I’ve been in Ghana continuously for more than a year now. Most expats return to “the world that works” every 3-4 months. Due to personal obligations, I have been not afforded that reprieve. Without that release, I find myself becoming more African and less of my old self. “African” implies:
- A more expansive and inclusive definition of family
- A strong desire to have a big family
- More religious
- More charitable
- A more patriarchal view of family
- A less constrained and more “realistic” view of marriage
Because of what I have experienced, I’m afraid that I would not recognize myself when I eventually return the US. Work, my social life, and my “me time” have all shaped the person I feel I’m becoming.
Last March, I tried to jump-start my company by doubling down on more inventory and marketing, hiring staff, and steering the company to grow. As economic headwinds reached gale levels, I first laid off staff, then reduced marketing and inventory investments, and finally had to admit that the timing or market or business model were not aligned. A month ago, I closed my business.
As my business struggled, I tried to hedge myself by learning French and web programming. Though I dropped the former, I am happy that I am still trying to study the latter. In order to make ends meet, I’ve returned to trading US equities. It’s more stressful than my business but offers the chance to earn a living despite my circumstances.
Apart from work, I have sought friends and companionship among Ghanaians. Let’s just say after a year of Rotary, InterNations, and going out, I have found the whole scene wanting. Most Ghanaians live in a small world. They seem to lack curiosity. For instance, many do not even travel to neighboring countries, e.g. Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Togo. They seem resistant to try new things or learn about distant and different places. Their brand of Christianity hardly resembles that of the West; funerals, naming ceremonies, and weddings occupy most of their weekends; their attitude toward foreigners — money making targets — makes me feel alienated. Lastly, Ghanaians are also pretty bad at small talk.
Oddly enough, I also find it hard to relate to expats. The bulk of American expats are in their early 20s and come to help those in the villages as part of Peace Corps or some other philanthropic mission. Their mix of grit and idealism make them somewhat hard to relate to — even in America.
A minority of American/European male expats are in their 50s as part of oil, construction, or mining companies for 1-2 year contracts. (They usually return home every 3 months.) The young 20 year old local female companions sitting beside them at the hotels and bars make them easily identifiable. I’ve spoken to a handful of them. They are largely economic refugees who previously worked in Ireland, England, Greece, and Spain. They’ve come here to earn at least $8,000 – net of taxes — and send the majority of that money home to support their wives and children. I can understand why they may get lonely from time to time.
Lastly, there is a group of returnee Ghanaians who were educated abroad yet have decided to return for seemingly better opportunities in Ghana. I have a handful of these friends. Since they usually live with Ghanaian relatives, they can be hard to pin down on the weekends.
With few people to relate to, I spent a lot of time alone. In some ways, I feel more independent because I don’t have to answer to anyone. Events last year stretched me such that I grasped for things to keep me level. Sometimes I behaved recklessly. Other times, I found myself reading the Bible.
With so much time alone, I decided to address some of my weaknesses. For instance, I used to feel like I was in a rush to make money and become successful. I used to compare myself to my peers and heap more pressure on myself to get ahead. These frustrations would brew inside and occasionally come out in unexpected ways. My experience in Ghana and some books have mellowed me out and prompted me to take a “golf approach” to life. I’m just out to reach my personal best.
I know I have changed. Stress, people, and my environment have shaped how I think and behave. I’ve tried to stay grounded by constantly talking to family and friends. But this time in Ghana seems to be shaping forever my priorities, desires, and needs. Part of me worries if I will be able to relate to those I love; part of me isn’t sure if I care.