This morning I sat in the middle front seat of a tro tro and contemplated life and death…in a very literal way. You see, Ghanaian public transportation vehicles rarely have seat belts for anyone but the driver, so I sat there thinking that only a thin expanse of glass separated me from the pavement. Since Ghana’s number of regulations mirrors its seat belts, I doubted it was a barrier of safety glass. I would never get in a vehicle at home without a seat belt, but here I take that risk everyday. Then I began thinking about all the risks the 16 of us take in Ghana, and I remember the saying “taking your life in your own hands.”
I knew the dangers of traveling abroad and deemed them worth the risk. Perhaps when we first left Oregon I thought we were taking our lives into our own hands by traveling outside our comfort zones to live an unfamiliar and exciting adventure in a new land. But now, on this tro tro, on this day, I realize that our lives are definitely not in our own hands at all. They are in the hands of the tro tro drivers, who weave in and out of traffic like formula one racers with only inches to spare. Traffic lights are optional and lanes are merely suggestions. We have trusted our safety to rickety boat operators, rope and board bridges atop a rainforest, and one very kind crocodile. Our lives are up to the one random mosquito that, despite daily pills and gallons of repellant, can still give us malaria. Our lives are in the hands of thieves in the night, who invaded our home, our rooms, and our heads. An intruder crawled over my body to retrieve my phone from my pillow, passing my beating heart, my exposed throat. I am alive because some else chose to let me live. No…our lives are not in our own hands. Our things are gone. We spent a few days grieving our losses and rallying our spirits.
I often take long walks around our neighborhood and marvel at the happiness of the Ghanaians I meet. They always smile and say good morning and ask how I am. This happiness is sometimes against the backdrop of poverty or a lack of basic necessities that challenge the developing world. I realize that they are happy for right now. Happy their alive and healthy today. After my initial fear and anger, I stopped the looping reel in my head of things I lost and started inventory of the things I gained. I have family. I have friendship. I have love. I have today. I have right now. That’s the gift of Ghana. Everything else is negotiable. Taking risks and losing a few material things doesn’t matter because what I gained from Ghana is worth so much more. I got to share this experience with 15 of the most remarkable human beings I will ever have the privilege of calling friends. This is why I smile. This is why I’m happy. This is non negotiable. It cannot be stolen. It is ours to keep. I love you all. YOLO