LifestyleTravel

Moving to Ghana: Welcome Home

By February 15, 2018 9 Comments

I’m in desperate need of a bed and a shower.  At least  30 minutes have passed since I watched someone wander off with our paperwork and passports.

I wait anxiously for an update, smile, wave, any sign  that someone knows we are still here, waiting.

I sit on a bench outside the visa office, with only 3 hours of sleep in the past 24 hours, staring blankly ahead as the sweat drips down my back.  The other  passengers from our flight have been cleared and we’re the only 3 non-employees left on this side of the immigration section. We’ve set up camp in front of the thermal ebola scan station, and I struggle  to keep the girls confined to the small space around our bench.

I hear a commotion and look up, hoping it’s someone with our visas.  Instead, I see two women, who’ve abandoned their posts and approach us.  “What are your names?” they ask, as  one picks up my two-year-old.  She  immediately starts screaming for mom while my oldest answers confidently, “I’m Fiona and this is my sister Emelia.  I’m 4 and she’s 2, and we just moved to Ghana, West Africa.”

The women delight in her  her response, and one hands me a now-screaming Emelia. One of the women plays with Fiona’s long blond hair.  When the women leave, they tell the other workers about the girls and a flurry of greetings follows. “Fiona, Emelia!” random airport employees exclaim as they approach us. My girls are visibly wary of the attention and start running up and down the halls.

“Sit down and be patient.  You can’t run in the airport.  We’re  almost done,” I say.  They sit for a brief moment as a gentleman working in the visa office comes out to tell us that the girls are actually free to run around wherever they want.

I nod and smile wryly in his direction“Thanks,” I think to myself,  “You’ve just undermined any control I had over these two by giving them a free pass to run around”. Already exasperated, I look up as one of the girls sprints toward the doors leading to the tarmac, while the other runs back toward the thermal scanners.  “Great. I’ve made it this far, and this is where I’m going to lose my mind,” I think in disbelief, as I attempt  to corral my children.

Finally, the gentleman returns with our paperwork and passports.  “You’re all set,” he says casually, as  he hands me our documents.  I’m not sure which part of the process took 45 minutes, but I smile nevertheless as we make our way to  immigration. I can see the baggage claim on the other side, which means we are almost there. A light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m feeling better and thinking about something that helped push me to take this journey:

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Thankfully we are almost there. We clear immigration and I call my husband as we approach the baggage carousel.  “Where are you? We just cleared immigration,” I say excitedly over the phone.  “I can’t come back there,” he replies, “I’m outside. I’ll see you guys after you  get your bags”

“What?! Tell them your wife and kids just landed and they’re alone with a million bags and need help!” I say, now  frantic.  “No one will bend, it’s a customs thing.  Go to the information desk and ask for them to get you someone to help.”

I reluctantly follow these instructions and flag down another gentleman. He soberly loads our 350 pounds of luggage onto a cart. What follows is an unpleasant exchange with repeated attempts to swindle us to “pay the customs agent”. But we make it through to the other side, finally leaving the airport.

Reunited at last! We all hug Dad and make our way to the car, accosted by people asking if we need help or a taxi. Feeling overwhelmed by the chaos, and exhaustion, I fight back tears somehow managing to hold it together. I focus on my husband and the girls, and tune out the noise. “Let’s go to our new house!” we say excitedly to the kids as we load up the car.

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On the way to our new home, I am floored by  how natural everything  feels.  I look to my left, and my husband is driving, the Okeedokee Brothers children’s album pumping through the car.  In the back, the two girls are secured in their carseats buried under blankets and toys.

The music keeps them happy:

“Saddle up, Saddle in, every story must begin and this one is tall but it’s true.  It starts as a quest to tell the tales of the West and how it ends nobody knows, but you…”

The girls sing along in the back seat.

It’s not until I look outside that I realize we have really left home.  I see roads in need of repair, exposed gutters lining the streets, and half-constructed cement buildings. Motorbikes weave through the cars and run red lights, as vendors sell everything under the sun against the backdrop of tons of traffic. We are far from Colorado and live here now. The familiar music playing in the background brings tears to my eyes and a mix of emotions.

 life in ghana, moving to ghana with kids, travel with toddlers, immigration, jet lag, kokotai nternational, expat mom in ghana, home sweet home, parenting, womanscapeMeanwhile, our four-year-old looks out her window and tells us what she thinks of this new world,  “Everyone in Africa has black skin and I have white skin.

The women are all carrying things on their heads, that’s so silly. I want to learn how to do that.

“Africa looks different than Colorado,” she muses.

And then, it dawns on me. “This is why we did this,” We are exposing our kids to an entirely new culture and new experiences that will shape their lives forever.

We  turn from the crazy congestion of the main road onto a relatively quiet street. The directional shift changes my perspective as I see beautiful blooming flowers, elegant homes, large trees, and lush tropical foliage.

We turn left and my husband honks the horn. This prompts a security guard to open a big black gate. We pull into a complex of 8 homes that look the same, lining both sides of a very small street that’s shaded by tall trees.

We pull into the driveway of the second house.  It’s the first time I’ve seen our new home because my husband found it on his own during his last work trip. It’s a bright white house with yellow trim.  We walk in the front door and I see all of our furniture from Colorado, assembled and arranged  My husband wanted to surprise us – our shipping container had arrived.

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We were in a foreign country, a different house, and a new city but we felt like we were home. The girls immediately run inside  and start playing with their old and forgotten toys.  My husband shuts the door.

The music hits me again: the OkeeDokee Brothers’s song echos in my head. “Move ‘em out, Move ‘em in, every story has to end, but some stay in our hearts.  They go ‘round and ‘round, they get lost and then found because the end is just another place to start”. Goodbye Colorado, we love you and hold you close to our hearts, but hello Ghana.  Our story begins anew.  We have arrived.  We are home.

Questions or comments? Leave a note for Mary Beth. If you want to check out the Okeedokee Brothers music, CLICK HERE.

Mary Beth Coffin

Mary Beth Coffin

Mary Beth is a medical professional, wife, and mother of two girls. She has spent the last 13 years working as a Physician Assistant. She and her husband have recently relocated their family to Accra, Ghana from Denver, CO. She is now taking a hiatus from medicine and enjoying more time with her children, coaching gymnastics, writing, and exploring Ghana.

9 Comments

  • Neil says:

    Very enjoyable reading. Great writing style.

    I’m over here laughing and nearly crying. Keep them coming!

  • Barb DeAngelo says:

    I so enjoyed reading this and you amaze me I would break down & cry 😭. Enjoy this awesome adventure 😘😘

  • Nancy Anderson says:

    Mary Beth … keep telling your story (you do it so well) … it will mean a lot to your girls one day. Hugs from Maine, nancy

  • Cynthia Gedraitis says:

    Love the story. Everything is so descriptive you can visualize the story as it unfolds. I hope you will continue as I look forward to reading more! You are a very sweet and talented young woman!

  • Fran says:

    Wonderful writing, Mary Beth, of your travels to Ghana and beginning life there. What a great wife and mom you are being so courageous in the move to Africa and traveling alone with your girls. You are in an experience of a lifetime and I love reading your story.

  • Jodi says:

    I love reading about your adventures in Ghana!!!!

  • Mary Beth Zelenski says:

    I can just picture this in my mind, Mary Beth. So emotional for you, but you have such a great attitude. What a wonderful experience for your family! I’m looking forward to you sharing more of your adventure.

  • Marissa says:

    Loving every story you right and feel as though we are right along there with you living the journey!

  • Nancy Reinhardt says:

    I was moved,, fascinated and downright enchanted by this wonderful writing by this brave young woman. She finds strength and courage to move through her “new world” . This is a great enlightening read bringing a new definition to the term 21st century woman! Go Mary Beth!

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