Photo: Dietmar Temps/Shutterstock

On the Realities of Expat Life in Ghana

by Chris Gerakiteys Apr 30, 2014

I’m having one of those days — actually no, one of those weeks. A Ghana week.

Now for most Ghanaians, a Ghana week is just that: a week in Ghana. But in our expat family, a Ghana day (or week!) is synonymous with frustrations up to your eyeballs. All the shine has gone off, it’s not exotic, or adventurous, or fun. It’s routine, it’s hot, it’s boring. You just feel worn down, pissed off, too tired for anger, and frustration simmers constantly.

It starts simply enough, one or two little problems. But then maybe these problems don’t go away. You make phone calls, again and again, but nothing happens. And then maybe the fridge breaks, and you watch it, sitting innocently outside your front door, waiting, waiting…waiting for it to be picked up. In the meantime, the washing machine decides it’s lonely, and joins the fridge. And then something you were promised weeks ago finally arrives, bearing no resemblance to what you were promised. And then something else arrives, and it bears no resemblance to what you were promised. And there are more phone calls, the usual excuses (phone problems, traffic problems, problems, problems, problems), all couched in polite voices.

And I sit in the traffic seething. I shuttle the kids backwards and forwards, watching sport and or some other activity, and my mind is elsewhere. Quite often it’s in Greece, but more often, it’s just absent. MIA.

And then something happens at home. The home that you are 15,000km away from. And all the frustrations you are pushing down with a barge pole boil over, and you feel not only frustrated but pretty helpless as well. There are Skype calls and emails. But all this amazing technology makes you feel more helpless, more frustrated, and you (secretly, foolishly) wish for simpler days. Days before the internet, when months after the fact you would have found out the news. Deep in your heart, you know this isn’t really what you wish for, but you also know even if you were there, there is actually very little you could do.

Do you know the expression, “The lights are on but no one is home”? Well, today, the generator is on, but there’s no power at home. It seems the generator has gone out in sympathy with the fridge and the washing machine. I’m sitting on the veranda trying to catch a few breaths of equatorial breeze. Just sitting and sweating. No power means no water, no water means no shower. I can’t open the fridge (small, bar-sized replacement), for fear of letting any of the precious cold air out. I squint into the midday glare and watch the traffic inch past, counting down the minutes till I join them. I just saw the Emirates jet take off and was filled with childish longing.

Years ago, a particularly melancholic friend told me, “Depression is anger without enthusiasm.” And maybe these Ghana days are like that too…frustration, without enthusiasm. But I also know it’s about expectations. I’m suffering from a big, bad case of First World Problems. We have more than enough food, enough money, good health; we are living extraordinarily privileged lives. I need to get out, do some exercise, see some new sights, break out of the bubble we live in and remind myself why we came here (why was that again?).

I need to lift the veil and look again with fresh eyes. I need to be thankful for all that we have, and forget what we don’t.

To snap out of this funk I went for a walk. This walk wasn’t about reconnecting with nature, it was about reconnecting with my life. I walked up one of the main roads of Accra, past the streams of traffic, through the heat and the noise. I watched the toilet paper get delivered to the roadside vendors. I saw tiny shanty houses one block from our home. I saw beautiful young girls selling sachet water on the side of the road, their education finished at 13.

I know it is just the dumb luck of life that they are not my girls.

It’s time to quit sulking.

It’s time to be grateful. This article originally appeared on Six Degrees North and is reprinted here with permission.

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