A full plate for my first post – the birth of my blog about expat life in Accra Ghana

I have decided to start a blog. Thank you for joining me here! I often find my mind swirling with words and I have a phone and camera full of photos I love taking, so I’m creating a space where I can share more stories that usually stay in my head, and the moments in life I enjoy making eternal through taking pictures. 

Last weekend I was chatting to an interesting guy who has come to live with his partner in Accra. He was reminiscing about his first experience in Ghana which was back in 2002 when he lived in Kumasi as an exchange student. This year left such an impression on him, which is the same way I feel about the year I spent in Seabrook, Texas as a Rotary exchange student in 2000. We got chatting about these exchange years that we had at similar times and how we used to write long emails home, my parents actually printed all these emails I wrote and bound them into a book so that I can go back on the story of that year and relive the amazing experiences I had (thanks Mom and Dad!). These years in our lives are suddenly almost 20 years ago – which seems crazy because to both of us it just doesn’t feel that long ago, and the imprints that being in a foreign country at 17 years old left on us, are still vividly there in our hearts and souls.

I still feel so young in many ways but now I’m writing one of these ‘back in the old days’ comments!!! Cell phones were really not common then, and MSN instant messenger made an appearance later that year as a revolutionary ‘instant chat’ option on a PC. We didn’t speak to family or friends back home as often, but instead of frequency and brevity, which is how we are all accustomed to communicating in 2019, I can’t help but feel that it was better quality communication and it took more thought and decision to formulate a written letter or email. We used to write newsy, meaty pieces of information. We would sit down, reflect on what we wanted to share and instead of a quick tapas bowl of snack writing as I feel we are now used to with Whatsapp and Instagram, we used to write the whole plate of delicious food with portions of protein, veg and carbs! The desert was the internal reflection and processing that took place as you dwelt on something that had happened, and there was brain power involved in thinking of the words you used to express yourself. These days we have replaced words with posting a photo instead, and a Like, a thumbs up or a smiley emoji is the lacking substitute for a rich two-way communication exchange.

Maybe back then after writing an email or letter we would look at the photos we had just gotten printed from a spool. Oh, how I miss that excitement of walking to the local Kroger in Texas to spend my precious pocket money on getting a roll of film developed and to see how the photos turned out and to recall the moments that I had captured, rather cautiously at the time of course, as the spool could only take a limited number of photos and each one cost money!

With the above in mind I am challenging myself to get back to a place of writing, to reflect on great and interesting experiences we have had in Ghana and other places in the last few years. To aim for writing that is like this delicious plate of food that I enjoyed when we went for a celebratory dinner last week to La Chaumiere, a great French restaurant in Airport area. I’m a pescetarian for health reasons, and I really don’t miss meat but three times a year for Christmas, Easter and one other I allow myself some roast lamb, this was one of them and it was amazing!

When we moved here we really had no idea what to expect. Dave’s colleague Lerika had spent a few months in Accra and she was kind enough to share some of the writing she had done of her time here. I loved reading of her thoughts and experiences, and now perhaps somebody else considering a move here will be able to use my blog to get a better sense of what life in Accra can look like, or maybe like us before we came here you have no idea what Ghana is like, and you will find it interesting to read of a different way of life in this West African country.  

Jack and I outside an abandoned school in Amedzofe village in the Volta Region, Ghana

I also recently thought of the Baz Luhrman ‘Sunscreen’ song while we were driving somewhere. A few weeks ago our Matric class had our twenty year school reunion in Durban and somehow (suddenly!?) two decades later we are that class of ‘99 that Baz Luhrman speaks about in that song. I got home and played it really loudly, I felt very emotional listening to it and watching the Youtube video. My friend Lotte was explaining to me the other day that there has been research done that shows the songs that we feel the most emotionally attached to, are the ones we listened to between certain teenage years of our lives. This is a great article on why what music we played frequently between the ages of 12 and 22 gets so hard wired into our brains lobes, that not only can we still remember every word and sing along decades later but we also FEEL so much listening to it.

In the lead up to our reunion which I was sad to not be able to attend, my friend Tam sent me photos of a card I had made her all those high school years ago with The Sunscreen song lyrics written out, and collaged around magazine cut outs, doodles and photocopied photos (I’m convinced this creativity and these beautiful high school friendships really helped sustain us through our awkward teenage years!!).

After listening to it on repeat for old times sake the other day, I also found out here that as an interesting aside all of this profound universal wisdom which truly appealed to our youthful selves on the brink of young adulthood, was not actually written by Luhrman himself (who was also the director of another film that I loved the soundtrack to – Romeo and Juliet), but rather by Chicago journalist Mary Schmich.

Just as Mary points out but Baz says, we couldn’t imagine the power and beauty of our youth and we also couldn’t understand that the real problems in life would be the kind that blindside us on some idle Tuesday. I could still relate to just about everything he said and the song still stirs a lot in me. How thankful I am that now we bridge the gap between Geography and lifestyle with frIends and family we no longer live close to because “for the precious few you should hold on”. Thank you Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram (I am exhausted by you some days and always feel horribly behind with replies, but still grateful for you for being such a bridge!). So much of this song still speaks to me; “Do one thing every day that scares you” “don’t worry about your future, or worry but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum” and how I’d love to have the opportunity to one day be dancing the funky chicken on our 75th wedding anniversary!!

It is also symbolic for me to birth something new as September 2014 was a dreadful time as I started treatment for breast cancer. Many of you lived that time with me and those closest to me were all flung into a darkness we really hadn’t seen coming. Those around me, still part of the spider web of my life,  experienced that shock that comes when something happens to a young person that just has no logic in how we see life panning out. When I was diagnosed I used to long for this time, when I could reflect on a significant amount of time having passed by. I could hardly see five days ahead at times, never mind five weeks. And now…..five years.  Wow! Perhaps this blog can also serve as a symbol of hope for another young survivor who is just starting out treatment and needs a ray of light to hold onto that they too can push fear aside to firmly grasp all the opportunities that still await him or her.

I am forever so thankful for the last few years of ‘my marvellous mundane’ because when you’ve had a horrible diagnosis like this and gone through months of treatment, the perspective shift is that the ordinary is now the absolute extraordinary, boring is the new brilliant and normal is definitely the new nice!

A few weeks ago I gave Dave a bit of a fright while he was driving as I asked him to very abruptly stop the car. In retrospect it was a bit stupid of me as he had gotten the impression that we were about to knock someone or something over and slammed on breaks. But what I had seen was a beautiful pink hanging piece of bougainvillea that in the afternoon light, seemed to shine and glow with brilliance. I love Accra but the landscape is not always so pretty so this pop of pink was like an exquisite glass Christmas ornament dangling from the tree. I got out the car and as we do these days after appreciating it in the real, I also took a photo and video so that I could remember this little gift of loveliness in the road nearby our house.

I also captured a moment in time last week of the lady around the corner who sells plastic jars of peanuts and local peanut butter. Light must have been reflecting on an interesting spot of the car window, as looking at the photo afterwards it appears that there is a festive colourful string of lights above her little corner shop under the gazebo. And isn’t that what this life is about – noticing the colour and life around us. This was a sweet surprise in the picture!

There is so much beauty in the ordinary and my eyes are open to it. Yesterday on my way to fetch Emma and Jack from school, I spotted this small wooden carved statue of a lady next to a container on the side of the road. She reminded me of one of the ornate shrines you see frequently in Thailand with the floral and cooldrink offerings to a god. I’m not sure if the pink flowers had been placed in her lap intentionally or had incidentally fallen from a nearby bush.

I asked Frank our driver to stop the car (the men in my life who sit in the drivers seat of our car here are most patient and understanding of my photo taking habit), as I felt that this little carved lady seemed to be saying “Come and sit on the stool next to me and let’s catch up”. I’m hoping you continue sitting in this space with me and reflecting on all the glorious beauty and life we are surrounded by and are so fortunate to be here for.

The Sunscreen Song lyrics

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99
Wear Sunscreen
If I could offer you only one tip for the future,
Sunscreen would be it
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…
I will dispense this advice now…

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth
oh nevermind;
you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself
and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before
you and how fabulous you really looked…
You are not as fat as you imagine
Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as
effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind
the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday

Do one thing everyday that scares you
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts
don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours
Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…
the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself
Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults
if you succeed in doing this, tell me how

Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…
the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t

Get plenty of calcium
Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t
maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t
maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding
what ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either
your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

Enjoy your body
use it every way you can…
don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it
it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own

Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them
Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good
Be nice to your siblings
they are the best link to your past
and the people most likely to stick with you in the future

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
because the older you get
the more you need the people you knew when you were young
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard
live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft
Accept certain inalienable truths
prices will rise
politicians will philander
you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young
prices were reasonable
politicians were noble
and children respected their elders
Respect your elders
Don’t expect anyone else to support you
Maybe you have a trust fund
maybe you have a wealthy spouse
but you never know when either one might run out
Don’t mess too much with your hair
or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85
Be careful whose advice you buy, but
be patient with those who supply it
Advice is a form of nostalgia
dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off
painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth
But trust me on the sunscreen

You may enjoy my other blog posts on the following pages:

16 thoughts on “A full plate for my first post – the birth of my blog about expat life in Accra Ghana

  1. Oh Kriss! I love your comments, thank you so much! and the last one about loving it not liking it xx you are too kind 🙂 Thanks for all these thoughts, it’s so nice to know that what I’ve written about gets others thinking about similar things as we are all in this together! Sending you and Mike lots of love we miss you in Ghana xx


  2. Thank you my friend for the lovely comments and I’m glad that you too felt a lot of what I’m trying to say xx no guilt intended at all, I just think we are living in such different times, and look at how full and busy your life is making a difference in so many children’s lives for so many years. Yay for postcard and letter memories though xx


  3. Ah my friend thank you for the lovely comments, it made me teary what you said about the chair, how I wish distance wasn’t such a thing in today’s times with how we all living but I really hope that we get to see each other again soon xxx love to you all


  4. My forever host mom I have such happy memories of living with you all in Seabrook !! Thank you for these lovely comments and sending love to you and Pete xxx


  5. Claire I think in these times that demand a lot of us with keeping in touch with friends and family far away that it’s actually really healthy to rather be present as a mom as you are everyday for Chloe!!
    Thanks for the comments on my new project xxx love to you all


  6. Sure I’m proud to be your friend too and so thankful for friends like you in Ghana!! Thank you for the lovely comment


  7. So beautifully written Lauren & thought provoking. I can’t recall the song but enjoyed reading the lyrics. We think we have all the time in the world when we’re young (& rightly so) but boy it passes by so quickly, we worry about the silliest of things & forget about true happiness & living for today, enjoy the moment. Life is a journey with many crossroads & unpredictable pathways. Embrace your health, your family, friends your pets, these are truly the things that make us smile & grounded. Appreciate what we have not what we think we need to have. You’re an incredible woman with a beautiful soul & a talent for writing, truly inspirational & reflective. Looking forward to reading more. Well done, I didn’t like it…..I loved it!


  8. Thank you Lauren for sharing this, you not only have shown so many of us about STRENGTH during difficult times but your POSITIVITY always shines through ❣️


  9. What a treat to read this beautiful piece of writing that comes straight from the heart.
    So much resonates with me, and I’m certain with so many others. Felt a little guilty when I thought about what an avid letter writer and postcard sender I used to be. I’m definitely of the tapas variety now, I sometimes think I’m almost rude in the meagre offerings I give as replies. Something for me to think about…
    Can’t wait for the next installment.


  10. My very talented friend, this is straight from the heart! I feel desperate to hug you & sit on that wooden chair & chat with you. Your post is beautiful. Love you 😘


  11. First of all, I am happy you got all that out of your head and on paper, or should I say ‘online’, because it is brilliantly shared. As I read further, it brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. So proud of you and so happy to share on your journey. Forever your ‘Host’ Mother!


  12. You are so right about the like button replacing meaningful two way conversation and I’m certainly guilty of this. I’ve so enjoyed sharing this ‘meal’ with you. I find your posts so inspirational and I’m so thrilled you’re writing this blog.


  13. Lauren, I’m so proud of you. And I’m so proud to be your friend! I completely forgot about the sunscreen song. I’m adding it to my playlist right now. Keep on writing and sharing your photos 🤗


  14. Oh I love this, your first blog post! How wonderful!! ❤️ I look forward to hearing about many more of your stories xx


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