finger at apathy as the culprit that makes my generation lethargic at the voting poles. I blame selfishness for the lack of effort to better our society. But this article, it shines an enormous spotlight on the true issue that makes my generation appear languorous, and it is absolutely heartbreaking. It highlights a major concern of mine - the lack of seen power to influence the way the world works. As my peers continue to battle for control of themselves and their lives, they’ve completely lost hope that they can make changes in the world around them.

“Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead.

Well, I’m not going to sit idly by while the world’s economy crashes and rebuilds itself. I refuse to be at the whim and mercy of any government, organization or preceding generation who put us in this place to begin with! What a ridiculous accusation to say that we are unfit to handle such an economic downturn simply because we are overly optimistic. Multiple cohorts before us have battled such severe storms, why would anyone ever claim that we couldn’t? After all, they claim we are armed with more ambition to get what we want then any other age bracket previous; that should only be further proof that we will come out of this on top.

What maddens me most about the undertone of the article is how it assumes the responsibility of the future is in the hands of those currently trying to employ us. Like we are mere robots who just need to have the right buttons pushed and input the correct code in order for us to behave the way they want us to, and then maybe the world has a chance at turning out OK.
Well, I don’t want to be a robot! We ARE the future. We need to have a strong influence on where it is going. It’s our hard work, our resourcefulness, our mindsets, our dedication and determination that is going to determine how the next set of decades will look. It’s not up to our preceding generations to decide this for us - it’s up to us. And we need a vision! We need to decide now what we want the world to look like and develop a plan for how we are gong to live it out!

The ever-famous, “United we stand; Divided we fall” quote comes to mind. We need lots of those small groups of people set on changing the world, because right now we are in a time where the world is going through lots of changes, and it’s up to us (yes, as INDIVIDUALS and as groups) to make sure it’s going where we want it to.

And this is not about “irrational entitlement” as George claims. I don’t think we automatically deserve more than previous generations, or are capable of greater accomplishments, but I do believe that the world is not at a stand still. It is going to either move forward or backwards and I’m going to make damn sure it isn’t the latter.

“What happens when the most entitled generation in history slams into the worst job market in 30 years?” George asks. To put the answer bluntly - we are going to see some brilliant changes over the next few years.

“The generation that will change this world is the generation that the world cannot change…”- unknown.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Only the stars to light my way...

“Darrin, I can’t see you anymore – are you in front of me or behind me?”

“In front of you”

“I can’t see where I’m going! – Where’s the road?”

“Just follow the light at the end of the road.”

“What light? All I can see are the stars and a faint outline of the trees”

“The light at the top of the hill. Can’t you see it?”

“Oh, kind of. Ah! Ditch!”

Four kilometers of pitch black road later, our ancient and broken down bicycles got us back to our guest house. We stayed at Mole National park a little later than night fall, and it happened to be the one time I didn’t bring my headlamp along with me, so we blindly followed whatever distant light we could to get us back to Larabanga. Somehow I managed to stay upright the whole time despite the fact that the dirt road was made for 4x4 vehicles and we were on road bikes. Darrin and I were laughing so hard I was practically crying. Fleeting thoughts of the fact that we were in a park with lions, leopards and elephants crossed my mind, but I dismissed them realizing I have a better chance of being attacked by a black bear in my home town, than a lazy lion while riding my bike in West Africa howling with laughter at the fact that I can’t even see my own hands.

When we made it back to the guest house, we were greeted my an infuriated local who was mad that we had taken his bicycles for the whole day. The owner of the guest house had made the arrangements for us and told us we could use them for the whole day, but apparently informed him we would have them back by 10am. I let Darrin argue with the man and went inside to journal about the elephants that walked 10ft in front of us, the baboons drinking out of the pool while people sun-tanned, the safari walks we took, and the fight I got into with the server at the bar (he brought me the wrong beer and opened it and then wanted me to pay for it!).

After eating crackers and sardines for dinner with a mini mango for desert, I climbed up the skinny ladder made from a tree branch onto the roof of the guest house where the owner had laid out our mattresses. I’ve always wanted to sleep out under the stars – never imagined the first time I would do it would be in the middle of a Muslim community in the North of Ghana on some guy’s roof. It was amazing. The longer I stared at the sky, the more stars would appear, and longer I stared at the stars, it began to feel like I was up there in the sky with them (a really odd feeling.)

The next morning we were awakened by chanting and singing through the speakers of the nearby mosque (the first one in Ghana, actually). It was also the first time I’ve felt cold here. The nights up North actually cool-off unlike in the South where I live. We packed up our stuff and then rushed out the door to catch our 4:30am bus to Damongo, the connecting spot to Kumasi (where we were headed next to meet up with the German couple we met on the boat.) We grabbed a quick omelet and bread at a roadside stand to take with us on the next Tro-tro.

That Tro-tro in itself was quite an adventure. The man who was collecting the money tried to cheat us by asking more than the cost, and Darrin and I didn’t know how much it should actually cost. After paying, the girl next to me informed that she paid less and we should get our money before the tro-tro takes off. So I told Darrin and we argued with the man about it. He refused to give us our money back and just got really angry, so we threatened to get off the tro-tro (they don’t like this because they can only leave if the tro-tro is full), so he paid us our money. The last tro-tro we had been in from Makongo to Tamale three days prior was having some serious radiator problems and kept overheating. Nearly every 20minutes they had to pull over and fill it up with water, and at one point they plugged the hole in the radiator with soap. About 10 minutes into the drive of this ride, Darrin mentioned it smelt like the vehicle was overheating similar to the last tro-tro, and 20 minutes after that, the driver pulled over and, sure enough, they’d cracked the water pump and ruined the head gasket. After two hours of trying to get the vehicle started by pushing it and pouring cold water into the boiling hot engine (yes, I’m positive they cracked the engine block) the driver waved down other tro-tros for us to squeeze into. This tro-tro appeared to be in worse condition than the last few, but at least the engine worked fine. The shocks were so bad and there were so many people crammed into it, every time we hit a bump, the body of the van on the front passenger side would bump down onto the tire to send off the aroma of burning rubber (I had the good fortune of riding shotgun during this 2 hour ordeal.)

Shocked and thankful to make it into the next town to catch another (and hopefully more efficient) Tro-tro the rest of the way to Kumasi, we stopped in Kintampo for a coke and some snacks. Then we waited another two hours at the station for our tro-tro to fill up so we could leave. At least this one made it all the way to Kumasi without breaking down or over-heating.

By the time we got to Kumasi we were seriously so covered in dirt, smoke and exhaust, I wiped my face with my white cloth and it was completely black. The next morning, I woke up with a cold, or Qatar as they call it here, so I was thankful we were heading back to Ho on Monday. I’ll get lots of time to rest this week – next week we are off to Cape Coast for some beach time!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Anywhere in the world...

(Tuesday, January 13th 2009)

With such mixed review about this ferry ride up the Volta Lake, I wasn't exactly stoked knowing I was going to be spending the next 30 plus hours on it with it's run-down bathrooms, lack of benches and extreme over-crowding - plus, the possibility of the Check Spellingmotor failing and doubling our travel time (we've heard stories.) None-the-less, every guide book I read said it was worth doing it once if nothing else just for the experience.

If you are white in this country, it's like there is an instant bond with any other white person you meet here, but no one wants to acknowledge it. We try and be polite without seeming over-eager to get to know each other, like our skin colour shouldn't make a difference. And I'm still strong-headed to say it doesn't, but it unites us as travelers and foreigners and in how we are treated by the locals, even if it is just because we are white. We met a whole crew of Germans on the boat: a girl slightly older than myself who was taking a two week unplanned holiday around Ghana simply making things up as she went along; a crew of 3 who were traveling Ghana on a shoestring budget for the month; two young men who were volunteering at a elementary school in Kumasi; this absolutely delightful couple who were also volunteering in Kumasi as teachers and were taking some holiday time. There was a boy from Holland as well who kept mostly to himself, but that was pretty much the white folks. The other 150 people on the boat were Ghanaians.

The girl from the couple was the first traveler I've met here that I've really been able to connect with. We spent the whole night talking about dozens of different things from our experiences here, to life at home, to God and religion. Darrin and her beau were off the side, also talking away.

We stayed immersed in conversation for hours, for myself, just so excited to feel like I was finally with a girl I could relate too. The two of them also had to go home to make a lot of decisions about their lives and she was almost as equally distraught as I was about the conquest of planning for the future while not letting her concerns get in the way of the adventures she was having here. Somehow in just having another person to sympathize with and truly believe things were going to work out fine for her, I began to believe the same for myself. Like by hearing her advice, despite having told it to myself already, and by giving her mine, despite that she knew it already, I was finally convinced. I really don't have to worry about it. I can let it all go. I can just enjoy now.

The four of us talked well into the night when the moon shone bright above us, full and extraordinary. We took turns trying to point out the face in it's shadowed surface and eventually all concluded that the man on the moon was actually an infant. The Germans went to bed shortly after and it was just Darrin and I staring up at the sky. Harmatan has set in so heavy now that the dust and smoke made everything around us a total haze. I marvelled at the moonlight on the water for an epic length of time, the silvery glow of the earth's night light causing it to appear like bubbling mercury. That was all I could see - this glorious moon, the distant haze blocking any sight of land, the jam-packed full ferry surrounded by a vision of liquid metal folding again and again into itself.

I tried to imagine how I would feel if all that existed was what I could see at this moment: the moon, the boat, the water. I voiced these thoughts to Darrin - Well, we'd be in trouble because I don't think the diesel will last for longer than a day or two. Totally not the reflective response I was going for. I pondered to myself how I would feel if my life was simply this moment and this moment alone, imagining I would feel so unsatisfied or unfulfilled, but I surprised myself.

"I don't want to be any where else in the world right now, than on this boat,
watching the slow, countless waves abide by the wind, in the middle of West
Africa with hardly 100 dollars in my purse, listening to the mellow hum or the
engine, the fresh breeze off the water claiming my skin. I don't want to be
anywhere else in the world doing anything else at this moment. I'm so thankful
I'm here.
I laid my cloth down on the steel floor of the boat deck, untied my hair and laid down on my stomach, my head resting on my right arm with my left hand dangling off the side of the boat underneath the lowest rail bar. I thought about all the worldly things I chased in my life, sought accomplishments for, tried to find happiness through. I wanted to take a picture of this moment, like somehow the reflections of light on a piece of paper, a mere image of this moment, would freeze it in time so it could never leave me, I could keep it forever. But as quick as that thought came, I dismissed it. This moment is to be enjoyed now, not to be sought after later. There will be other amazing moments, so simple and yet extraordinary, sometimes exuberant, some hard, yet still rewarding, all for later. Such a blessing. A moment I didn't even have to seek or accomplish or deserve. Simply a beautiful night, on a beautiful lake with beautiful people to create an outstanding experience of connection and unity with not only other people, but with the Earth, with God. I fell asleep with only one thought -

"I don't want to be anywhere else in the world right now, than here."

Sunday, 11 January 2009

What did I do to my hair???

In the last 3 months I’ve had my hair braided multiple times, but always avoided having the extensions put in because someone told me that they could ruin your hair. I’ve realized that just letting a Ghanaian woman brush your hair will ruin it. I haven’t met a hairdresser here who can actually brush my hair without tearing it out – it’s like they have to make it knottier in order to be able to take the knots out. Now I make sure my hair is clean and de-knotted before going, and as it’s already been ruined by numerous braiders, I thought I would give the extensions a try – how much worse could it get?

I’ll never do it again. Six and a half hours sitting on a little wooden stool having five different girls pull my hair in alternate directions; it was more painful than a bikini wax and took 10 times as long. My butt hurt so bad after 2 hours I made them get a cushion for me – it helped for about another 20 minutes, then I just had to put up with it and constantly adjust my legs to keep them from going numb.

I think I actually called out in pain only a handful of times while they were braiding it and it didn’t make them any gentler on me. Three days later, my head still hurts. It feels like my entire scalp has been bruised. Plus, they used 2 and half packages of hair, so my head feels 2 and a half times heavier than it did before, and the muscles in the front of my neck are getting quite the workout (I keep telling myself it’s protecting me from getting whiplash riding in the taxi’s here.)

It wasn’t cheap either. I went to a new place and brought some friends with me while I was having it done and to help bargain for me (Ghanaian’s get cheaper prices), but these girls didn’t help at all! I ended up paying over double what it would normally cost and was so pissed off. Not that it’s really all that expensive in North American terms, it was just lot more than I was expecting to pay.

All of this would seem worth it if I actually liked the way it looked, but I HATED IT! It’s pulled so tight and there is so much hair it looked like a really horrible case of hair plugs at first. The way the ladies styled it, I couldn’t lay down with my head flat, and if I wore it down, it just falls in front of my face. My natural hair is so long (and no way in hell was I letting them cut it) that all the braids had to be the same length as my longest hair, which is below my chest, so it gets in the way very quickly.

I’m likening it to having really big breasts. My girlfriends who are well-endowed that way always complain that their back is sore, and that it’s hard to run and do sports because of them, and sometimes they just seem like they are in the way. That’s my hair right now; my neck is sore, it’s SO annoying to run and be active with, and it’s always getting in the way!

I could just take them out, but after the time and money that I put into it, I’m going to try and keep them for at least a few weeks. I’ve finally found some styles that I like, so maybe it will grow on me… artificially.

Darrin and I are heading North this week for some more touring and to go see the elephants, so if there is another pause in blogs, that’s why.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Just let me catch my breath...


I forgot why I came here.
Somewhere in the adventure,

and the excitement,

and the discoveries…

…the entirety of my initial intentions were lost. With everything new, everything fun, everything being such a great learning experience, I lost sight of the countless midnight prayers, blown out birthday candles, and shooting stars that I had secured to this sabbatical.

I didn’t come here for a rollercoaster ride of exhilaration and enjoyment. I wasn’t looking for the same happy-go-lucky holiday that people who need a break from their stress-filled lives hunt for. I wasn’t running away from the boredom of my life in Canada. I wasn’t seeking something fun and care-free. If those cases were true, it wouldn’t have been the brightest choice to choose an undeveloped country in sub-Saharan Africa and live with a community devoted to poverty and a simple lifestyle.

I loved my life in Vancouver. It was fun and exciting and happy-go-lucky. Sure, it wasn’t perfect and it had it’s own drama with boyfriends and bosses and friends and money, but I was happy and definitely wasn’t bored. I have amazing friends who I love dearly, and had a job that could easily have turned into a successful career for someone with a work ethic and determination such as mine. Life was really good. I’ve actually been really blessed. My entire life has been really good. Not perfect, still lots of hard times, but I’ve seen some of the shoes people walk in, and wouldn’t trade mine for anything.

And at some point, I realized this life of mine that was so ‘care-free’ trapped me. Trapped me in this idea of life that I could have continued to foolishly believe. I might as well have written “Warning: Naïve and Ignorant” on my forehead in permanent ink to keep people from confusing me with someone who was innocent.
How’s this for a reason?
I was 21 and already feeling like my life wasn’t headed where I wanted it to go.

Life was great, yes, but so unfathomably busy and well-planned that I had forgotten how to live in the moment. I was too exhausted in the evenings to bother trying to reflect on anything, and when I did, I would spiral into all my insecurities and faults that I wasn’t dealing with during the day. So to summarize, from a societal stand point, I was doing superbly. My life was well beyond where any 21 year olds should have been and was headed on a road that could only mean future success. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if I was already living “The Life”, and yet was quickly falling into a seemingly hopeless depression every time I was alone, that continuing to chase the American Dream to find happiness wasn’t going to work for me. It’s a weird state to be in when you are completely happy with your life and everything about it, and still, go home at night and acknowledge that despite how happy these ‘worldly’ things make you, you know they will never truly satisfy you to the level you are craving. And that’s where I was trapped: a stupid circle of societal wishes that would only ever amount to more money, more stuff and more depression. No wonder half of North America is on anti-depressants or addicted to alcohol; I’m not the only one that should have “Naïve and Ignorant” jiffy markered on my face.

Ok, so what does this recently graduated, hardly experienced, overly motivated young lady plan on learning in Africa?

I gave up the idea that there was ever a point in life where I would “figure things out” a long time ago. I can’t recall what triggered this realization and made me drop the fantasy, but I knew I wasn’t going to cognitively chase the answers anymore. It’s a fine balance between loving and accepting the way life is and simultaneously insisting on continuing to move forward and grow. But accepting where life is
takes a lot of patience. Patience isn’t something that my generation was armed with. While we aren’t titled the “Now” generation, we did follow them and learned a lot of their habits - bad and good.

So I did it. I took a risk. I dropped everything in search of PATIENCE to love life as it is and in search of the COURAGE to continue fighting to move forward despite how wonderful or how horrible it might seem. I, in every sense, emotionally, mentally and physically handed everything in my life over to God for him to choose what to give back to me. And it wasn't easy. Ask anyone who spent anytime with me before I left; I wasn't myself. When I left I had no idea what to expect, how long I was going to be gone and where my life was going to end up. That’s a pretty scary place to walk into: the complete unknown.

This trip to Ghana was a huge Time-Out. A chance to step out of my comfort zone and Learn about Life. I wanted to Gain Perspective that I couldn’t see by living the same life I’ve always been. I needed to Challenge Myself in a way that only God could keep me from failing at. I had to find the time for some Self-Discovery. This trip was the opportunity to Catch my Breath.

I know what made me lose sight of it because it was gone before I even handed the flight attendant my boarding pass. Somehow I was lured back into believing what everyone else was telling me about this trip. What a huge adventure I was going on! How exciting! I was set on having no expectations for, during or after the trip, and then somehow half-heartedly committed myself to wanting to travel the world because this was the time to do it - while I was young and free and single and didn’t have anything holding me back. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that, right? I know I would… if it was adventure and excitement I was looking for.

A close, lifelong, family friend of mine was killed in car accident last Monday along with her husband. I’ve know this girl since I was born. She was only 24, was married in February and gave birth to her now-orphaned son shortly after. This tragedy ravaged me back to reality, and every time I think of her, it drags me back over and over and over again. Being so far away from the life I was living made it seem like a fantasy and I was almost unsatisfied with the way my little adventure in Africa was going. Because I was so aware of how great I had it there and can see how huge a step down I took in the luxury department when moving here, it kind of felt like I was missing out on something. Like this trip was supposed to be magical excitement all day long. But then Megan comes to my mind and - through realizing I don’t actually live in a bubble where people around me don’t get hurt, where life is fair, where I’m invincible - I’m grounded and reminded that I’m not here seeking adventure. I’m here seeking patience and courage so that I can go home and appreciate life with an understanding that breaks the walls of that ‘care-free’ cube society raised me in, helps me love my life for every moment its worth and continue to drive forward with the motivation and ambition that IS Miranda.

And just like there is never a point that I will “figure things out”, there will never be a moment where I’ve become patient and courageous. Those, too, are never ending journeys. But at least now I can say I have the patience to love even the slow, uneventful days where I bide my time just sitting and journaling in the garden day-hut (even if it is the 6th day in a row because Darrin is down with Malaria after the holidays). Or how I can go a whole 24hours having done NOTHING productive with myself but know that life was still very much worth living that day if only for the thoughts and discoveries I made about myself, the air I breath, and my relationship with God.

And how I have the courage to go home and be 100% confident saying that I will never be 100% confident with myself (and I’m not willing to fake it.) And no matter what decision I make when this bout of my journey comes to a close about where I want my life to take me, I know it won’t be a mistake. Because, as the journal Jules gave me says “There is no set path…” At least now, even if I choose to devour every inch of that American Dream, I made the choice to do so because my heart told me it’s what it wanted, and not because it’s what society told me I wanted. At least, at 22, I have enough faith in my strength and ability to lead my life where I want it to go.

I’ve caught my breath.

Rest in Peace, Megan. You are now and forever, dearly loved and missed.