Some Of Why I’m In Ghana

October 23, 2012 § 5 Comments

My very first job was at Target. This was not very long after high school. In public school, I literally had no time for paying job. If you knew how insane my schedule was, you’d understand. The remainder of high school away at boarding school in a small southern Vermont town didn’t exactly allow for paying jobs even when I was at home on holidays, either. It was an overnight restocking position that ran from 11pm till 7am. I loved it! But it was hectic. Target was in Milltown; I lived in North Brunswick. I quickly realized I could run/walk those 6 miles a good hour faster than the two NJ Transit buses that would get me to work- and my legs were free!

Not long after I’d started, I thought up this insane idea about taking on a cashier job at Shoprite. Theirs was fairly close on rt 27, which intersected my street. After a week of watching training videos, learning all sorts of codes and commands, and nervously shadowing and learning from a few more experienced employees during their shifts, I was ready to take my own till and deal with hundreds of demanding patrons- as you’d only find in New Jersey. I swear there must be something in the mid-Atlantic air that blows over that state that makes Jerseyans some of the most impatient and bitchiest of people in the world. Not long, I mastered this job, too.

What I hadn’t mastered was my schedule. Shoprite after a week of sporadic hours was now a full-bore 37-a-week. I started at 2, ending at 10pm, then I’d have to miraculously cut across How lane and rt 1 into Milltown, and finally to Target for an 11pm to 7am shift. Mind you, at Shoprite, I’d be standing nearly 7 hours in 2*2’ box, which was no joke, and only to find myself walking maybe about 3 miles shelving heavy items (they started me on soft lines which we both quickly concluded was NOT a fit). Between the two jobs, I was making around $640/wk before taxes. The money was ok, but I was more excited about being a working adult. I knew I wouldn’t do that schedule forever as I also knew Middlebury College was around the corner. What I didn’t know was how exhausting working 74.5 hours a week was! From Target, I’d be home by 8:30am to catch that sleep which never came when I wanted (there’s nothing like trying to sleep when the sun is up). Then, I’d have to be up at 1pm to don that bib for Shoprite and to begin a new 2-shift cycle. After a few days, I knew even my very fit 19-yr-old body couldn’t keep up. I had no life. I slept no more than 4 hours a day. I was always exhausted, my body ached like you wouldn’t believe, but at least I always figured there was an end in sight.

My 58-year-old mother has been doing this and worse for the past 13 years. It’s the unfortunate hand life deals you when you’re left with a mortgage, mounting bills, and 4 children including three adults, who still need your help every now and then. There was a day where by some set of circumstances, I spent the night when I visited home. Again, for whatever reason (I know… you’ll say ‘God’), I woke up in the middle of the night (something I almost never do). Her bathroom light was on, and the door was slightly ajar. She’d normally forget to turn off the tv or bedside lamp out of exhaustion before bed, and I’d wander in to turn them off. This time, I thought, was no different than those other times. Little did I know how wrong I’d be when I approached her bathroom. She sat motionless on the covered seat, her eyes seemingly fixed on the floor in what seemed like what a brief pause before heading back to bed. I turned to return to my bed, but the picture didn’t seem right, so I called her once, twice, and on the third, tapped her on the shoulder. In a moment she was having a violent seizure. There are so many ways to describe one until you find there just aren’t any when it’s your mother. It’s around 3am on a cold winter night. You’re hysterical and hopeless because you with all your might can’t help your mom. You’re left riding in an ambulance with paramedics (two arrive and mom’s later billed for both!) where at Robert Wood’s emergency entrance, she has another seizure- all of which you learn later had been triggered because thanks to her exhaustive work schedule, she’d forgotten a few doses of a medication she’s been taking and will have to take the rest of her life.

You hate to see her quickly return back to that exhaustive work schedule, but you reluctantly stay quiet because you both understand, she needs to work to survive, and you’re not in the position to help her as you’d like.

I don’t know why I wrote that health bit, but I’m typing a bit too fast to think everything out as I’d like. But let’s just say a lot of this stuff has weighed on me for the longest time- some of it actually dates far back to when we were in Ghana and a car accident that necessitated the need for that life-long pill. I’ve also had a love/hate relationship with my mother for the longest time (I have my own reasons). But as I’ve grown older, a promise to myself like one I’d made in my “tweens,” returned and seemed to permeate every thought I’d have about my future. I’d also lived what I’d call my “wandering years” where I was still searching for myself and where I wanted my life to go.

Unfortunately, some of that ‘want’ for my life involved a person I had no control over, and her impending marriage to someone else meant it was time for me to really reset my life button and started new experiences for myself, without interferences, in my own way, and on a path and in a pace solely of my choosing. I was enchanted by the Sonoma/Napa region of Northern California and strongly considered moving out there. I’d also read Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence, and fantasized about life in Aix and Cote d’Azur. I also had flickers of interest about life in Ghana. It’d normally be a visit when doable, but living there (or here) had never been strongly considered until a friend now living in Montevideo suggested whatever I wanted to do in either Cali or France might as well be considered in Ghana. There had been ideas about business and work here, but I never actually thought of living here and taking care of those interests. So after researching and learning how life could work here, I spent another year researching how I could live and work here.

It’s been over 18 months now. I left on my own. I wasn’t cajoled, forced, tricked, punted here, deceived, or even kidnapped into coming back here. I knew the risks I was taking. I didn’t anticipate a lot I’ve seen and witnessed in the time I’ve been here. But I’d long made my mind I’d slog through this place one day at a time. Going back to live and work in the U.S. is not an interest or option for me. I can and will go back to visit friends and family, but the thought of doing another stressful and depressing bit least interests me. I’ve also come to realize I can make far more money here than I ever did in the U.S.  The top tax rate here hovers around 25%, which is significantly less than my tax burdens would be over there. I also stand to make more than enough money for my mother not only to quit one of her two jobs, but also to quit working to survive entirely and save what’s left of her back and shoulders, and hip bones. To be honest, if I were still in the U.S., I couldn’t fulfill that promise to myself about doing this for her and my family any time soon. I wouldn’t be in the position to get my oldest niece into an excellent private school like the one I was privileged to attend many moons ago; and I wouldn’t have enough money left over to travel and see the world besides the Canada and Netherlands I saw in my 16 years away from Ghana. AND, I won’t have to wait a year+ to accrue enough vacation days to do so.

I hate a lot about Ghana. Ok, I should take that back because I realize most of my hated rests with Accra. Whenever I cross its borders, I grow exponentially happier. I realized life wasn’t going to make it that easy for me, but if enduring these people and their behaviors I’d much wish didn’t exist, and the ineptness of this country’s leaders and the system they pretend to run allows me the very doable opportunity to fulfill some of these life goals, then I guess that’s a temporary cross I’d reluctantly bear …as I achieve all those personal goals.

So whenever you feel the need to ask me (again) why I’m still in Ghana, read the above. If you still insist on hiding behind your keyboard to ask and add those needless comments we both know you wouldn’t dare say to my face in person, kindly leave me your real email address, that way I can send you my ‘warmest’ reply *wink-wink*


§ 5 Responses to Some Of Why I’m In Ghana

  • Richard says:

    Wow. Good read. Thoughtful. Good Luck. May all your dreams come true.

  • Mike says:

    A many thanks, Richard!

  • I came across your blog while searching for insights about Ghana. Well done on honestly sharing your thoughts! A friend and I would like to visit your country. Would Early January be a good time?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Mologadi! Thanks for the read and complement, although lately I’ve been wondering if I should be less honest and write more cookie-cutter/touristy fluff. As to your Q about a January visit… it’s hard to answer. Harmattan might make Accra less pleasant a place to visit and a less than peaceful December elections could make this place less friendly in Jan (don’t worry, though). That said, it would seem Easter is when Ghana is most lively and festive (after X’mas), but anytime in the first half of the year is as good as any a time to visit. Try to visit places outside Accra for a good sense of Ghana. Safe travels & feel free to contact me here or at if you have any more questions. ~M

  • D says:

    I say no to the cookie cutter and touristy stuff.
    Your honesty is refreshing and the reason why i love visiting your blog.

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