Let me start by saying that being told by an immigration officer that you can’t go home because “on paper you’re not from here/there” is pretty painful to hear.
That was what I was told by the Ghanaian consulate in Rwanda when I wanted to apply for a visa to visit Ghana for the Christmas holidays and also because I haven’t been there since I left 8 years ago. The immigration requirements are pretty ridiculous and unnecessary so basically if one doesn’t apply from their home country- in my case the U.S. – it’s pretty impossible to visit the country. Oh and get this, it’s freaking 2016 and they don’t offer visa on arrival for anyone regardless of country. Anyway being frustrated and turned down in Rwanda didn’t deter me so one of the first thing I did when I got to Ethiopia was to visit the Ghana high commission and pretty much grovel to be considered for a visa to go home. Thankfully the guy in charge was very understanding and asked for a copy of my mom’s passport before he would consider me for a visa. Before I started my project and traveled around Ethiopia in early December, I turned in application and around a week before the end of January, I got a call that I had been granted a visa- I don’t know how to do a back flip but if I knew how to, that’s the first thing I would have done. I mean Christmas had passed by then but I was glad that they gave me the chance
Fast forward, after a 10 hour flight I was in disbelief that I was actually in Accra waiting to be picked up by my mom at the airport. I doubt I can use words to fully describe how it felt seeing my mom again after so many years apart but I’ll always remember the words she said when she saw me – “Wow! My baby boy is now a big man”. After a long hug which led to many people at the airport staring awkwardly, we went home and so began a much needed break to ground myself and to relax from doing my project continuously because i was feeling burnt out. On our way home, I think I caught my mom staring at me multiple times- I’m not a fan of being stared at– but it was cool, 8 years is too damn long. Arriving home was followed by a series of phone calls to numerous family members to announce my arrival and receive well wishes in the most Ghanaian/ African way as possible.
My first week back home was filled with endless meals and the trying of new recipes because lord knows my mom couldn’t stop cooking even if she tried. I had lost a good amount of weight from all the delicious vegan dishes in Ethiopia but Ghanaian food is not vegan friendly- annnd my grandma famously said that in Ghana if you don’t eat meat you go deaf. Speaking of my grandmother, I went to visit the wonderful old lady and it really great to see her still smiling, making jokes and being herself even though it was a little sad that she no longer remembered me because of her dementia. Nevertheless, it was honestly good to be back, seeing many people and doing so many familiar things that I hadn’t done in so long. So many things had changed and some were still familiar, some of the changes I saw coming and others were shocking and completely out of the blue.
I can talk about these changes for a long time but I’ll just focus on the one that shocked me the most because it’s more closely related to my project. As the story goes, I’ve always longed to revisit my grandfather’s home town because it’s my upbringing in that community that sparked my interest in public health. Going back there, I had expected to see several changes and perhaps some key developments in how the town looked and the people that lived there but damn! What I saw was totally unexpected. It was like the town was dead! Everyone had left, there were barely any young people around and it felt like all the life that was in town had been sucked out by some crazy vacuum- I believe that vacuum might be the twin brother of globalization. Also, all the things that made the town feel like home was either falling apart or already gone, all the cocoa crops and the large mangoes trees had been cut down and most of lands were just bare! Not sure if I’d have experienced this change differently if I hadn’t left Ghana but that was one painful experience which I guess relates to the new natural cause of life i.e. globalization and other forms of neocolonialism.
On a lighter note, I passed by my old kindergarten and got the ultimate trip down memory lane when I saw my kindergarten teacher, auntie grace who was still teaching the kids and actually remembered who I was. I mean at this point I felt really old but just imagine how she felt- well she was mainly proud to see someone she helped nurture so grown up and so mature. On the trip back to the central region, I kept thinking about how much I would have preferred to keep my old memories instead of seeing what the town was like now but in a way, I was glad I went because all that change emphasized how much I’ve changed as an individual and how inevitable it is to stop changes from happening. Being back home wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, there were some harsh realities that I had to face and think about I know I am capable of handling them. With that being said, leaving Ghana again was bittersweet but it was a trip worth taking because I needed to ground myself before continuing this journey and being back home helped with that process a lot.
When leaving home, I figured that I deserved more time off, especially some exploration that wasn’t within areas that weren’t near my project destinations. So I stopped over in Germany to visit friends I met while in Peru which was really fun and relaxing because I can’t say no to beer, especially when it’s a quality German beer. Being in Germany also gave me enough time to reflect more on my project as a whole because I couldn’t possibly do that at home when my mom was constantly making amazing meals – ha-ha! I didn’t do a lot of tourist things in Germany because it was freaking cold but it was still fun to see places like Munich and Berlin and that was it….. Okay that’s not all, I made a short trip to Prague which felt dreamlike because the city is unbelievably beautiful: Oh and of course a trip to Europe wouldn’t be complete without seeing Paris and eating a few baguettes. Having this break was fun but I began to feel guilty because things started to get expensive and also I needed to get to Asia before the monsoon seasons got closer. So I booked my trip to Nepal where I plan to stay for a month before heading to Myanmar. I look forward to bringing you more fun updates soon! Au Revoir!