It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
There were supposed to be proper goodbyes with loved ones, some Ghanaian dancing and drumming to mark the end of our African adventure, time to revisit our favorite spots and lots of tear-filled hugs without worrying about deadly viruses, social distancing or wearing masks. There was supposed to be a clear departure date, open borders and a countdown. Instead, of being able to rip the bandage in one clean sweep, we are left to nurture our wounds, slowly, one day at a time.
It wasn’t supposed to end so soon either. We made a three-year commitment to you, and here we are leaving after just two. If you feel disappointed, hey, I don’t blame you. I feel heartbroken. And guilty. And a bit cheated for time. One more year would have been perfect, one more year was the original plan, just one more year with you… Only an expat can understand the bittersweet, simultaneous emotion of gratitude for an adventure that happened, but longing because it was cut too short.
In fact, I wish our time together didn’t have to end at all, but as per my expat tradition, here I am, writing my goodbye letter to you. You can read my previous letter to Dubai here (Dear Dubai, its been complicated, but can we please part as friends?)
Breaking up with a country you’ve called home is never easy. There are good breakups where you vow to remain friends and messy breakups where you don’t think you can settle for anything less than 100% commitment. And breaking up with you Ghana, feels like the hardest thing to do, because we were SO good together.
Your bright, bold and beautiful colors matched my personality completely and made my spirit soar high,
your spicy Jollof rice suited my Pakistani palate just fine,
and the assortment of languages you spoke around me – Twi, Ga, Ewe, Fante, English and French – kept me interested till the very end.
You were always full of surprises which I loved, there was more to you than meets the eye, and we were proof that not only opposites attract.
We arrived at your shores in 2018 with our little German-Pakistani-Italian family of four, craving an authentic experience, looking to earn our African stripes and trying to learn everything you could teach us. Everyone tells you that “moving to Africa is difficult” and that was true. This was the inauspicious start to our Ghana adventure; a broken down 40-foot container, stranded by the side of a dirt road. You frustrated us to no end, when we first arrived.
But no one tells you that leaving your African home is even more difficult. Both logistically and emotionally. To disentangle yourself from a country teeming with energy, vibrancy, full of life, feels like you’re leaving the party before its even gotten started.
Ghana, thank you for always making me feel safe walking your streets during the day, going around my neighborhood, past the coconut stand where the friendly coconut guy would sell me fresh coconuts for two Ghanaian Cedis (less than 1 USD). Past the “American Embassy Roundabout” where vendors would walk briskly around me, carrying baskets full of waakye (a Ghanaian dish of cooked rice and beans) and an assortment of biscuits, chips, nuts and cool drinks balanced impressively in towering baskets on their heads. Past the ladies roasting corn on an open spit, and saying hello to the makeshift photograph studios who would ask “passport photo?” Thanks to you, I stopped looking at street names and house numbers, and started paying attention to landmarks, people and trees. When directing people to our home, I loved saying “turn right once you see the coconut guy” instead of saying “turn right on 6th Link Close.”
In such a short time, you taught me so many valuable lessons, Ghana. You showed me how life was just a series of small choices. How in expat life, the attitude with which we approach our new adventure often counts more than our experience. Either you can focus your energy on all the annoyances, the delays, the daily frustrations or you could focus your mind on all the beautiful, new experiences of uncovering and enjoying a new country.
You can complain about the Accra traffic you are stuck in on a Friday, or you can appreciate the beauty and the vibrant colors of the dress of the woman who walks past by your car, holding her basket full of food, high up as a crown.
You can focus on the frustration you feel at the leaky water pipe at home, the unreliable internet and handymen not showing up when they said they would or, you can focus on learning a fascinating new culture with rich traditions of Batik painting, West African drumming and chocolate making.
You can focus on living in a malaria zone and the risk of catching malaria or you can focus on that fact that you probably belong to the 5% who can afford to pay for malaria medicines should you need it.
Ghana, you also helped to teach our two Third Culture Kids some valuable lessons in simplicity and simple living. Born and brought up in swanky Singapore and dazzling Dubai, too used to endless entertainment options, huge water parks, man-made islands, ski slopes in the middle of the desert, and chocolate fountains at 5-star hotels, you helped to bring them back to reality. And the reality was beautiful.
More is not always better.
Thanks to you, our kids who are now 8 and 5 years old learned to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Of walks in your gorgeous rain forests, of rock climbing in your beautiful Shai Hills, of swimming at noncommercial beaches, of staying at hotels with no WIFI, of conversing with fishermen about their catch of the day, of spotting your beautiful wildlife whether it was elephants at Mole National Park, or waving to the cheeky baboons or laughing with delight at spotting your colorful Agama lizards doing their morning push ups.
I hope they will never forget their beautiful and uncomplicated childhood in West Africa.
Dear Ghana, our bags are packed, except we don’t know when we will leave. This is the ultimate torture. Once you know a relationship has come to an end, it is wise to leave immediately and swiftly. Sadly, due to Covid19, this is not possible. I wonder if your closed borders is just your way of prolonging the inevitable; of keeping us here longer. I appreciate what you are trying to do, but it is wise to just let us go. Trust me, I’ve done this enough times. This way, it will hurt less.
I knew you would not let us move without giving us a goodbye present to mark our wonderful time spent together. And what a perfect goodbye present it is. Each time I feel a kick to my stomach, I look down and smile. It has been hard to say goodbye to my old life, with a new life growing inside of me. And yet, it is also the most comforting goodbye present you could have given us. Our Ghanaian baby will not be born in Ghana, but we promise to bring he/she back to your shores one day. This baby will be our lifelong connection to you and will make sure we never forget you. Some bonds are not meant to be broken.
Thank you for this perfect parting gift of life.
You will continue to live in our hearts and minds.
Medaase (thank you).
About the author: Mariam Ottimofiore is an adult TCK and a Pakistani expat, who has lived in Bahrain, US, Pakistan, UK, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, UAE and Ghana. She is currently preparing to move with her family to her 10th country this summer: Lisbon, Portugal. She is an economist, author, researcher, and writer at And Then We Moved To in which she explores expat life, raising multicultural and multilingual children, and world travel. She is an expert at making embarrassing mistakes in every new language she picks up, is perpetually lost in every new city she calls home and can never remember her new address or where she packed those suede boots! Her new book ‘This Messy Mobile Life; How a MOLA can help globally mobile families create a life by design’ (Summertime Publishing, 2019) is the first book in the expat genre that ties in multiculturalism, multilingualism and mobility to equip international families to navigate the complex challenges they face while living a life on the move. You can find more info here: http://www.andthenwemovedto.com/book