Can I come back home?
Will you receive me if I do?
Will all I collected make up for the time I missed with you?
As the time for departure draws near, the inevitable reflection begins, almost consuming everything else- space to concentrate on work, relationships, and enjoyment. The anxiety of returning home clashing with an unnerving feeling that you could have done more also begins haunting you.
Though the Ashanti symbol Sankofa (a bird with two heads, one looking behind him, the other looking forward) refers to honoring your ancestors as a necessary component to being able to move toward the future, the mental and spiritual disposition of being able to look forward and back during times of transition is another way I have come to understand that symbol. It might be the only way to achieve a balance at times, when both sides – the immediate past and immediate future are threatening to pull you apart. We can, or might have to, honor them both, so that we are able to stand grateful in the present moment.
This is how your global service comes to end. It doesn’t feel magical or glorious, but this is part of what you signed up for- closing out. This goodbye is much different than others. Saying goodbye is maybe more important than any one period of time here, because the relationships you built here have to bridge a difficult territory, one that respects the short time but appreciates the real depth in the bonds formed and also leaves space for a new group of volunteers to deepen and expand them. That falls on all of us from year one, but also following years. We have to do this process right if we hope to lower the harm and potential damage short term service can cause so that the advantages of our program’s ideals and mission can be more fully realized. That involves consistently laying the groundwork, and building on that foundation for those that cycle into this community now and beyond.
But personal peace needs to be attained right? A certain comfort or reckoning with three questions that undergird the previous challenge need to be addressed.
Were the resources diverted to my stay well spent? Was there a more impactful efficient way to spend my stipend, ticket, housing, etc?
Will the work I do continue beyond the time here? The relationships I created, what fruit will it bear?
And who is leaving Ghana, as in what from this adventure will I take with me?
There are so many dimensions to these questions, I could not answer fully in the space of a blog post or maybe at all definitely. But it is so important to interrogate ourselves, our methods, our philosophies as we do this because so much is at stake. On our facebook page and even in this blog, Humanist Service Corps has found it is imperative to participate in the conversation and reflect on our participation in Ghana, in its communities and institutions. This is in essence a personal accounting. So again, the answers may not be definitive but maybe they are illuminating. So here are some attempts.
The efficiency aspect is probably the least interesting to me but in our increasingly data driven field, it is arguably the most important. Nevertheless the people, more qualitative inspires me so most so I will focus on that aspect. As far as the work and talk of efficiency I was not the service warrior of the team, putting out 14-16 hour work days, that’s all Conor and Rebecca. I did come to find though, international work is not out of my range. Rather the aspects of me that I never thought of as marketable skills or would downplay as me simply being an extrovert turned out to be really valuable in this context. Wanting to interact and engage with people, ask questions, learn about them is valuable. Not just in a capitalist sense, but as a human in a world with other humans with infinitely different outlooks and perspectives. I have witnessed the difference it makes when you know few words a person’s native tongue. When you can name a musician they like. When you show care for their people and well being.
Furthermore, I took the space to really find myself as a writer, finding a voice to advocate and maybe even educate on subjects I care about. It became a way of breathing into the world, hoping and laying the seeds that some inspiration some insight could turn into productive tornado somewhere else. Finally the person I am taking away is someone who has learned to lean more into his humanism. Ghana’s faithfulness has in a sense taught me not to be shy about what you believe. That leaning in here has manifested in ways I am proud of like training young people how to use meditative reflections as tools for organizing and pursuing social justice with Global Platform. I got the chance to address HAG, the Humanist Association of Ghana. But really the atheist pilgrimage I sought coming here really was inside, I now seek to move, carry, reveal, share what I believe, what inspires me. To wear it even more proudly on my sleeve.
What did I lose, what did I miss? There are some touches, some places of warmth and solace I could never replace. Philadelphia’s muggy summer breath hums in my ear, luring me home. My humanist community I miss dearly, I look forward to conspiring with them on using our common framework to engage and change the world. The sanctuary of a place with people that are even somewhat like-minded is not something easily thrown away.
I never thought I would feel so much like an United States citizen after this experience, but here I am. The chances of me, as a human with these beliefs, experiences, and mannerisms happening are close to nil outside of that context and that is a good thing. Something I have embraced. It makes me look at the home I have issues with differently, more completely, and more like I belong.
But to be able to maneuver in a new country in a new place. There are fewer greater revelations than that- the new swagger it gives you, the bravery to do things you might have not. For instance in a staff meeting the other day, I said the ending prayer. I was invited, possibly out of jest, definitely out of curiosity, but I accepted. In many ways our the relationship with our partner organization, Songtaba, is our work. Our exchanges, in terms of their depth and genuineness, professionally, culturally (and yes maybe of faith too) will do much to determine how successful HSC is in the future. So I saw this as a great opportunity for us to see one another.
“As we continue in our search for social justice, may we find the strength, the courage, the inspiration, to become the people we need to be in order to do the work that needs to be done.”
Members began getting up as I signified my ending but the facilitating staff member said, “A higher being was not invoked.”
I responded coolly, “but he(or she) is always there.” I left out if you need them to be. Alas, it turned out to be enough to end the meeting.
Gratitude tends to emerge from the thickets
sometimes with time, sometimes with intention
but always with the invitation of grace and space
when gifts and growth are allowed to be mentioned
freeing us to cherish, forgive, and love
the world that results from the pieces of us planted
In the people and places we encountered.
*HSC does not support any particular political party.