“Aheh… yah, we can’t come today. Our workers are sick. We’ll come next week.” Next week came. No sign of the men. Other workers were turning up in drips and drabs. Our house has been looking like a building site for a long time, and we are coordinating many different workers, from plumbers, to builders, to electricians and fitters. It’s an uphill process.
Sometimes I go to the house and the workers are asleep on the floor, sometimes they are completely naked, having a wash in the outdoor tap, with all their clothes hung up on the tree nearby! Sometimes there are lots of workers, sometimes there isn’t. On the flip side, some of the workers work really hard and do a fantastic job. After a firm phone call from Elikem, theses particular absent workers showed up an hour or so later and did the job. There is a constant need for chasing and monitoring, mixed in with a lot of patience. “This is Ghana!” people keep reminding us. When we arrived in February, we hoped we would move into the house in March. No such joy. Work has continued though April and now May is here! We are hoping to move in during May.
A few days ago, I sat under the mango tree on the wicker chair in the back garden of Elikem’s mum’s house, feet scooped up beside me, taking some time out to draw, I took time to look around me and enjoy the moment. I realised I had been wishing the time away, in my eagerness to move into our own house, unpack our boxes and have our own home again. I have been looking ahead to the blissful day when I can finally sit on my own back steps, drinking a cool drink I have prepared in my own kitchen, and watch the dragonflies flutter around in my own little back garden. Home. It is such an important place. As humans, we all want a place we can call home.
“Home is heaven for beginners.” – Charles Henry Parkhurst
Over the past thirteen years since I left my childhood home I have moved house as many times as the number of years, needing to uproot and reassemble for one reason or another. But there has been a craving in my heart for a place of my own to call my home for a long time. It has been an ache within me for many years. I remember the day the ache began, it was October 2007 when I left the little terrace house I had jointly bought, renovated and loved. I carried my worn out red canvas backpack with the broken straps, as I stepped out of the house and opened the gate. I remember so clearly how I felt: as if my heart ripped as I left. As if it had caught on the door handle on the way out, and tore as I went. Since that day I have found a home with many people I love dearly, especially with my Mum and Dad, brother James and sister in law Hannah, and my surrogate family, Nic and Jen, all of whom I know will always have open doors to their homes for me. But still the longing for my own home continued.
In 2010 I travelled through Slovinia and Croatia with a dear friend of mine. We had the most wonderful time travelling through countryside, hills, cities, and then island hopping down the Croatian coast. At the time, I had recently moved back the little terrace house I loved, now as a divorcee, but nothing was the same again, and I pined for a home, even though I owned the house I lived in. I imagined that one day I would own a different home, and make fresh memories in it, and (of course!) be incredibly happy. So in Lubliana, Slovinia, I saw a beautiful little china house, with the words ‘hiška veselje’, or ‘joyful home’ written on the front. I bought it as a symbol of my pursuit for home.
And now, with such great excitement I am almost on the edge of my seat with anticipation as we wait to move into our house here in Accra. A home to call my own! I can’t wait. I am bubbling up with joy at the prospect of moving in! In as much permanence as this life has to offer, this home will be permanent, no more moving! …for a few years at least! 🙂 But in my frustration and impatient enthusiasm to get into our new home and kick off my shoes, I feel like I am in the last leg of a long race. I feel like I am holding my breath underwater, swimming with perseverance to reach the edge of the pool, living with a constant fervency to breath again. What a way to live! I realise there must be another way – a way to come up for breath without reaching the destination, a way to come up for air and breathe deeply, allowing the oxygen to rush into my thirsty lungs.
But in looking forward to the future, and amidst the constant cajoling for work to move faster than a snails pace, I have struggled to appreciate the fullness of the joys of sitting on the ‘back steps’ of my life as it is right now. As I sat there in my wicker chair the other day, I looked around, the shady mango tree allowing flickering rays of sunlight to dance around me on the grass, the welcome breeze feeling soft on my warm skin, the birds singing, a busy little ant scurrying across one of the beautiful speckled leaves next to me (for the sake of this idyllic scene setting, lets ignore the big ants that bite, or the sound of the traffic). This is a lovely moment, I thought, I should make time to enjoy more moments like this.
But as the waiting continues, I impatiently go looking in our beat-up boxes – boxes in limbo – waiting to go to our new house and get unpacked. They are full of the belongings we packed up in December. Elikem and I had waved them off to be shipped to Ghana, happy and exhausted. Then, realising we didn’t have any furniture or cutlery, we sat on the floor of our Liverpool flat together with a takeaway! A few weeks later the boxes arrived safe in Ghana, albeit a bit lopsided from their epic sea journey from the UK. But since we can’t move into our house yet, they are piled up in the bedroom and corridor here in Elikem’s family home. Jerry Giraffe still has bubble wrap around his head.
Sometimes, I peer inside one or two, spying a treasured picture or a favourite cushion, and pull them out, reminded that soon we will be in our own home. But soon enough, as I add them to the overflowing clutter of the bedroom we are staying in, it just adds to the ‘stuff’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love stuff. Very much. But as I continue to look forward to a home of our own, I remind myself it is not about ‘stuff’.
No, it is not about the stuff. It is not about the place, or holding my breath until we get there. It’s about how I choose to respond to it all. And its about who you choose to create home with. I can come up for air and breathe when I remind myself once again, as I have many times over the past few years: Home is a commitment to contentment, not a place you live in. It’s not about the stuff, or the place, or how long you are going to stay. Home is an atmosphere you create with your own attitude. Home begins in my own heart. Home is a place of belonging, or community, of acceptance and love and I have been so privileged to have had so many places to call home over the years. My family joke because I often leave my toothbrush where ever I go, in homes I feel I belong, knowing it will be there when I come back. Home is a place you know you are loved.
Epicurus said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you hoped for.”
I am still not sure when we will move into our new home. We thought we would have been long there by now, but things take time. So, although we will still continue to make sure work on the house is moving forwards, I am going to make more time to go sit under that mango tree and remind myself that ‘home’ is spelt ‘C-O-N-T-E-N-T-M-E-N-T’, and its my choice if I live each day that way. And there is much joy to be found in the waiting. Mainly for us this is time spent with others, with Elikem’s family, who are now my family too, and with every person that comes and goes in this bustling household. This past week my mum has visited which I have loved! And Elikem’s aunt and uncle are staying too, so we have had a house full! I have loved spending time with everyone.
Before we moved it was time spent with my parents whilst we were under their roof, and each person who came and went in their home. And in the thirteen years I have flittered around many homes, I was able to spend time: to be family with whoever I lived with. Many of the friends I have lived with are amongst my dearest friends today.
So as Elikem and I continue to live out of our suitcases we remind ourselves of the positive joys of life as it is right now. In the midst of the business of Elikem’s job, we are enjoying time with his family: shared meals, trips to the movies together, being involved in each others lives. Days like Easter day – We went to church with Elikem’s mum – dressed in white, as is traditional in Ghana on Easter day. The church was filled with a sea of people all dressed in beautiful white outfits. It was a lovely family day.
Life is about the journey, not the destination. Its about relationships, and every small moment: life is just one long string of them. It’s about the normal every day journey we share with those most precious around us that matter most. It is not about the next home, the next job, the next project or the next holiday. Its about today, and right now, in this moment, with this person.
So as Elikem and I continue our lives as squatters in other peoples homes, we will keep reminding ourselves that life is about the journey – the journey with others you love. Home begins in your heart, with being content in the here and now, and with valuing the importance of every small moment.