It’s that time of the year again when a lot of us look back and reflect on how the past months have been.
I’ve been doing that over the last couple of days, and oh my, what a year it has been! Thinking through it has made me emotional on many levels, and I can’t but write about most of it, if not all.
2017 has been a year like no other, and believe me…I have had some years! Someone tweeted that she felt like she has lived five lifetimes this year and the year still managed to move so fast, and I can so relate! Where do I begin?!
I was on two research projects this year; the first was a maternal health project which had me based in the Nkwanta North District of Northern Volta, and a bridewealth and women’s normative constraints project that had me in Southern Volta and Akuapem Akropong. Collectively, I was on the road for roughly 6 months. The first project took me to very remote parts; with no electricity or potable water, and no roads to accommodate cars (just motor bikes and bicycles), so my team had to either walk (if I piece all the walking I did together in one straight line eh! My God!) or move around with motor bikes (Okada) which was not any easier because one okada would carry three of us on the average (plus the rider, mind you), and your options would be either to sit right behind the rider, and torture your sinuses (aside all the dust and exhaust fumes, of course), or take the middle slot where your legs would have to virtually hang the whole journey (and if you don’t want your feet anymore, then relax your legs so they get caught in the back wheel), or take the last spot at the back where it’s your behind and the metal, on a bumpy road, at top speed (your pelvis, your spine, your balls) and one foot on a hot exhaust pipe, and the other hanging. We had a third option – the only taxi in Kpassa township where we lodged, which had a bottom view of the road, a make-shift fuel tank that we sometimes had to hold in place if we didn’t want to be stopping every ten to fifteen minutes, and an AC system that gave us a taste of the view beneath us. The driver’s name was Jerusalem (Jeru, for short) and I miss him and his wife who gifted us yams, avocados and bananas every now and then.
Those of you who follow my posts would know I started chronicling my experiences in short stories (you’d find the first episode here, with the rest following, in my short stories column), and have more to add, but to sum up my experiences, Nkwanta North was eye-opening. Nkwanta North made me aware of the things I had taken for granted; the privileges I had no idea I had (like knowing my date of birth, how old I am, how old people in my family are). Nkwanta North broke my heart. Nkwanta North broke my spirit.
Nkwanta North forced me to unlearn. It taught me to unpack myself, stand back and look at all the complex parts of me. Nkwanta North tested my faith. It gave me, I’d say, a better perspective on what being Christian is about. Nkwanta North tried my love and proved it. It drastically changed the course of my year and stoked my anxieties. It did all. I laughed, I swore, I cried. I loved, I hated, I felt flat. It did all.
By the time I was on the second project, so much had happened and changed with me already. This second one was less involving, and not so drastic a change. I learned so much, however, from the people who shared their knowledge and opinions with us. I learned to hold my emotions in check, to be objective, and to interact in such a way as to give the researched the spotlight. For each project I had a different team, and that was another learning moment for me. Co-existing with them over a period of time, working as a team, eventually becoming friends. The people bit of my travel experience this year was awesome; I met amazing humans, some I miss very dearly. I look forward to more of such.
Living with a chronic illness means year in, year out, you’ve got to deal. From the above, you may wonder how I or my body managed to afford me all that. The long road trips, the walking, the heat, the almost 24/7 working hours, the change in diet and sleeping environment – the dust, stress, minor and major accidents… that I am still pretty much in one piece, is a miracle. I have had a good share of scary episodes this year, and having to explain to team mates how some things they observed concerning me, were ‘normal’ for me. Up in Nkwanta North I passed out once, out in the front of our rented home one night, and my team mates found me, ponded me, and made a whole scene, lol! It had been a very long stretch of days with no break and my meds just wouldn’t help the pain in any way. This year taught me to be straightforward about some of these things. It was after that episode that I talked to my supervisor, and then later the two team-mates I worked my lists and “shifts” with. It made things easier, and also slightly unnerving (because then they’d ask too many times if I was okay).
2017 started with me having an episode at work/school (was a student research assistant, so…hehe) where I came to myself in the hospital ER, only to learn I had been found on the floor, unconscious, by my colleague. I had to be away for a while and that episode, I would say, determined a few things in my life much later down the year. The year taught me to not be afraid to talk about it in the first place, and go on to talk about The Rheumatology Initiative of which I am a member, to talk about Rheusolute, the support group, and to talk about autoimmune rheumatic conditions in general. My lived experiences and the people I have met in this community have pushed me to fully consider some major choices I had to make and what to do with them. I have asked myself very important questions and arrived at conclusions that took courage to arrive at (not to enlarge my own head).
2017 now ends with me having had one of the scariest string of episodes I have ever had. This was a night I was in so much pain I was literally screaming, then came another night that was no less weird, and then days later another episode I am not yet ready to talk about in plain words but did express in a poem here a couple of weeks back.
What I have learned in these last few weeks left in the year is to not dwell too long in a harsh spot. I thank God for how swiftly I moved on to focus on happiness and light and not the gloominess of what has already happened and anxieties over what they could mean and/or their implications for the future. This year fully taught me to move away from being “A Chronically Ill Person,” to being “A PERSON living with a Chronic Illness.” There is a difference. Oh, there is a huuuuge difference!
This is the year I nearly threw in the towel. I came to the point where I began looking at other options. Do I start putting out applications for employment? Do I give myself a short break first? Do I really want to pursue this? Why? Funding. I had come to the point where I was about to move into full-time PhD studentship, and I had no idea how I was going to fund the year and the coming ones ahead, from my own pocket. Waiting to learn of my fate after applying for a scholarship was hellish. The uncertainties were real, and being in the position where I was dealing too with so many other things, did not make life any easier. What I learned though was to trust God’s direction.
I knew that what would break me was to think my life was this one straight path to some end I had envisioned, and not a trajectory that was determined by God, and to which my full trust was needed, so I could rest easy. So, I breathed. I told myself, “Amma, if this is yours, it will happen.” And it did. When it did, it properly ‘overed’ me. I remember reading the letter over and over and over and over again. I remember writing the acceptance letter in a daze, everything feeling so surreal. It was really happening! I remember when the first receipt for a fully paid academic year was handed to me; When I logged on to MIS Web and registered for my courses and printed out that proof of registration; When I officially started the semester, and moved in to my cubicle in the PhD room. It was really happening!
It has not been an easy start, but it has been awesome too. Looking forward, I believe things are even going to get better, no matter how hard they become (and they sure will get hard). I know there will be days I would ask myself “who really send me?”, there are days I’d cry real tears, I’d be frustrated, and tired, and stressed, but overall, I will be loving it. To do what you thoroughly love to do and to move steadily on as you do them, is phenomenal. I have learned to not look into someone else’s soup. The meat you love, is what another absolutely hates. Being in academia has taught me that very much.
I dedicated some of my time, this year, working on a project that has taken shape quite beautifully, over the months. I am a lazy writer, I always say, if not things would probably have sped up much more. But yes, the children’s book I started working on brings me much joy. The potential it has begun to show amazes me, and I am ready to do my best and get all the necessary help I can, to make it happen in the coming year.
Quite like last year, I read a lot of Christian non-fiction, and academic writing. I got some really cool bookgifts that I am yet to pick up and enjoy. My other friends, watch and learn. Book gifts. Book gifts. Book gifts. Okay? Thanks.
This year, I blogged much less, wrote much less poetry, and participated very little in literary events. The highlights for me however, have been working with Daniel Kojo Appiah to help put out his maiden poetry anthology, Seemingly Untitled, having the honour of writing the foreword, and being alive to see it all happen, being a part of the Writers Project of Ghana’s PaGya Literary Festival, starting the chronicles of my travel experiences and observations, and of course, marrying a writer!
On that last note, up there, oh what a year! In November, I married my best friend and love of my life. It fits so perfectly in, to realize we met on my old blog, in the comments section. Ha! Now, this is not a story for me to tell fully on my own, so let me leave it here.
One may think this year has been all mushiness and rose petals, but no. As I said under travels, my love this year was harshly tried. There were times I was not sure it would hold. I look back today and cannot believe all that has happened. There are scenes I can only replay in my head for now, and smile. My God, what a year! Every part of me is glad for a love that endures. Every part of me is glad for love built on friendship and filled with grace so divine! Every day I thank God for the beauty of it.
We have fought fierce fights this year, laughed hard this year, cried, pulled out our hair, sat in silent anger this year. We have learned forgiveness this year, learned a love renewed this year. In all of it, he has been my personal person, my partner in everything, my sunshine. He is the one I am overly proud of and madly in love with…to have and to hold through the usual flow of life, till the end.
It has been one hell of a year, and this has been just the sum of it. I have a thousand apologies for people I have hurt, for promises unkept, and grievous faults displayed. I cannot undo things done, or take words back. Sorry does little to none. Becoming a better person is what walks the talk. God help me, and us all, to do this.
Here’s to 2018!! 🍷 Cheers!