On Monday morning I woke up feeling, well, really crappy.
No, I wasn’t sick. I didn’t have malaria, parasites, or even just katah*. Something just wasn’t sitting right in my being. As I lay under my mosquito net, a thin sheet protecting me from the cold of the night and muted sounds coming from the compound, Cat’s words from pre-dep about mental health came rushing back to me. I had an immediate self-diagnosis: demotivation.
I know I’m a hypochondriac, so I did a little check-in to make sure that I wasn’t exaggerating with myself. Low appetite? I’d been blaming it on my experience at Tamasco, but I had been having difficulty with food recently. Low energy? I’d even complained to Tania about that the night before. Changes in sleep habits? I checked my phone to see that it was 5 a.m. Neither the Call to Prayer nor my own alarm had awakened me at such a strange hour.
Dammit Chris, I cursed myself, way to ignore every warning sign for the past two weeks. Looks like it’s time for a mental health day. I wondered if talking to myself was a further sign of deteriorating mental health, before realizing that that was the hypochondriac part of my brain speaking up. I silenced the nonsense and fell back asleep.
When I woke up at 8, I immediately called one of my coworkers to tell him that I’d be working from home that day. Thankfully my office is awesome and even encourages working from home, so it was no big deal that I wouldn’t be coming in. After all, Alhassan told me on day one that “you’ll be more productive if you vary your work environment every now and then” (seriously, who is this guy?) So I pushed all fragments of guilt from my brain and set up a make-shift mud-hut office in my room. I spent the morning working on some stuff before heading to town in the afternoon. I had to get some pictures developed to give to my classmates at Tamasco and I had some other small errands to run as well.
However, when I arrived in Tamale I found myself wandering about the shops aimlessly, thinking about the source of my current melancholy. Education in Ghana is just really demotivating. There are so many big changes that are required to fix it and even though everyone working in the sector knows what those changes are, nothing gets any better. I think it was the one-two punch of sitting in a teacher-less classroom one week then immediately hearing teachers tell me that they’re powerless to impact their students the next that led to the KO of my motivation.
“Hey Tamasco! Comena.”**
The voice broke my reverie. I was wearing my Tamasco cloth shirt because it was the only clean one I had left. The man calling me looked young and was flapping his fingers in the very Ghanaian “get over here” motion. He didn’t shake my hand when I reached him, but instead demanded to know about the source of my shirt. My answer of “me, I’m a Tamascan” didn’t satisfy him, so I told him my whole story.
It turns out that the guy’s a teacher getting his degree at the University of Cape Coast. He asked me if I like to read and when I told him that I do, he started prattling off a list of African and Ghanaian authors and their novels. I didn’t have a notepad to write any of them down (because, you know, it’s not often that I have to rapidly record African names and book titles), so I took his number instead. He finally shook my hand.
As I turned to go, he caught my attention.
“You know,” he said, “Education, good education, is the only way, the only way that Africa will get out of poverty. That’s between you and me. Ignore what the rest of them say, it’s the only way.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that and thankfully I didn’t really have to, because he had disappeared into the crowd of his friends. As I stood on the street, the sun beating down on me and people pushing past me, something clicked. The stranger’s words played back in my head slowly. As they did, I squeezed out every drop of significance I could from them.
What a strange coincidence. This stranger had put to words the exact thoughts that I needed to hear in that moment. Sure, the interaction would have taken place regardless of my mental state and it’s likely that I attached more meaning to it than was reasonable or real. However, I can’t ignore that the message I needed was delivered to me right then and there.
Ask and ye shall receive? The power of The Secret? A random event?
I don’t know. Regardless, my drive is back.
* – katah = rhinovirus infection
** – comena = come here