In talking to a good friend today, I came to realize how much my perspective on life has changed, now that I am back home. I have only now really began the process of reflecting on my trip and how it has impacted me. More than ever before, I am realizing that life is too short and that it’s so important to live to the fullest, because you only get one shot. I am such a believer that it’s possible to do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it. It’s a message that we often preach to children, but so often we as adults forget to take our own advice. I believe excuses can sometimes just be fear, disguised. In thinking about my own experience, I feel so lucky that this summer I was able to go to Ghana and live out my dream, and that with every day that passes, I am able to gain further perspective from my experience.
As some of you may know, at the age of 19 I lost a best friend to cancer, an experience that changed my life, as well as my perspective on life overall. There was so much Ali was not able to experience, and watching her lose her life at such a young age changed me as a person. I used to be somewhat shy, timid, afraid to try new things. When Ali passed it was one of the hardest, saddest times in my life-but it was also the moment I decided to take advantage of what life has to offer. As cliche as it sounds, I really understood that life is too short, and you really never know what lies ahead. From that moment on, I was determined to try new things and to live my life, and live the life Ali would have wanted to live herself. It’s what helped me gain courage in college to go abroad by myself, to try new things, and make new friends…and even in trying new things to this day.
I felt compelled to write tonight, because of my newfound appreciation for the Ghanian mentality I observed, and the difficulty I am recently experiencing in trying to have others around me understanding it . As I got to know the people and culture of Ghana during my stay I always saw such comrade, genuine compassion for others, and happiness all around. The school children may not have had any toys to play with, a clean uniform, or maybe just enough money for a small piece of bread for breakfast. The adults didn’t always have a pen or pencil to grade a test, or enough money to go to the college they wanted that year….but, they were all happy. They found happiness in the littlest things.
I started to take on that mindset while there-and it felt SO good. It’s not what we Americans are used to- especially in New York. Life moves fast. There’s high anxiety, a lot going on around us, people always on the go, places always to be- and in turn, a lot for us to worry and stress about. Then there’s extra drama that’s created by friends and people around us, adding even more “stuff” to our lives. It’s almost unnatural for us in our society to stop and find happiness from little things..to not sweat the small stuff..to look at the bigger picture. We live in a smartphone-obsessed, drama-frenzied culture. The next best thing. Bigger is better. Less is certainly not more. Facebook so actively a part of our lives. Drama constantly keeps us entertained, and clothes keep us stylin’.
In Nkroful, the small village in which I stayed, it just wasn’t like that at all. Adapting to this new mind-set at first honestly was a bit of a challenge. No blackberry and no internet at first was almost anxiety provoking. I felt naked. We are so used to talking to everyone, knowing who’s where and what is going on, that it’s like we lose focus of what’s really important..and right in front of us. You know what though? After 3 weeks of none of that, I LOVED it. It helped me really focus on what I was in Ghana to do. It helped me live in the moment, and not worry about silly little things I’d normally worry about at home. It made me feel more productive, and every morning I woke up with such a clear and positive mind. It was great! Every day I came home SO dirty from working with the kids. I gained weight from the carb-fest it was. My hair a fro, and quite knotty. I didn’t look at a mirror for days at a time, and sometimes, we weren’t able to shower every day-but when you work with people who are so less fortunate than you- you realize all those things don’t matter at ALL, and your priorities start to change.
I learned so much and gained such new perspectives on life, and feel so lucky to have had the chance to do so. I ‘ve had a hard time coming back and adapting to New York, and work life . I don’t just miss Ghana but I also miss being around a culture who thinks so calmly and positively about everything. Because I won’t be able to go back to Ghana so quickly, I have been trying my best rather than being sad, to focus on the positive and realize how proud I am for the entire experience. I’m proud of myself for following my own mantra of living life to the fullest by taking a plunge and trying something new, living out a dream I’ve always had. I’m excited to share that I have applied for, and recently accepted the position of Team Leader for next year’s Ghana volunteer program! I couldn’t be happier knowing I will for sure be back to visit my new favorite place in summer 2012!!! Though I miss it a lot, I am excited at the opportunities that lay ahead this year, in continuing my work with Ghana and it’s people.
Not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought or dreampt about one of the kids, or the teachers, or a place, or the food. Today I received a call from one of the teachers and it made my day! It’s such a nice feeling knowing I have made such special connections with both children and adults there; I have a feeling somehow, we will always stay connected.
I write this blog today to share with you how thankful and proud I feel to have been able to live my dream of going to Africa to help others- but also to encourage you to do the same. Do something you’ve always wanted to do. Try something new (be it a rollercoaster, or frog’s legs!). Try a new language. Eat a new food. Take that zumba class. Do something alone for the first time. Apply for a new job. Go on a trip. Volunteer. Take a risk. Be fearless. As my mother always says,
“Life is not a dress rehearsal. You only go around once.” 🙂
I leave you all with this great song that is really popular in Ghana, but that also has such a positive life message about living in the moment: