Leaving My Comfort Zone by Sally Greenwood

Sally kid lg

Home Sweet Home.

I have been home from Ghana, where I spent four months, for two weeks today!

Firstly, if you are reading this you are most likely in the UK sitting in your office or house with most likely a fast broadband. In all likelihood you had a hot shower this morning and had your tea with milk from the fridge and in a minute you may feel thirsty and just wander to the tap and get a glass of water. Later, you might pop on the washing machine. I, too, am enjoying these lovely things but for six months I had none of those things and now (possibly not for much longer) these things are luxuries to me! When I arrived home I spent the whole day running around the house in pure excitement turning on taps, drinking, looking at the fridge and showering. Frequently, my parents had to pause whilst I said something about Ghana and once I had them standing over the washing machine thinking about handwashing. I tell you, towels and sheets are a nightmare! When I had my first shower my Dad was next door hearing to me yelling WATER, THE WATER IS RUNNING!, HOT, HOT, HOT!

Floor washing

Oddly enough, this is the main thing that I have been so conscious and of and is something that no ordinary person actually thinks about. I have astonished friends who asked whether I had to handwash for the whole time, and the question “well, what did you do when the water didn’t run?” just makes me laugh! So next time you put on the washing machine and have that extra long hot shower think about washing heavy towels and having one third of a cold bucket to shower with (including your hair!).

Moving back in time those last few months in Ghana were very different than the first few. Firstly, I travelled a little more as my travelling period came and I used some of it to go about with my Mum who visited for 10 days, which was truly wonderful. She brought me goat’s cheese and jam and Nutella and chocolate biscuits and Haribo and all those thing I was missing and now, someone knows what I mean when I talk about tro tros! I also went north with a fellow ICYEer from Finland and we visited the national park (elephants 4 meters away from the hotel) and then Togo (French, baguettes and voodoo ceremonies) and generally had a great time. After that, my work in July was a little bitty and made a little frustrating by the influx of summer-holiday volunteers that arrived for two weeks or a month. At one point, there were nine obrunis (volunteers) in the school. Considering there were no lessons in progress, the children just ran wild! This goes back to my previous report when I touched on my beliefs concerning short vs. long term volunteering.

Amongst all of the travelling and trips back to the Home (cries of “Sally! Sally Sally!” would counter-balance the frustration of having many volunteers around) the children eventually performed the long-practiced graduation. It was wonderful! The costumes and dances were great and during the first dance I felt really emotional and had a tear in my eye. It was wonderful to go! The following week I took my housemate’s fancy camera to the school and had what I think of as the final photoshoot…

So, my time in Ghana is over. Some things were bad, some things more than challenging. I was hot, tired, uncomfortable, bitten by mosquitoes, grabbed, shouted to. I was sometimes so exasperated that I was occasionally rude. I never had any personal space and I waited and waited for everything! I was pulled and tested by children and I had some frustrating moments with aunties. But, let’s face it, what are those in comparison to hearing the children calling my name, to having the aunties call and ask me to help them. Throughout all those annoying times I saw what it meant to be different, and always so, and this is far more of a positive experience! With all those horrible grabbing moments there were the kind ones: the orange seller who led me and my mum ten minutes to the tro tro station in an unknown town without one word or the whole tro tro who argued with the mate who had overcharged us!

I went through every emotion imaginable, and being there six months was the only way to do that. If anyone who is reading this thinking “hmm… six months/one year is such a long time!” I would urge, urge, urge them to just go and DO IT! For me, the culture shock was massive but was over by week three and by just over one month I was already comfortable and settling into a routine. I experienced all of the typical testing times but after a few weeks I learned to deal with them, and who knows what I would have thought or felt if I had left after two months and bang in the middle of that frustrating time at the school! – Probably not very favourably to be honest. And at the end of month three everyone was calling my name – why would I have wanted to leave then?! Honestly, a comfort zone is there to be stretched and stepped out of and the next emotion was always waiting around the corner to be experienced!

Sally and kid

Thank you Hazel’s Footprints for supporting me in wandering away from running water, hot showers, cheese, timetables and last but not least … my comfort zone!

Sally