Dear reader, apologies for the long absence. I typically have a clear system for this blog: I write blog posts when I travel, and I don’t write posts when I’m in the US. The work that I did in Ghana and the aftermath were stressful, and despite having started three or four draft posts I wasn’t able to write the right thing. In one paragraph, here’s what I’ve been doing for the last 5 weeks.
I went to Ghana to facilitate and record a series of meetings with community members who live adjacent to a massive gold mine in central-western Ghana. During the week I stayed in an inn called the Octagon, which boasts a varied menu of three different dishes and a menagerie of foot-long lizards who control the mosquito population, and I worked 16 hour days attending forums with community leaders, cataloguing their reactions to the proposed expansion of the mining project, and writing a report on their reactions that will be submitted to the Ghanaian EPA. I’ve never worked in the mining sector before, and I basically had to learn my job while on the job and working under a tight deadline. When I accepted this position I was told that I would spend two weeks doing field work in Ghana and then three weeks in Burkina Faso writing the report, but (surprise!) the timeline was accelerated and I ultimately had to do all of my fieldwork and report writing while in the field in Ghana. I had planned in advance to spend three weeks in Burkina, so I flew there on a shockingly turbulent Air Burkina flight (my meal of yams and couscous hopping off my tray) to reunite with the friends I had left behind. Within 48 hours I had reconnected with my motorcycle and rented my own apartment, and I spent three weeks winding through the back alleys of Ouaga while meeting friends for beers and prospective employers for interviews.
The additions to my resume are as follows: in the last month-and-a-half I have cultivated a good beard, put another 1000 kilometers on my motorcycle, worked in the Ghanaian gold mining sector, purchased plane tickets 10 hours before flying internationally, lived out of a duffel bag for 6 weeks, and secured a coveted dinner reservation at the Bon Choi Korean Restaurant of Ouagadogou. I’m currently in the south of France. Since I was a babe in swaddling clothes my grandfather has owned a house and winery here with business partners, and I’ve been returning to this same house every two or three years since then. I first learned to ride a bike on the front lawn of this chateau in 1997, and when I come here I sip wines from the early 90s and think “these are the tart and seedy grapes that escaped mauling by my sticky fingers when I was six years old.” I’m glad some/most of them made it.
It’s been a very strange and exciting year so far. In the winter I worked as a cross country ski instructor, teaching families and aspiring racers how to glide through the woods west of Boston during the short days and long cold nights of January and February. In April I went to Europe with my great friend PKM, and for a month we moved by train, bike and car through five European countries. After returning briefly to my Alma Mater to see my sister graduate (with much more significant honors than I ever achieved there) I was slingshot across the Atlantic once again. A year ago, or two months ago, I would not have predicted that I’d be rolling out of bed at six in the morning on a mining site in West Africa, but these things have an inertia of their own.
For the last few months I’ve been leaning forward and dashing from country to country as if I’m on a scavenger hunt. I collect a few crucial clues in each place. I’ve learned how to blend in in the Christiania Free State, narrowly dodged violent robbery by a Hungarian Mafia taxi driver, tagged the summit of a Swiss alp, milked a sheep by hand and fermented curds to make cheese, surveyed a dam full of cyanide in the Ghanaian goldfields, joined a motorcycle club in Burkina Faso, and drank wine from vines that I stumbled through as a toddler. Boy scouts get merit badges for accumulating skills and experiences, but I just have this sense that eventually all of these weird and diverse experiences will coalesce into something coherent and poetic. It’s a very interesting balance to strike: I feel like every trip I take prepares me to be more adaptable and savvy during my next experience abroad, but I also still feel this unadulterated sense of excitement when I step off of a plane or train and find myself somewhere completely foreign and new.