Everything becomes relative when you travel from first world to third world. You leave the United States thinking you will miss things like well-brewed coffee and your cowboy boots and other materials things that now you cannot even recall the importance of, and find that those things become meaningless once you arrive in Ghana. You think you will miss those that you love and you do, but you cannot appreciate the value of connecting with them until you receive a phone call from someone very special, three days into your trip, while you are in Bolgatanga, far north in western Africa and you burst into tears with relief and an opportunity to take your brave face off for a moment and let the anxiety and vulnerability you feel wash over you as you virtually spill the overwhelm onto his shoulders from thousands of miles away.
Before you leave you worry about things like malaria, yellow fever, the appropriate clothing to wear in this new country, and stomach issues. These things are real, but they fade into the background when you are faced with the assault on all of your senses.
My traveling companion and I became hysterically giddy and silly last night as we talked over beer in her room about her experience using the restroom in the village homestead earlier in the day of our dear host, when she explained, “Robin, all I could see was a cement floor and I thought she (the woman who showed her where to go) had made a mistake. There was no hole in the ground and I couldn’t believe I was supposed to pee directly on the cement floor. But I had to go and so I did and then I saw it trickle down a slight incline into a tiny hole.”
The day before I had entered the outhouse of a friend of our host and as I opened the door to the dark room an enormous lizard slid over the wall into the outhouse next door, the one Chris was using, but I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want her to panic. As I finished and stood up to leave, I almost stepped into the hole as my backpack got caught on the wall. I burst into laughter.
Sometimes there is nothing more to do than laugh.
There is no hot water here and yet you are grateful for and celebrate your lukewarm showers. The shower in my hotel room has a hand held shower head, but it is not working so I shower squatting under the faucet to rinse off and wash my hair. Chris says, “Why don’t you tell Becky (the lovely young woman managing the hotel)?” and I say while sipping my Starbucks Via, “Oh it really doesn’t matter,” and we both burst into the crazed laughter of exhaustion again because the truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter any longer.
Everything is relative.
When I had burst into tears on the phone with Rob, I told him that I was overcome with the squalor, the poverty, my inability to find beauty in this place, combined with the lack of freedoms we take for granted at home that are as simple as my inability to freely go for a run (due to the dangerous traffic and the attention I would draw as a white woman, never mind running), walk through a marketplace without disturbance, and our vulnerability which we discover when stopped by the police twice, once just to ask what we ladies had been doing and where we were going, and the hassling I receive from an agent for Africa West Airlines when we fly from Accra to Tamale who wants me to check my backpack which carries my computer, camera and cell phone. I firmly and angrily tell him, “No.” My voice doesn’t waver at that moment because I know he is looking for the money he would receive for a checked bag and because I am in the midst of low blood sugar shakes likely brought on by the intense heat, lack of solid breakfast and the anti-malaria medication. Don’t mess with me during low blood sugar moments.
So I cry on the phone and let it out and I tell Rob that I just need to find the beauty here and let myself express the emotions I have been holding in behind a false smile and bravado and the relieve is immense. He listens to me and just hearing his voice reminds me who I am again. He reminds me what I had forgotten.
I then find and leave the picture of my bruised legs that I earned from my mountain biking experience on my computer to remind me I am a strong woman and that strength does not mean lack of emotion or bruises. It means we find a way to persevere despite our discomfort.
I fall asleep after having myself a good, solid, shaking shoulder sob, and wake the next morning to discover I have remembered how to see the beauty.