How One Visit To My Motherland Completely Altered The Direction Of My Life

Writer’s Note: The video below documents some of my incredible experiences in Ghana.

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I had just finished having a shower and washed away the grime of the day and climbed up into bed. Yes, I climbed. Because at 25 I still share a single room with 3 other siblings. Yeah. Sigh.

Its 2 a.m. and I’m scrolling on my phone looking for international development jobs in Ghana, as many graduates do. An event pops up as I searched, called TEDx Accra. (I’m obsessed with Ted talks.)

I saw the event and thought well, “This is it.” If I was going to get a head start in international development abroad then all I had to do was meet one of these prominent speakers. Bingo! So with that I booked my flight and fled.

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I had no idea whether my plan would work. I just knew that I wanted to do something uncomfortable to attain a goal of living outside a tightly clad social standard box I had become so used to.

I was raised as what some may refer to as a “church girl.” I’ve always played by the books and tried my hardest not to stray from what I’ve been taught my whole life. That said, I have indeed backslidden a few times and done some things my parents have no idea about till this day. I’ll keep those to myself.

But for the most part I’ve always been the church girl who didn’t talk to boys because I was painfully awkward about it. I was even called frigid by a guy that I was “talking” to at 23. I still feel awkward saying swear words, and in general I’ve just always lived my life somewhat cautiously. Until I turned 24. Then I thought, “F it!”

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Being in Ghana always makes me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to, as cheesy as that sounds. Seeing people working in scorching temperatures and as young as maybe 11, always gives me the chastisement I so badly need as a Western-born brat.

Karen Koromah
Karen Koromah

It gives me something else to focus on than operation get-a-boyfriend 2015; or get married like some of your peers, or have a baby like some of your peers. Because lets face it: After graduation its hard to think about anything else than your career and marriage. At least that’s how it goes for most of us first gen kids. After 25 years of no introduction of a boyfriend to your parents, pretty much everybody starts to believe that you’re either cursed by witches and wizards, or you’re gay.

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Arriving in Ghana was definitely bittersweet. I met my cousin at the airport and we drove home excited to see each other again after two and half years. We went to the Accra mall to pick up some fruits for my grandmother because she always asks me to bring some when I’m coming from the UK. But fruits weigh a ton and not to mention they easily bruise too. It’s just easier getting it from the mall and so we did that and headed home. It was about 4.30 p.m. and I finally got to see my grandmother again after so long.

It was emotional. She suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and the left side of her body was affected pretty badly. The only good thing is that her speech is absolutely fine and her memory is intact. However, just a week before I arrived, a terrible accident happened. Her physiotherapist during a session completely broke her left arm. I was holding back tears as I spoke to her about how it all happened.

She’s almost 70 and this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I sensed she didn’t really want to speak about it so we changed subjects and reminisced about something a little more pleasant – my prepubescent days. Fun. She raised me from six years old until I turned 10 and left to go back to the UK. She loves reminding me of how lazy I was in my bratty days. Which is fine by me, if that takes her mind off the pain.

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Karen Koromah
Karen Koromah

After some family bonding time we rested and the next day my cousin, his friend Serlom, and I went out to eat at a restaurant called Buka. Buka is a beautiful restaurant in Accra where they serve authentic Ghanaian and Nigerian dishes. As we sat laughing and reminiscing, I felt overwhelmingly content and deeply happy. Being in Ghana felt so liberating and satisfying because I didn’t have the dreaded question looming over my head about when I was going to get married or when I was going to put my Masters to productive use.

And thats one of the reasons I abruptly went to Ghana. I wanted to escape some of that unwarranted pressure: No work, no bills, no feelings of stagnancy, and no pressure to find a man.

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The following day was the TEDx event in Accra. That was the main event I came to Ghana for. It was a chance to listen to ways young people could come together to help the country develop. As an international relations student, I’m all for that. The event was great. There were many speakers who talked about going after their dreams and stopping at nothing to achieve them. But in all honesty I wanted more; I was still thirsty, no pun intended. It was good advice but I felt like I already knew that. Nonetheless it definitely encouraged me to make the most of what I have around me, and that’s where my love for writing was rekindled.

I also visited the Kwame Nkrumah museum in Accra. I’ve read so many books, courtesy of my father, about his bravery leading Africa out of colonialism. Being in the museum that day and looking at the clothes he wore during his presidency in Ghana, reignited that passion to do more than is expected of me as a woman, a Black woman, or a British African woman. My passions to do more than is expected of me was validated as I walked through the museum. Here is a man who dared to do something different for a country and a continent riddled in oppression.

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Karen Koromah
Karen Koromah

The West often feels like it’s in a permanent fast forward motion. And so to go back to Ghana, and have everything really slow down, was a welcomed treat. I was able to think of some of the things I want to achieve and do, as supposed to looking for that salary paid city office job everybody and their pet are in a queue for. No shade at all, we all have to make money. I just crave more.

Waking each morning with my family around me was comforting too. And I say that because back home in the UK it can often feel crowded, adding to the stress with so many people in one house. In Ghana it felt so satisfying knowing that my grandmother was in the same house as me. Her strength, smiling through all that pain and discomfort taught me a lot on this particular trip: Continue to push till your goals are realised even it breaks you; if it doesn’t kill you, carry on. She’s adamant that she’ll be better and fit soon, requiring little to no support from anyone. And I believe her.

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Karen Koromah
Karen Koromah

Jamestown was another great spot I visited on this trip. Jamestown is also in Accra, and there are various painted walls by some gifted artists scattered around the town. We were led by a self-appointed tour guide who charged us a ‘fee’ to take photos of the area. Once I got over the fact that I was ripped off and he probably, maybe needed that money to buy food to eat that day, I began to empathise and focus on the beauty of the town.

What I loved the most was that although Jamestown would be considered a ghetto in Western terms, it’s that ghetto quality that draws so many tourists and foreigners to the town to witness its uniqueness. It taught me a lot about embracing my own unrefined qualities and wearing them as a badge of honour rather than trying to modify to a social standard that gives me nothing but stress and grief. It’s okay that I still don’t have it all figured out as a 20-something. It will all make sense as I go along.

Karen Koromah
Karen Koromah

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After my trip in Ghana, things have actually begun to fall into place pretty nicely. What I’m trying to say here is that whatever it is that keeps you up at night to fulfill or achieve, do it! It is deeply satisfying when you do. Most things fall into place themselves once you take the first step. For me, it’s being able to write and have my article published on Thought Catalog. I never thought it could happen.

To some that may mean nothing. But as the girl on that bunk bed reading through Thought Catalog in the middle of the night, it means a whole lot. It’s a step in the right direction. So take an uncomfortable step, and see the doors fling open for you. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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