The Ghana Challenge

Went to the Ghana High Commission the other day to get my passport back.

The minute I walked out of the building (which in fact is just a large bungalow in cool Ghanaian decor), I wasted no time in flipping open my passport, and like a pudgy kindergardener who just got handed a large swirly lollipop, beamed at my newfound possession — a visa to Ghana!

I just realized how precious my current passport book is to me. I got this one in 2008, just before leaving for college, and it will expire in 2013, a year after I graduate.

I’ve only had this book for 3 years, but my god it feels like I’ve had it since forever. My old passports are quite empty, with the odd stamped page here and there. This passport, on the other hand, feels… heavier. Not that it’s physically weighty, the thing still weighs less than a RM0.20 packet of tissues.

Put it this way: If my old passports were the “This is Jack. That is Jill.” books where Jack and Jill do absolutely nothing but stand around and be introduced to their dog and other inanimate household objects, in 3-word sentences no less, then my current passport feels like… a proper novel with a plot and actual character development. It’s no Marcel Proust, but it’s something.

I say it has plot and character development because it’s like a documentation of my growth, with the developing character obviously being me.

* * * * *

I feel like this passport reminds me of possibilities, of what-could-be’s. (Resist urge to scoff at the corniness of that sentence.)

I mean, I was never supposed to study in America. Thank God I found out about this wonderful thing called Liberal Arts Colleges and their very, very wonderful financial aid policy.

And France? France used to be my Little Girl Dream. Go to Paris? Maybe, maybe when I’m old and have been working long enough to be able to afford it. But thank god, I didn’t have to wait till menopause to be able to not just visit, but live in France, even if for only a few months. Again, with the help of this little thing called Liberal Arts Colleges and their wonderful study abroad programs.

And Ghana? Well, Africa in general. Say whaaaaaaaa-? Did you just say, AFRICA?! I’ve been talking about going to Africa to work for an NGO since I was 14 years old. It sounds like the greatest adventure one can imagine. Now, it’s still a real adventure, but it’s also a lot more, “I get to work in global development!” Needless to say, this would be completely impossible without this little thing called Liberal Arts Colleges and their wonderful funding of student projects.

Can you believe this is happening?

Can you believe this is happening!

I can’t.

I can’t believe this is freaking happening.

I’m leaving Malaysia tomorrow! And in 24 hours from then, I’ll be in Accra, capital of Ghana. And a few hours later, I’ll be taking a 12-hour bus ride up north to Tamale, reputed to be the fastest growing city in all of West Africa.

8 weeks.

I have a strong feeling that it’s going to be a really, really tough 8 weeks. I know I’m going to hate the insects, I know I’ll have many an awkward moment not understanding the local customs (you can only get so much off the Net), I know there are social faux pas waiting to happen, I know my anti-malarial tablets are going to have bad side effects (this one confirmed already), I know I’m going to somehow mess up something during my internship, I know I will not get used to the heat (no air-conditioning during bedtime!), I know mosquitoes are going to be everywhere, and I know I occasionally be served food that I am not used to and that will make me quite uncomfortable in the tummy.

Ohwow remind me again why it is my dream to go there?


Yeah it’s only 8 weeks, but I’m being so overly dramatic.

I can’t wait for the challenge though. This year had been a really easy one for me so far.

France had been an easy semester. I don’t mean just academically, but personally as well. No challenges, just easy going, smooth sailing. No conflicts, no struggle for anything, no extreme discomfort. I’ve been stagnant, standing quite still the whole time I was there.

Going to Grinnell, on the other hand, was a freaking HUGE challenge. I grew so much from that experience.

Going to France was so easy. It was, however, most of the Americans’ first time being away from home for this long, so they were always talking about being homesick, about how being in France was such a huge change, and how much they’ve gained from the experience. I honestly grew quite tired of hearing that kind of conversation towards the end of the program.

I’m ready to grow now. Did you just shudder at how corny that sentence was?

I believe with all my heart that every challenge that doesn’t break you makes you stronger. I’ve gone through some fucking hellish times in Grinnell that reduced me to tears in front of a complete stranger (who that night was going from room to room asking for donations). Now, every time something seemingly tough happens, I think back on how I made it through that time, and I’m always very confident that I can pull through a lot of shit. Because I have before.

I can’t wait for challenge again.

The 2.5 years I was in Grinnell pushed me like no other experience ever had. Academic workload-wise, it was hell. It is a daily dose of 5 hours of hell on a normal day, and 15 hours per day before exams. Friend-wise, it wasn’t easy. I went through high school being very comfortable in my cocoon of close friends, friends who grew up with me and hence are very similar to me in many ways. In Grinnell, no one was like me. In my first year, even though I had a bunch of friends, I felt like we didn’t connect, because we were so, so different. The irony of being amongst friends and still feel lonely was unbearable. Language differences made things worse. I remember saying something that in Malaysia had one meaning, outside of Malaysia had a different meaning, and so I inadvertently started a bit of unnecessary drama. Didn’t help that I didn’t have a single other fellow Malaysian to fall back on. (Things are tons better now, obviously. In fact, things are fan-freaking-tastic right now.)

But frankly, before Grinnell, I was a a nobody. I didn’t know who I was, I had no voice, I had no visions for my future because I couldn’t see myself doing anything. And now, 3 quarters of the way through college, I don’t feel like such a speck of shit anymore. In fact, I feel pretty damn good. I feel amazing. I know I am going to make very valuable contribution to the world. I have a fucking VOICE.

Going alone on the plane bounded for Grinnell was the scariest shit I’ve done, ever. Grinnell was a challenge, and I grew from it.

Now, I’m kind of nervous about Ghana as well. I’ll be going there alone, not with a program. I’ll be boarding the plane alone, just like how I made that journey to Grinnell some 3 years ago.

I feel so incredibly blessed to even just have this challenge to face.

I’m writing this post on the floor, amongst stacks of clothes, the night before I leave for Ghana. I’m not done packing, so I’m pretty screwed. This is a very “write before pausing to think” kind of post, so this whole thing is a grammatical minefield. (The first part before the ***’s is tons more coherent because it was written earlier.) Also, pardon the spontaneous cussing, it’s a bad habit I’ve picked up and I’m having a hard time getting rid it of but if I type fast this is what comes out.

Okay bye now! Wait for my next post, which shall be posted from…… Ghana! Assuming they have good enough internet connection.

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