ArchiveBlogBlog 2011

No Risk No Reward

No Risk No Reward
The traffic crawls along American House Road. (Shawna Widmer)

I sat on the bus staring out the window in disbelief. I turned my head to look across at Megan and all we could do was shake our heads from side to side in unison. The day had finally come where we were going to start our internships. As our bus dropped us off one by one, the applause became less and less enthusiastic and the numbers dwindled from the overly excited yet stressed 14, down to the final five.

The thought of beginning an internship cutting into my play time wasn’t even the part that was troubling, as we all knew the first day was made for introductions, adjusting to our new work situations and to get familiar with our surroundings. Though we were dropped off in the morning, once the workday was over we all knew we would be facing survival of the fittest on the way home.

Now normally in any other circumstance imaginable, this would be a task that didn’t need more than two minutes time wasted on. But, naturally, I had somehow landed the farthest internship away from our home in East Legon (literally, you point to the upper most right corner of the map, find the longest, most inconvenient, horrifying distance from East Legon, draw a dot on the bottom-most left corner, and there was my internship).

The first day of anything is always awkward (Examples: the first day you see your ex has been promoted to Manager at Jiffy Lube; the first day you realize Britney Spears really did shave her own head; the first day fru-fru coffee drinks are “too sweet” for your taste buds; the first time you enjoy holding a conversation with adults; or the first time you realize you would rather stay in with a glass of wine and watch a movie on a Friday night rather than pound shots and haze underclassmen). Exchanging forced hellos and trying to memorize the 30 names of your new coworkers is no easy feat on the first day. I toured the building and settled in at a small desk in a room with two other Ghanaian interns, and two full time workers. After being briefed on the latest pitch that was given to a company, the others busily typed at their computers, started in small talk, and so I fumbled through my backpack full of “first-day-must-have’s”. After cursing to myself under my breath and questioning what I could have possibly fit into my Marry Poppins endless backpack that I must have not been aware of purchasing, I finally found my Tina Fey Bossypants novel. I couldn’t wait until that first day had passed and I could come back to the office confident with each name and ready for my day’s work.

From then on, time passed rather slowly for a few reasons: 1. I had never been one for reading in free time, as in the past I would focus on something much less productive such as rearranging the objects in my suitcase, staring at my computer screen until my eyes hurt, or perhaps making food though I am not hungry and ate as I was rearranging the suitcase. 2. All I had to eat that day was a piece of buttered bread fit for an infant and/or decently sized animal, some scrambled eggs, and half of a smushed, luke-warm nutella sandwich I had packed in the morning. 3. Neethu and I were texting about how all we could think about was how we were going to get home, and that she was two winks away from having yet another Ghanaian husband (this would be undoubtedly her 16th proposal). 4. I was not ready to grow up, face reality, and the idea that I was an adult entering the working world was overwhelming.

I was eventually called downstairs after meeting the entire office, settling down in a desk trying to absorb my new surroundings, making mind-blowing progress in my book (at LEAST 30 pages) and told that I was free to leave for the day. Arriving at around 9:30AM, and leaving by 3:30PM I knew that I would have to adjust to my new work life, already planning my sleeping schedule for 6PM.

My coworker Naa kindly led me down two blocks to where the tro tro’s stop to take people back to Circle where you then fend for your life in order to find your way back to East Legon. And that’s where my world changed.

Naa was unable to go with me to Circle Station, and so she asked a young girl who was headed in my same general direction if once we got to Circle, she would be kind enough to help me find transportation to East Legon. The girl agreed, and with Naa’s apparent confidence in my ability to fend for myself, she turned to me and said, “I’m scared for you. Take my number. If anything happens, just call.” And there I stood, on my own for the first time in the furthest region from the one place I was familiar with: American House Road.

After about a 30-45 minute wait, some haggling, some flailing of the arms, a steady push and the girl telling me “Go. Get on.” I was finally headed on my way. I pushed my way through the middle of an overly-crowded, heated, 100% Ghanaian filled tro tro to the back middle seat, which somehow happened to be higher than the others around me, which really helped me blend into my surroundings. The girl sat directly behind me in the last row along with five others who avoided eye contact. On the way, the mate in charge of the door collected money and I passed mine forward hoping I heard him correctly. The rest of the trip was silent. I sat face forward, occasionally using my pointer-finger to wipe the beads of sweat off of my forehead and around my mouth. Even with the tro tro flying by at around 75 mph, the amount of body heat filling the air could not be stirred. After sitting directly bolt upright looking like a deer in the headlights, I felt a tap on my shoulder and those on the tro tro elbowed their way out at Circle Station stop.

As I was moving with the crowd, the young girl helping me grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the swarm of Ghanaians on a mission. I was finally able to breathe fresh air and look around. I have never seen anything like what was around me, and the only way I could compare it would be to the city of New York put in a 5 mile radius in the shape of a Circle, filled with LA traffic and endless markets and shops within two inches of each other. Before I knew it, the girl was taking me by the hand through the cross walk as we dipped and dodged passerby’s I gripped my backpack with dear life with my other hand. As we weaved in and out through narrow alleys, following the voice coming off a loud speaker in the distance, ignoring each person who was offering us their various goods at each of the hundred shacks that we passed, the girl effortlessly led me through the congested maze that was Circle as she hummed loudly to a song stuck in her head with ease.

I allowed her to pull me and push me through until we reached a clearing where 50 tro tro’s were stationed. In Twi she was asking left and right where to find a tro tro headed to East Legon, and each time I heard the response of, “At this hour? No one is headed in that direction,” or, “Sure. Yes, a bus should be headed this way in about 2 hours.” Agitated, the girl took me back across the walk way and through the insane traffic to the other side, where similar dialogue was exchanged. In my daze of confusion, panic, and immense feeling of being overwhelmed, the only thing to keep me moving was this girl, no older than 16, holding my hand in the busiest, most overpopulated section of Accra that I have seen to date.

After running back and forth in all directions of the circle, through crowds of thousands of Ghanaians who knew where they were headed and were determined to get there, we somehow stumbled upon a tro tro announcing “America, America” which means they were headed to American House Road. After two long, stressful, anxiety filled hours, the girl let go of my hand and gave me a slight push in order to get on the tro tro before it became too packed with people in order for me to get on. I made my way to the back of the tro tro and sat down clutching my bag and trying not to hyperventilate. The girl moved to the back window and yelled, “Take care, take care,” to me and all I could do was whisper an exhaustive yet deeply appreciative, “Thank you, Medaase, for everything,” as the tro tro’s engine came to a roar and the girl stood there looking at her watch as the dust swirled around her.

As I sat in the tro tro on the way to American House Road, I couldn’t help but to close my eyes and to think of what would have happened if I were alone. Feeling the knot come up in my throat, I couldn’t even grasp the thought of what I would have done in that situation, where I would have gone, what I would have encountered. As we were going through the crowds hand in hand, I remembered the girl saying to me “I can not leave you by yourself. It is too dangerous for you here. I will wait for you to find a bus. Then I must go.” I never even got her name. I never got to tell her how much she had truly helped me, and how grateful and speechless I was that she took two hours just to make sure some clueless, American Obruni was safe and headed home.

As I sat and got myself worked up with how out of my element I truly was, I began to think that there was no way that I could do this every day. This was day ONE. I was dropped off in the morning, and all that was asked of me was to get home after work and I couldn’t even handle that myself. I felt insignificant. I felt afraid. I was tired, I was scared, and I was completely on my own. Closing my eyes trying not to panic that I had somehow taken the wrong tro tro and was headed God knows where, I opened my eyes to try to breathe and calm myself down, when after whipping off the sweat from my face and neck, I looked out the window to see “No Risk No Reward” clearly stated on the back of a passing taxi. No Risk No Reward. The moral of my entire trip to Africa. Without risk, without putting yourself out of your comfort zone, without being in a situation out of your element, how do you expect to grow as an individual and to reap the rewards of facing such difficult and challenging situations? As I looked around me, I realized that this was the first time I had ever been alone. I mean really, truly alone. There was no one by me to help me through. Sure, I could have made a phone call, cried like three year old girl who got her Barbie taken away, but instead I reminded myself that regardless, I will get home. I will find my own way. I will be ok.

For the first time, I was alone. For the first time, I was independent. For the first time, I was relying on no one other than myself, and with that knowledge I knew that if I could get through this, if I could get through five weeks of this, that there was absolutely nothing I wouldn’t be able to do. No risk, no reward.

I made it home to loud applause from my roommates who immediately told me to share my horror story. I sank down into the couch, took a deep breath, and began.