Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I am blessed

All my life, I've felt that I've been searching for something. I'm not even sure what that something is, but I know it is missing because I don't feel whole. There is an absence in my heart that makes it impossible for me to be happy for any sustainable amount of time. Sure, I see glimmers of happiness here and there, but it never quite sticks. Never.

I probably cause most of my own unhappiness. I tend to isolate myself out of fear. It is like I build a fort out of the empty boxes of my life, and climb inside to protect myself. Where the boxes ever even full? Or where they always empty? Just dreams...hopes, never realized. I use them as my armor, though cardboard is easily penetrable. I feel that I should make a choice and commit to it, rather than sitting in limbo just hoping the big bad wolf won't come and blow my fort down. I either need to stay in my fort and reinforce its walls with brick and mortar, or I need to knock it down, and destoy the pieces.

These last 12 months of my life have been...different. I've continually tried to do the things that scare me the most; to make the opposite decision that I would make normally; to break out of my fort. I've lived 29 years being afraid of everything and it has gotten me virtually no where. I felt it was time to face those fears and try a new road, a new philosphy.

The first step was going to Australia. As an adult, I've never really gone on a vaction. I was always afraid of what might happen at home while I was gone and therefore out of control. I was always afraid of spending money because a disaster might strike and I'd need that money to repair the damage. It became clear to me that I have been spending some much energy trying to control life, that I've really missed out on the very thing I was trying to control. So when the opportunity to go to Australia with Marieke and Lise came about, I went for it. What better way to get over my fear of travelling than to go to the opposite side of the planet? Face that fear head on. And I loved it.

Not only did I love it, but no disaster struck while I was away. Since then, I have travelled to Spain, England and the Netherlands by myself, quit my job, got rid of my apartment and came to Ghana. I've shed my armor. Now what?

This trip to Ghana has turned out to be exaclty what I hoped it would not. I was trying to avoid a volunteer placement that was about me, not the people here who need help. It has morphed into a sort of vacation, considering I have gotten nearly nothing accomplished. My NGO has basically left me out to dry. I have had near zero interaction with the organization since my arrival. Without any training or preparation, they sent me to establish an HIV education program in a remote village. I have no support, no tools, no resources, no funding. Nada. What is worse, I have no experience and no one to work with. This is ridiculous.

I've also come to find out that my counterpart and caretaker are barely given a fair wage for the work they do for me...and they can't even rely on actually being paid. Futher, the bulk of the money I spent to come here was supposed to go towards room and board. I have discovered, though, that the room I am staying in, including the electricity was donated from the homeowner. SO WHERE IS THE REST OF THE MONEY? In the NGO's pocket.

Let's do the math. I paid GVN approximately $1500 for 6 weeks. I know that approximately $300 of that was for an application fee, and I assume GVN kept this. That is fine, they provided a service. So, that leaves $1200 that went towards my actual stay here in Ghana. My counterpart gets paid at a rate of 100GHC per month, and my caretaker gets a rate of 250GHC per month. That only adds up to 525GHC. At an exchange rate of 1.45GHC per USD, they are getting paid only $360. That leaves $940. A donation was supposed to be made to the project on which I am working. As far as anyone knows, not one dime, or pesewa has come to Abuadi.

I also know that my counterpart and caretaker only got paid half their fee. The other half is to be paid at the end of my 6 week stay. None of this is in writing, by the way, and they get paid in cash. Very shady business. I am going to see the director of the NGO tomorrow, when I tell him that I am leaving early. I aim to make it very clear to Mr. Director that I want my counterpart and caretaker paid for the full six weeks, and I want them paid before I leave on Saturday. I expect this to be a problem, but I'm not willing to accept anything other than full payment, with a record of that payment.

Upon my return to the States, I plan to get my CBO partnered with another NGO because Bridge is obviously corrupt...well, atleast the Volta Branch is corrupt. Anani and Favor can't risk losing the income they have, even if it is below market and unreliable. Once I get the CBO partnered again, I plan to pursue having Bridge's NGO certification taken away. But most important, I need to make sure that Anani and Favor are taken care of. I don't want to hurt them in my efforts to help them.

The sky has been gray here in Ghana for days and days now. You can literally stare directly at the full sun in the heat of the day without blinking because the fog is so thick. There has been no rain. It if officially the dry season here, and no rain means no farming. No farming means no food. No food means starvation. Most everyone here in Abuadi is a farmer. They are first famers, and all have second jobs and maybe a third...Anani is a farmer, works as my counterpart, is an electrician by trade, and even works to collect trash.

For Abuadi there is a solution to the lack of farming in the dry season. There is an abandoned dam nearby. With another volunteer they managed to raise enough money to buy a water pump that can be used for irrigation in the dry season, but they still need more money to dredge the abandoned dam of years worth of silt. The estimate for de-silting the dam is $12,000USD. When the average household in Abuadi earns just $600USD per year, you can see that $12,000 looks like an unclimbable mountain, an inpassable river.

Aside from the most immediate goals of fixing this debacle of a volunteer placement, I really don't know what I want to do with myself when I get back to the States. I was seriously hoping for an ephiany. I was hoping that the trees in the forrest would part, and a path would become clear. Alas, all I see are the same detours and deadends.

The way I see it, I have the following options available to me:

1. head back to NYC and get a job doing what I was doing before I left

2. return to nursing school

3. pursue teaching

There is a fourth option, and it is the one I like the most...

4. buy a car and drive out west to work at a park for the summer

The fourth option is the most appealing to even the level-headed, think of the future Stephanie because after the summer is over, I can still opt for numbers 1-3. So, we'll see.

What is important here, for me, is that I have options, unlike the people here. I can wake up in the morning and not worry that there will be no food to eat. I know that if I get sick, I can see a doctor, get medication, or go to a hospital. I can flick a switch and lighten the dark. I can open a tap and drink clean water at any time.

Aside from an ephiany, I was hoping to learn some important lessons on this trip. I wanted to learn patience. I can't say that this has been achieved, but I am surely alot closer than I have ever been. I also wanted to learn how to take directions and navigate a map. I think I will just have to accept that my brain is incapable of this! A few times I attempted to use my guidebook map to get around a city only to discover that I had gotten it all backwards. Sheesh. The last, and probably the most important thing I hoped to gain was perspective.

It is through gaining a bit of perspective that I have been shown that I am truly blessed. I have options. I have my health and strength and intelligence. I have family that loves and supports me, and I have friends that I wouldn't trade for the world...And if I had never ventured this trip to Africa, maybe I would never have appreciated all these things so much.

Who knows what my next adventure might show me? Life really is about the journey, not the destination.


  1. Best post yet... Everything really does happen for a reason! Go west young lass and follow your destiny... Lol but buy a GPS system please.
    What you described in your first few paragraphs is how I felt most of my life. My fort was created by a culture so afraid of modern times a whole generation was raised in glass boxes. It wasn't until I got the opportunity to find my own voice and follow my own heart (not what "they" dictated) that I found the hole healing and of course a new appreciation for things we would normally take for granted.
    You truly are a remarkable person, keep going with your gut it is leading you to the right places. Please be safe xoxoxo

  2. I think you've learned more than you realize.... your writing and insight is incredible... despite the many hardships you have endured the past month... i think the "enlightenment" you are seeking is a process and it's happening right now... (sounds creepy!)

    CAN'T WAIT TO HUG YOU SISTA! After a proper shower, that is :)

  3. I am sending you a huge HUG! I have faith that you will find what you're looking for, because you've already taken several big steps. You will continue to bust out of your boxes! Whatever you decide to do, I'm behind you 100%! As you know, I never let anything get in my way, and I'm never ashamed to try new things even when I they don't end up the way I expected. No matter what happens, we always learn something and land on our feet in the end. Good for you for having the courage to try something different!!! Can't wait to see you!!! xoxo - Marguerite

  4. I admire your courage to go out of your comfort zone and search for what you want to do in life. This post has been very inspiring! Right now, I'm at the stage where you were at before, where i am starting to see that this life should be more than what it is now.

    One question, what was the accommodation, food and level of hygiene in your room/bathroom like in Ghana? I'm thinking of volunteering overseas too but am a bit apprehensive of this issues.

    Thanks in advance and congratualations once again for finding a lot of value and meaning to life!