and I have

I didn’t come here with goals, with expectations. Simply because an American cannot even fathom what living and working in a rural Ghanaian community would look like. In the beginning, my only goal was to get through it. But here I am, at the end. And I can’t help but wonder if I should have done it all differently.
I wonder if I should have spent more time with the community, gone to more funerals and weddings – shucked more corn – cracked more groundnuts. Maybe I should have watched less movies and taken less naps. I could have worked at the clinic more, at the school less. I could have taken the girls club more seriously. I never did that sanitation campaign. Could I have accomplished more? You know, of the little things that I won’t have the opportunity to do ever again?

These past couple of years have felt like a lot of one chances, and I’m sure any Peace Corps volunteer can attest to this. And then there are the bombarding greeting cards, songs and speeches that preach drinking life up. Do what is uncomfortable. Have no regrets. Maybe I just take it all to heart, just a little to seriously. Those songs are for people with unsatisfying office jobs, people without passports, not for the restless girl living in West Africa.

Or maybe I did fail this experience. Like it is so easy to do.

Ghanaians have this phrase, and it cracks me up. I remember the first time it was directed towards me. I had spent three days in the same paint-spattered t-shirt and khakis, knocking out cement slits for light in my kitchen, painting my rooms and organizing the few things I owned. I was very proud of myself and unveiled my new home to Azara. Her eyes glistened with delight, she took a deep breath, smiled wide and whispered, “Mariam…you have tried!”

I have
what?

In these parts, no one is asking for perfection. The phrase “you have tried” is in fact a high compliment. It’s what I was showered with when we opened the school library. This is so unlike the culture I was raised in, it is uncomfortable. Trying is not enough, you get the job done and you do it well. And the next time, you do it better. Whether my projects fail or flourish, my community embraces me, knowing that I have done the best that I could. I have nothing else to offer than that, which is quite okay with them. Now that I am on my way out, every day these people I have grown to love are telling me I have tried. And I have.

I want to think I have failed my community and myself, not because I did a bad job, but because I could have done better. I could have done better if I was this volunteer, or that one. I take a great deal of comfort in the fact that the people I am here to serve would never think such a thing. They are just glad I am here, being myself, trying my best.

Comments

dustykaster said…
Well said. See you soon!
Anonymous said…
Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more.
Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Oskar Schindler: If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just...
Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Oskar Schindler: I didn't do enough!
Itzhak Stern: You did so much.
[Schindler looks at his car]
Oskar Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.
[removing Nazi pin from lapel]
Oskar Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.
[sobbing]
Oskar Schindler: I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!



…Itzhak Stern: It's Hebrew, it's from the Talmud. It says, ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.’
--from the movie, "Schindler's List."
Wuntera said…
thank you anonymous. that means a lot.
kevin21 said…
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