6 Things I Learned From Running Away From Life and Moving to Senase, Ghana for Three Months
By Cami Haas
- Not saying hello isn’t cool
Everyone knows that feeling of running into someone you know and pretending like you don’t see each other in an attempt to avoid an awkward hello. Or when you see someone wave at you and the mortification when you realize they were waving at the person behind you after you just fully committed to the wave.
But seriously, what’s the big deal? When did greeting acquaintances become a chore, unworthy of our time? Why don’t we just wave and then carry through by introducing ourselves? I can’t say I’ve never had an issue with someone taking time to notice that I exist.Now let me pitch a really crazy idea—what if it was rude not to say “hello” to almost everyone you cross paths with? Welcome to Senase. Everywhere we go, we greet the people we see. When there are kids, we generally get followed as they repeat their greetings over and over. And when I stop to think about it, I realize how wonderful that is. It builds an amazing sense of community. Once I got past my initial apprehension, I found that, not only does it feel good to be greeted by people I’ve never met, but it also feels good to do the same for other people. It made a small village on a different continent feel like a home.
- Appreciate differences, don’t shame them
So let me walk you through what it was like anytime we walked around Senase the first few weeks: I’m just walking, minding my own business, and then I see women on the side of the road motion to me and say something. The person I’m with, usually someone in my host family, will start laughing. In the time that it takes me to ask what they were saying I’m already analyzing every single thing that I could have done wrong. Then to my surprise, I’m told that the women were talking about how beautiful I am.
As the pasty, kind of chunky American that I was when I got here, trust me when I say this answer blew me away. In America, it feels like the first thing people do when they see someone who looks a little different is point and stare and talk about how odd this person looks. But here, different is beautiful. Different makes people talk to you out on the street and genuinely compliment you. Why? We need to take time to be more like those women on the street and see someone different and appreciate the beauty in that.
- When you lack electricity, you are missing nothing
I am the first person to admit that I’m addicted to my electronics. Netflix, Facebook, Buzzfeed—I love them more than a functioning human probably should. So when I came to Senase, not having constant connection to these things was a little bit of an adjustment. One thing that happens here that, as a person born and raised in the US, I was not used to, is lights out. These are periods of time when there is no electricity. Sometimes they last an hour, but other times they last for a day or two. This means no wifi, no lights, no fan (usually the hardest part), and so on. Sounds rough right?
Well let me tell you some of the things that happen during lights out. You get an amazing view of the night sky and I can report that there are more stars in the sky than you could possibly imagine. Other times when you’re lucky enough to have lights off in the rain, you grab your shampoo and run around in the rain to shower. Sometimes you grab the solar powered lantern and sit around with the family and talk for hours, and laugh so hard that your stomach hurts.
- Let kids be kids
In all my love for Senase, I have yet to talk about the reason I came here in the first place, which was to work with the kids at Semanhyiya American School. So it’s probably good to talk about the kids for a bit. As I am going for my Occupational Therapy degree, I know that kids need to play. I could bring you all of my references and supporting evidence, but to save you from my coursework, just trust me that play is hands down the most important thing for a child’s development in every area.
One thing I’ve noticed in the U.S. is that kids just don’t play anymore. Everything is so structured and needs to have some sort of purpose or end result. But here in Senase, kids are everywhere and always playing, running and yelling with each other. It is so refreshing to see kids just being kids. Even in school you can see the impact. The kids can imagine and think outside the linear way the US is so accustomed to.
- It’s possible to survive without pizza and ice cream
I know, I was shocked too.
In fact, it’s possible to survive without a supermarket at all. Here in Senase, pretty much all of the food is locally sourced. As someone who survives on microwavable frozen food, this completely blew my mind. The fact that the families here are able to take things they find in their backyards and make all different kinds of food out of it, without a microwave, or stove for that matter, seems like magic. And it’s not just the fruits and vegetables from the yard, it’s the chickens and pigs and other animals too. So those bunnies that were born last week will be dinner one day.
- Life begins outside your comfort zone
When I initially dropped the bomb on my parents that I wanted to spend my summer in rural Ghana, they were pretty shocked. When I told my friends, they thought I was joking. And honestly, every day that my flight got closer, it seemed unreal that it would actually happen. Getting on my flight from DC to Accra was one of the most anxiety inducing experiences I’ve ever had. I questioned everything: “What am I doing?” “Is it too late to just go back to Chicago,” and most of all “ I don’t think I can do this.” But by God’s grace, I got on that plane and jetted off to a part of the world many people will never experience. And it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
Every day I experience something new, and sometimes things that scare me. Other times, it’s things that make me fall in love. Most importantly, there’s things that challenge me. And in taking this chance and moving outside of my comfortable bubble at home, I have learned more about myself than I thought possible. I learned to love more deeply than I thought possible, to appreciate all the goodness around me, and to be a better version of myself.