Coming Home

By Tara Dear, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio

So here I am, with no excuse for appallingly delayed blogs, because I’ve arrived back in a land of omnipresent internet, with even my parents tech-savvy enough to whip out the iPhone or consult the iPad at a moment’s notice. My passage back into this familiar world was almost disturbingly smooth; after only the first day of my one-week transit in Singapore, my trendy and somewhat dismayed grandmother (you cut your own hair off after you had dreadlocks put in??!”) had replenished or replaced my somewhat tattered African wardrobe, my ragged, though thankfully forgiven, hair had been treated to its first scrub with decent shampoo in months (having lost my handy travel-size bottle sometime in the first two months, I’d made do with soap ever since), and my vitamin-starved body had been supplied with plates of fresh fruit and incomparable Singaporean cuisine. I don’t believe the English language has the vocabulary to do justice to that first mouthful of miso soup…

Having expected culture shock to the max, I was mildly bemused as to the ease of adjustment, marred only by a propensity to point and laugh at perfectly innocent objects in public places, such as rubbish bins or potable tap water. It was, in a way, frightening – would the changes of mind and heart I’d experienced in Ghana be so easily forgotten and replaced by first-world customs once again? Would the clarity of my adventures fade, to assume that dreamlike quality of perhaps having occurred to somebody else while I merely observed? Having sweated and baked for my African tan, I wasn’t quite equipped to deal with the disappointment of an elderly relative when they remarked, “oh, you’re still white…I thought you’d come back black.”

So it was with relief that I found, despite being able to handle chopsticks pretty much as well as ever (but not quite like a native Asian), I can still recall the peculiar, almost fermented flavour of kenkey along with the rest of my Ghanaian memories. And there’s no doubt that I’ve gained from those experiences; for one, having wended my way through that chaos of a city, Accra, Singapore’s freakily efficient public transport system seemed much less intimidating than it used to. I believe Africa’s one of those places that has a way of getting under your skin once you’ve been there, that you can never brush off with a casual “been there, done that.” And although it’s hard to find a time to ring up my host-father for a chat given the time-difference between Australia and most of the rest of the world, I’ve no doubt that he remembers me a vividly as I do him.

In fact, out of all my Ghanaian acquaintances, it’s probably my host-father Issifu whom I remember the most fondly. He has an indefinable but irrefutable air of genuine good-heartedness which he extends to everyone he comes in contact with; I’ve seen him hand out notes to mentally ill children in the street, who refused them and asked for more familiar coins instead. His open-hearted welcome to his volunteers rivals the concern if not the affluence of the service at Shangri-La, but possibly the greatest evidence of his truly generous nature is his support of the thirty children in his orphanage, which he gives from his own pocket as he can’t afford the registration fee the government demands before it will aid Issifu’s orphans. At present, Issifu’s major concern, along with the daily demand for food, is the building of a new home for the children, as their present location is only loaned and may be reclaimed any time in the near future. Without the financial help of volunteers, though, this is a dream impossible to realise; it’s hard enough for Issifu to simply provide the children with one meal a day while the hungry time, which the village farmers call the season between planting and harvest, persists.

It’s my hope to go back to my mud-hut village about a year after we matriculate – and it would be a delight and honour if anyone would like to come with me. For those who want to make a difference to the world, you can see with your own eyes both the struggles of kids growing up poor in a poor country and their gratitude when you do something to alleviate it. For those wishing to see more of the world, there are few places further away from Singapore’s high-tech modernity than a dusty mud village in West Africa. And for those seeking a challenge, I leave you with Mark Twain’s words: “twenty years from now, you will regret more the things you didn’t do than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines; sail away from the safe harbour; catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” What do you say?

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