What Ghana taught me: live to share, live humbly, do justice, show mercy with inequity, and live life on purpose.

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 and 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. I was listening to a podcast on learning about gluten-free, whole meals. They talked about 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 are past their prime. Pesticides make for pretty looking produce. Not a lot of pesticides here, so lots of fruit look nasty.

Gluten-free here? Ha, impossible! You eat what you get.

I’m thankful for the runny oatmeal that fills my tummy at breakfast. Or a slice of that sugary white bread. Rice in the evening, always. 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. That’s clearly not me.

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. Of course, I knew that coming in. The first time I walked onto African soil, two years ago, I told myself to see it as “coming home”. (Perhaps we would make this place home, we thought. That notion made our first African trip very, very hard because this is no place like home.) An adventure Africa this has certainly been.

There are moments of adventurous exhilaration, of course. Do I see where I am?

I see the black sky with its twinkling lights. I might never see the stars sitting in these southern hemisphere 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 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 I know how far I’ve walked into the lonely wilderness, one and a half hours only seeing my husband, passing four feet high millet stalks and a lonely splash of a creek? Exhilarating moments!

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I have learned about myself and about life very quickly here. That’s what happens when you set yourself to living in a scenario you know will be challenging: intentional ground for growth.

I’ve learned I am an ambassador for my country. No one else here is from Canada. I don’t just represent one country to them: I’m called a westerner. I represent western civilization.

When I pull out a photo book of my home with local kids, like Sam, Simone, and Thomas, about our life in Canada, it is 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 again. Not an easy path.

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

They are confounded that we wouldn’t receive offers of marriage for our children. Nearing a dozen times, we’ve been asked. Even our five year old son was proposed to by a thirty year old woman…”I will wait for him”.  Though she jokes, she would do it.

Karim, a local shopkeeper, asks my thirteen year old daughter if she will marry him. “No,” Hannah says. “Why not?” he asks, “Is it because of the colour of my skin?”

“It’s not the colour of your skin,” she declares. (Possibly because I don’t even know you! Possibly because you’re proposing the first time we’ve met.)

I can declare emphatically to the church pastor’s son, Emmanuel, that, “No, I really don’t call African people the “n” word in my country.” He is surprised, disbelieving. Except that I don’t. I am even confounded that I continue to find that word in Mark Twain’s famous book, Tom Sawyer.

I tell 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 post, it’s so repugnant). I tell him that we really don’t see you as “less than” because you’re black. My kids are glad that this time in Africa, I don’t sing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world” randomly to curious children rushing toward us laughing at the colour of our skin.

We are western representatives, and I won’t lie, it’s pretty weird representing a giant portion of the world.

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

Once upon a time, I may have had lofty ideas of what I could accomplish in Africa. I intended to work in the hospital as a nurse myself, not support my husband in his efforts at the hospital or support the long-term volunteers at the hospital. I didn’t expect that much of my efforts would be to give the long-term workers a sense of comfort and community, that my efforts would be to encourage them, befriend them, and enable my kids to befriend their kids.

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We are reporters. We are the eyes that see for those who read our words. You might be not be able to travel here. (You might wonder if you even want to as we’re doused in challenge). 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 we see on television aren’t theatrical presentations to wrench money from our wallets. The stories are real, with people as real and valuable and interesting and considerate as our North American next door neighbours.

I’ll be frank: I’m confounded by some of the disorganization, frustrated that some governments are unable and/or unwilling to give their people what they need, be it roads, medical care, and basic services. I wish I could change it for them, but I pray justice prevails. Why shouldn’t these people have what we have? Basic healthcare, clean water, and an easier road to opportunity?

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

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I can move beyond my fears to do things that I might never think I would have. The lack of food availability, even for us wealthy westerners, or inconsistent water and electrical supply, exposure to illness and the threat of it, is unnerving. I’m a westerner: healthcare is taken for granted, food is always at a grocery store, and clean water is at the turn of a tap.

The lack of basic needs and the threat of unhealth, trigger my internal fears. This place teaches me to face my fears.

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I learn from Ghana that every human being wants similar things: health, happiness, and harmony.

We are all created by God, created with equal value, but with different purposes. 

So I hear the message again: live to share, live humbly, do justice, show mercy with inequities, and live life on purpose.