Photography Exhibit

For the month of February, I was asked to exhibit some of my photography. I chose seven pieces from my collection to be displayed for 1 month. The posting read as follows:

Journey to Ghana
All images were shot using a Canon Rebel XT DSLR
Photographer: Erica Thibodeaux

These images were taken in and around the village, Jirapa, where I lived for one year as a volunteer. Through my lens, I am able to bring home a glimpse of the essence of Ghana’s natives, architecture, and wildlife. However, the rest must be left up to your own magnificent imagination.

When viewing the images, please take a moment to pause, close your eyes and IMAGINE:

the echoing sound of a bamboo xylophone
the cool feeling of a mud wall in the shade
the warm moist smell of rain setting in
the bitter sweet taste of a fresh mango
a completely exhilarating, terrifying, isolating, maddening, elating experience

Just imagine it. Thank you.


I matted and framed the images myself, a task I knew nothing of prior to its start. What I saved in dollars, I spent in patience.

These vibrant landscape scenes were in a smaller series, also part of the exhibit:


Sweat Lodge

Today I’ve come to the sweat lodge once again to cleanse, release, and heal the Divine vessel that I inhabit. The day is quiet and peaceful. The most excitement I can sense is trapped within me at the thought of spending hours around the fire in preparation for tonight’s ceremony.
Nolan, Tatanka (Buffalo), has given me the job of collecting the 32 rocks that will be used tonight in the sweat lodge. This task is an honor and I am immensely appreciative for the experience.
I mindfully walk over to the pile of rocks we select from each month, brought down to the lodge from the South Dakota Badlands. As I walk, I hum a mantra, Om mani padme hung, to calm myself and slow my anxious breath. I stand over the pile and ask for guidance, eyeing the rocks, unsure of where to begin. I am to select one rock at a time, touch the rock, say a prayer and then carefully place it in the center of the fire that Nolan has prepared. The fire is now built up to a great height, almost too great for me to reach the center.
My eyes return to the pile, I notice one rock seems to stand out, almost as though it is glowing and beckoning me to choose it first. I acknowledge this and chuckle to myself, thinking, Ok, so this is how it’s going to go. I pick up the rock, it’s the correct one. I turn it over in my hand, thanking Mother Earth for giving part of herself to us today. I thank the rock for lasting long enough to become the strong stone it is and for offering itself. I ask it to absorb plenty of heat in the fire so that our bodies may be totally cleansed and healed later. I walk over to the fire, touch the stone to my chest, release it into the center of the flames, and return to the pile of rocks. I continue to scan, select, thank, and release. My movements are slow, precise, and mindful. With each selection, I become aware of the history contained in these ancient stones. One rock reminds me that all of our ancestor’s remains eventually come to rest here, in this form. One rock smells of fresh earth and has tiny green moss growing on it. I inhale its fresh sent, name it food rock, thank the earth for feeding all of humanity today and place it in the fire. At one point, while scanning the pile, I notice the face of an Eagle. Eagle medicine is strong medicine, symbolizing protection and connection to Great Spirit. I thank the Eagle and I hold the rock, touched by the powerful healing that I know is in store for tonight’s sweat. When I release the rock, I know All is well.
Many rocks that I select contain images of the Eagle, either in profile or in flight, as a soaring Eagle. I do not come to understand the importance of the Eagle’s presence until much later in the day.
One rock contains the image of a sunset, as though it were painted right onto the very face of the stone with watercolor paint. Another rock sheds tears when I pick it up. The tears run down my fingers and return to the puddle beneath. One rock is broken and I rub the broken place, acknowledging its missing piece and when I return to the pile, I find the missing piece and select it as well.
The final rock I choose is one I’ve looked at many times but it isn’t until the final selection that I see the image it contains. In it I see the plains, from above, as an Eagle would in flight. I see the great expanse of land stretched out beneath and where the sun’s loving kiss is turning the dirt red and gold. It’s the most beautiful vision of the 32 and I lift it with great reverence and place it on top of the others in the fire.
I sit by the fire and listen to the flute playing a few feet away. I am sitting and reflecting and my thoughts rest on Maria. Her body is ill now and she is preparing to enter the next phase of life. She is young and will be saying farewell to her family, her husband and children.
Thirty miles from here, a music benefit is being held, this very day, to assist Maria and her family with the mounting medical bills.
Once, I few years ago, I watched while Maria told a story to a room full of people. As she spoke, I saw my own face in hers, only for a moment and then it was gone. I later met her again during a weekend meditation teaching and again felt the overwhelming connection to her.
Tonight, the ceremony will be in honor of Maria. The sweat will fall from me, back into Mother Earth, as a celebration for this magnificent soul I have been lucky enough to encounter. The cleansing and healing that takes place will be my gift to her, my homage to her beautiful being.


A new year...

Today I am celebrating 14 years of sobriety.
As I look over the last 12 months, I’m amazed at the transformation that has taken place in my life. This month has been largely devoted to preparing for a new Self. I spent the remaining 10 days of December fasting healthandlight.com/TheMasterCleanse.pdf to allow for a healthy rejuvenation of my body, cells, tissue, and blood. I opted to fast through the holiday feasts where I often consume too much and instead, allowed my body to rest.
I feel great today as a result of the fast and the renewal that is taking shape within me.
I have a few personal goals for this year:
Learn to sew.
Read 25 books from the list of 100 Must Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library (http://artofmanliness.com/2008/05/14/100-must-read-books-the-essential-mans-library/)
Travel down the West Coast by train
Publish a book
Experiment and gain experience with set design for theatre
Be honest
Remain a vegetarian
Do Yoga daily
Continue to peacefully and easily receive the gifts that are continuously gracing my life from the ever-abundant Universe.
Continue to pass on my gifts, talent, and unconditional love to all beings everywhere.




Last night I slept and while I slept I dreamed. In the dream, I was walking behind my soul. I followed her beautiful silhouette into the blinding sun. The dress she wore billowing out behind her, whipping and waving in the wind, its edges touching my skin ever so lightly. I looked down at the sand I walked over and wondered where we were going. Where are you taking me? I called to her. But she didn’t answer, she only continued forward, her billowing dress enfolding me and pulling me onward. I followed, unable to turn away, despite the fears beginning to bubble down inside my chest.
Then she whispered, Stay close, you don’t want to miss what we’re about to see.

I woke in a haze, feeling full. When I left for work this morning, I had to shake the sand out of my shoes.


It’s been three months since my return to America. Only 24 hours after stepping off the plane, I was warmly welcomed with a hurricane and it threw me into reality quite quickly.

My adjustment has been seamless, though I often feel as though I’m following this force within me into the unknown. I’m not scared, though others around me seem to be. I watch the confusion on their faces appear when I begin to describe that I’m not sure what I’m doing next, or now for that matter.

I’ve created an existence here that closely resembles the one I left in the village as much as I can in this culture and though at times I feel like I only dreamt my experience in Ghana and never actually left this place at all, I look around at my life and all I see are remnants of that experience. It has changed me deeply, right down to my cells and there’s no going back.

I’ve consented never to force words to flow from me but rather to be still in the flow that is always resonating. When the words are there, I write, and when they stop, I stop. Often, what I write comes to me while I walk. Sentences just begin to form in my mind and the energy and momentum from that creates more and more and then it must get out immediately. Until now, I’ve been unable to write, except for a few feeble attempts of broken sentences, but nothing substantial.

Today, I’m writing and as I type these words and see the black forms filling up this white screen I feel so complete. As though the water tank filled to its brim and it couldn’t fill any more and then suddenly, the engineer came along and pulled the lever down and the tank began to steadily empty. I’m that tank and these words the water and here I go, once again, draining the experience from my heart.

I know this much… I will follow her, my beautiful soul, who knows far more than I do where we’re going, to the ends of the universe because I’m up for the adventure and she knows the way. What does that mean in real life terms? It means that I have to be still and constantly quiet myself and ask, Is this what will make my heart most happy? I know that money will never be enough to sustain me through a terrible job. I’m sure that I must place my wellbeing first, because I’m not waiting until I have a terminal illness before I really start living. I know that if I continue to create the art that beckons me to be created, I’ll never run out of the things I need to live a happy and full life. And, that in the end, I don’t need all that much to be happy and full.

I’m not ending the blog but I know not what it will become either. I suppose it will be like all things I’m drawn to, organic and pure, and it will metamorphosize on its own.

Stay tuned…


Easy travels

i'm thoroghly shocked as I write this, from the VIP lounge of the Accra airport using wireless internet.

I came to the airport this morning and stood behind a really really long line. Then, out of the blue, an attendent came over to me and took my ticket and passport and told me to step to the head of the line.

Then, they told me I was in First Class and I got shuffled through everyone.

Then they gave me a ticket to the VIP Lounge where juice and fruit and cookies flow freely for all passengers.

I think that the travel gods must have taken pity on me for all the pot holes I've stumbled into this year. What a morning. And what a way to go out!

Life's a beach...

Last morning in Ghana.

I’m heading towards a hurricane in a few hours. How fitting. I was hoping to outrun the chaos by coming here and now I seem to be heading straight for it. I’m certainly better prepared, as a result.

I’m leaving my peace corps experience with only good feelings and gratitude.

I’ll continue to write, whether here or in other capacities.

Now I must hurry, I heard the only thing on time in Ghana are the departing airplanes.

Visiting Mandy…

If I could paint a picture of the brightest colors, to show you what I’ve seen, it would still be a disgrace because you couldn’t taste the salt water mist, feel the ocean breeze on your sunburned shoulders, and hear the waves crashing.

If I could perch you on a star, high above the earth, you’d see four women, diverse in age (25-60) yet all in their prime, playing like children in the late evening surf.

A fire on the beach, fresh brewed tea, skinning dipping like little children at bath time.

We sat each morning at the peaceful intersection where the river dances with the ocean, where cold water meets the sun’s shadow. We watched the fisherman send out the nets and brings them back, pulling against the ocean’s current for hours.

We walked through the village of sea farers, seemingly the oldest people that ever lived, mild and peaceful, bathing in the river, smiling at the four white ladies trying not to gawk at the grown men in the water.

We cooked together and ate together and laughed together in the way that only women really know how and then we parted ways, just like the tide stretching back to its mid-day home, leaving thousands of memories like scattered seashells across the sand of my memory, forever imprinted.

Thank you, Mandy, Terri and Janet for such an amazing send off. We will meet again.

Early Termination...

Tonight is my last night alone in my house in Jirapa. I’ve decided to end my peace corps service and return to America. Tomorrow, my dearest friends, Erin and Gray are coming to say good-bye and help me put the finishing touches on the library. Then Monday, I’ll head south to say good-bye to a friend at the coast and then on to Accra and home.
There are so many things I can say about this experience its hard to know where to begin. I’m sure I’ll be digesting it for some time but tonight, in reflection, I can see so much growth that has occurred with in.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve walked around with this heavy loaded burden, filled all the way up with a need to “help people”, especially the underdog. Maybe because for part of my life, I thought I was the underdog, and then I grew up and sort of struggled to not be the underdog and felt a little guilty for those that appeared to have it rough. Coming here has sort of washed that entire burden away. Well, it washed what remained of it away.
Before coming here, I had a lot of practice in getting rid of that heavy weight, and now, its all gone.
Some of that burden has been washed away as I’ve learned how to let my family members live there own lives the way they want to and not fight for the life I think they should have. I have one family member who was in a relationship with a drug addict who continued to take her car and not return it on time, so I was called on occasion to bring her to work and holidays and things like that. Once, after leaving her at work, I drove to the guy’s house and spent an hour beating on his door until he finally answered and then I hysterically, demanded the keys from him. Much to my surprise, he handed them right over and as he did, it dawned on me that not once did he ever actually steal the car, he took it with permission, her permission, and I was fighting someone else’s battle and they were on the other team.
Here, I’ve pushed for people to want a better life, better education, equal rights, better treatment, living conditions, clean water… and on and on. But, honestly, everyone here is doing exactly what they want to be doing, and if they aren’t, then they’ll probably do something different as soon as they feel like it. As I was cleaning up the library today, a job that took much longer than I ever anticipated, I realized that it will probably go back to the way I found it in no time. Especially when I realized that previous volunteers (not peace corps) had done exactly what I was doing, a few years before. And that thought led me to the next one, which is that: so much of my need to help others has to do with pleasing something within myself. Something in me will feel more peaceful and fulfilled if everyone else is happy, healthy and pain-free. Well, guess what, sometimes the best part of life is growing through pain. (Read: Man’s Search for Meaning. That will put a little perspective into pain and the importance of each man’s journey!) Why do I always forget this? This is nothing new, I’ve been trying to rescue people since I was five years old. Once again, I sit here, realizing that I’m learning the same things over and over and I can only hope this is the last time with this particular lesson because it sure is a tough one. Its interesting how the most selfless acts are actually based on a foundation of complete self-centeredness. All along, sitting here in Ghana, reading these emails of praise and adoration for the work I’m doing here and all along something felt fraudulent. Something about the reception here and the expectation and it all feeling like I’m fighting the fight for these people but they’re fighting on the other team and that somehow I was fighting more for myself than for them. This is especially apparent in the greed and dishonesty that exists with grant writing and proposals. I could write a book exposing the careless mismanagement of funds donated to the “developing world”. Its really sad. Everyone’s fighting to give these suffering people welfare so that they can go and buy the newest cell phone and dvd player with surround sound. I remember feeling this way in college while I worked and payed taxes and my single-mother friend was coasting along on a free ride to college, living on welfare and buying $400 boots. Its basically the same thing.
I rode in bus a few months ago that was smuggling wheat flour. The wheat was donated to Ghana Education System by Catholic Relief Services and then sold to the black market by the headmasters then it was smuggled all over the country. Easy money from foreign aid. It’s the foundation of this country and its accepted by everyone, even peace corps. Everyone just jokes about it and shrugs and rolls there eyes. Well, I can’t. I just can’t. its sort of breaking my spirit.
I suppose part of me coming here was to learn this, and many other lessons, but this one is huge. I feel lighter than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
I don’t feel the need to sacrifice anything for anyone anymore. This doesn’t mean I won’t help people. My entire life’s goal is to help people, to guide people to find their heart’s desire, to help them to express their true nature through art and dance and yoga and meditation or through my writing. But now I know I’m free to do it or not do it or do it at my leisure. Or even walk away and do something totally different if one day I feel like it.
I no longer feel this weight that was always sitting atop my chest, making me do this or that, preventing me from being free.
The thing about it all, thought, is that if someone asked if I’d do it all over again, come and live here and discover all of this, I’d say yes, in a second. And if anyone wants to know whether or not I think they should try development work for themselves, I say yes, do it. Your lessons may be different from mine and mine have all been worth every single moment. It’s the experience that’s the point and so just like all the others I’ve had, I have absolutely no regrets. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and I’m so excited about what life has in store for me next.

Bike ride with Mayumi

I took a bike ride and it touched my soul. I’m not exaggerating. It was an experience I’d always dreamed of. Bike riding through the country side, fields of wild, green grass so lush, that it appeared to be a sea of green waves rolling in the wind. Stopping in small villages along the way for refreshment, meeting locals and being offered water. All of it I dreamed of, I just thought I’d be in Europe, naturally, not in Ghana. I mean first of all, the green was so unexpected. And then, the bike ride was 40 kilometers, beginning in Jirapa, where I live! So this beautiful country side exists right here (only during the rainy season, but still, it right here!)

We rode to three villages and the ride lasted nearly all day. Then we hitched a ride half way home and waited and waited for a ride the rest of the way (Mayumi was giving her bike away before heading back to Holland so we had to find a ride back to Jirapa, only having one bike now). The only transport that came along was an enormous tipper (dump) truck. They offered and we accepted, threw the bike in and climbed up. We were as tall as the tops of the trees in the back of this enormous monster truck. We along with about 10 other Ghanaians and the sun went down and the stars came out and we bumped along these red dirt roads watching a lightning storm off in the distance. We shook and rattled along for two hours and when we finally arrived, I felt like scrambled eggs must feel when being served for breakfast.

My legs hurt in a way I never imagined they could, so much so that at 2 am, i was angrily standing, half-asleep, in the dark, rubbing my thighs and feeling like Charlie’s horses were trapped in both of them. Such a terrible thing to wake up to! I finally, against my better judgment, took a few ibuprophen and the next thing I saw was the sun and my legs felt fine.


Well, I’ve already mentioned Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan and how wonderful I felt that story was but I must mention it again. I’ve also recently read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, excellent book, I highly recommend it. Also, I read my favorite story of all time, funny enough, I’d never read the original version of it, Peter Pan, by James Barrie, such a great book. He was so clever and witty and magical in his writing. Its really for adults more than children and I sort of swam around in its magic for a week or so. Also, a light and fun book I read, one that made me laugh several times out loud, About a Boy, by Nick Hornby, great little story, heart warming and fun.




Sleepy feet
Wet grass, laughing back bend
Morning yoga

Sad tears flow
Mind racing through dark valley
The real world

Big is heart
Warm, wise words reach hungry ears
My Momma

Pink sunset
Heavy clouds, pregnant with wet
Night rainstorm

You me them us her him it
I cried a river this month for all
Waking to reality

The dark is gone now
New light falls on fresh spirit
Love has bloomed in me

Sweet baby called me
Nanny, you come tomorrow?
No, baby, soon though

Heart to heart
Tied with string across the sea
Sister love

Bright smile
Lit my heart, calmed my sadness

An angel
Sent to guide me out the cave
Thank you, friend

Far away
Facing sideways, silly boy
I miss you

Is she there?
Do you call my soul to you?
Pining heart

Pine needles
Mountain pose, selfless giving

Her new baby
In healthy womb, loving mommy
Best friend, part deux

Harley ride
Open air, no hair, freedom
Miss you dad

Big laugh, HA
Pulling legs and bending backs

Push hook pull
Ball of yarn diminishing
Sewing class

Lift sort stack
Dusty treasures surround me

(that was my week in Haikus)


When Henry David Thoreau set out to live a solitary life at Walden Pond, he was 28 years old just as I am now. As I read Walden, his account of the two years he spent more or less in solitude, I can only grin at the similarities swimming between the perception Mr. Thoreau held and the one I posses, 163 years later.

He was so certain in his judgment of the problems of his society and so certain his solution was the right one. I guess you could say he was self-righteous. Its interesting, how one moment in a man’s life, when written down for all to read, will be viewed as his own personal doctrine for the rest of eternity.

If I’d written a book this month, I’d probably be viewed as a bitter, diatribe composing, self pitying creature, bound in the depths of a deep depression. Thankfully, I was only sought in the blither and dithers, as my friend Nina likes to say, and its finally clearing up.

Last night I made the decision to stay here for now. Today, I made myself get up and go out to the football field and teach yoga. I was so terrified, but it turned out to be an amazing experience. Seven Ghanaian women tried yoga with me and several more walked up as we were practicing. The coach for the Keep Fit club welcomed me and they all asked that I come back next weekend. I couldn’t believe these women were going along with me. Its so needed because they bend at the waist to do everything and their lower backs are misshapen as a result. There were even two middle-aged women and an elderly one, bending along with the rest of us. It was so beautiful.

Then I curled up in my chair with tea just in time for an early morning rainstorm and read further into Mr. Thoreau’s experience, very enjoyable.

This evening, I planted sage, basil, sweet peas, lima beans, watermelon and cucumber with five precious little children. It took a long time because each one had a turn filling the bag with dirt and pushing the seed in all the way until his knuckle was hidden; then, carefully covering the seed with dirt. We went in order, each got to plant the same amount. Its beautiful to watch how serious children take a task given to them. They did exactly what I showed them to do. This was somehow remarkable for me because I’ve been praying to act loving and giving toward the children here. Tonight, I just wanted to squeeze them. They are so cute when you take time with them. Once we were finished, with pride oozing from their tiny bodies, they ran off with a gift of chalk to draw all over my house. I really feel fulfilled tonight.

So, what changed?

Its so silly what was standing in between myself and happiness. Me, of course.

Its taken me only 8 months to finally get up the courage to stop going to the district assembly office every morning and sit around with nothing to do, like the previous volunteers have done before. I told everyone that I had actual work to do in town and I wasn’t going to come to the office unless they had work for me there.

Then, last week, the worst week of all, I decided that I’m no longer going to do anything else with the bakery group. I’m finished. I sent my report, the people spent all the money and its come down to a choice between my happiness or the bakery, I’m going for happiness. I don’t know what will come of it, but the Peace Corps was supposed to call me back on Monday and today is Saturday, so if they aren’t concerned, I’m going to go ahead and follow suit. Why waste precious energy worrying about something that will be resolved with or without me?

So, I’m putting my energy into things that are actually working, like the other women’s group I just met who actually do need to learn about washing their hands with soap and the teen mother’s and their sweet little play about teen pregnancy, written, directed and acted out by the teens themselves! Then there’s teaching yoga and cleaning up the library, planting a garden and dancing in my living room. I guess in the end, I had to throw out my ideas of what makes a good volunteer and just be true to myself. It was either that, or go home and I’m not ready to give up just yet.

My Mom

I cried to my mom and she’s so cool, she just simply said, Oh, you’ve been through harder times than this, Erica. And just think of all you’ll have to write about… Sometimes, you just need your mom to tell you its all ok and then you can suck in your bottom lip and get on with it. Thank you, Mom.


One morning, I was sitting at the tea stand, something I haven’t done nearly enough this month and I met two girls traveling through, one French and one Dutch/ Japanese. The latter was planning to come back through and I offered for her to stay with me. Just as the words left my mouth, I wondered who had spoken them and if I was crazy. Did I actually want more stress? I wondered if I’d soon be diagnosed insane or the like. Anyway, we parted ways that morning and I forgot all about it. Two weeks ago, I received a phone call, saying she was in Jirapa asking if she could stay the night? The call happened to come in the midst of my really negative state and lucky her, I couldn’t have cared less who or what came to stay with me.
Funny things happen when you’re busy worrying about everything you can’t control. The universe, in all Its infinite love, has a way of orchestrating the most miraculous invisible safety net, all the while, its little children keep climbing to greater daredevil heights. Mayumi, the girl who’s stayed here off and on for the past two weeks is nothing short of a divinely appointed soul sent to walk me through this rough time. Little does she know, I’ve simply fed off her enormous heart and simple manner, her beautiful outlook and unending kindness. A presence that is calming and inviting. This violin playing, flamenco dancing, passionate soul has brought me back to the beauty that I was forgetting exists in the world. I guess she gave me a new pair of glasses. How does it always work? Every time. I don’t understand. Every. Single. Time. It. Works. The universe really is perfect.

July 17 Breakfast with the flies…

I’m distracted from my book by the flies that continue to land on the breakfast table. Every time I raise my hand to shoo them away, they leave for just a moment and then land right back on the table. I’ve swatted at them nearly twenty consecutive times and then returned to my book just in time to read about being a slave to wandering thoughts. This statement, being so true for my own mind, is paramount in the comparison to these flies.
I think they are my teachers this morning, showing me exactly what my thoughts do during meditation and especially outside of meditation, where I am not able to notice their consistency. Just the moment I shoo them away and return to my breath, a new one lands in its place.

I even imagine the flies doing this little dance, rubbing their front legs together, singing Nanny Nanny Boo Boo, you can’t get me.

It’s the same with my thoughts, they plop right down out of no where and won’t buzz off. Thus meditation, for me, is a necessity.

This analogy keeps growing by the second as I sit here eating my breakfast. I know not everyone is as distracted by their thoughts as I can be but also, most people sit peacefully unaware of the flies buzzing around us while I am painfully annoyed by their presence.

Moments ago, as I stood waving my arms back and forth hopelessly willing them away, it occurred to me I’d have to do this until the end of time or be at peace with them, ha, just as my meditation practice shows.

There is yet another element to this comparison that has just occurred to me. While in America, I never noticed the flies because I was constantly distracted by so many things, but I’m sure they are there. Now, here, in the quiet and solitude of day break, my thoughts and these flies have caught up to me.

One last thing… I just looked up from my wondering, to see them all over, dancing joyfully, happy as can be and I just let them be. I gave up, gave in and that is exactly what I do daily when I can’t fight it anymore… I plop down in a big chair and daydream.

July 29 Sewing

I enrolled in sewing lessons today. Every Tuesday, I’m going to sewing school. The teachers are a small group of physically disabled women and they’re wonderful to work with. I spent the day crocheting and next week I get to use the machine. I have all of these ideas of clothes I want to make and pictures to show them from my magazines. I had so much fun.

July 30 What a day

This morning, I got the privilege of giving a bunch of moringa tree seedlings to a women’s group I’ve been working with. Here are some pictures of them. The man is Richard, my devoted counterpart, whom is making my work here sustainable, thank you dear Richard. The rest are the women appointed by the group to make the journy to Jirapa to collect the trees.

(The gentlemen in the yellow shirt is the sweet deaf gardener who helped me to prepare the trees for the women, somehow we communicated, he's a beautiful man.)

They walked a far distance from a village south of here. I’ve been visiting them on Sunday mornings and their entire community is full of energy and love. Its so different being there with them, in the village, versus the busy-ness of Jirapa. I can’t believe I think Jirapa is busy, I wonder what America will seem like. This village sits off the main road and is about a 40 minute bike ride. It’s a great place to sit and just listen and watch the children playing and everyone talking. Wednesday, we’re going to plant the trees in their new moringa plantation.

After the women left, I worked in the library. Its meditative, sorting and wiping and organizing the endless piles of books. There were two sweet girls helping me to sort everything and since I still had my camera, I snapped a picture of them.

I have this thing with books. I feel like they hold clues that guide me onward. When I’m reading a book I really like, and the character in the book is reading a book, I try to read that book next. Anytime a book is mentioned to me more than once, I set out to find that book immediately. This has been a real adventure in Ghana, but more books have come to me here spontaneously than ever before. The last three books I’ve read mention the Bhagavad-Gita and of course, it came across my path last week at the Peace Corps office. Then, a few weeks ago, Gray mentioned a book to me about writing. An obscure little book that according to him, every writer should have and keep on him at all times, called The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. Well, I believe my hands were shaking and my face was aglow as I raised this book from the pile today, as though it were the Holy Grail. There are countless stories I could mention about books making their way into my life, as though the energy they posses actually propels them through time and space, dropping them nearly in my lap, time and time again. I desire to make a map of the history of my book affair, though I haven’t yet discovered a method by which to write a book about books.

Then, I held an oh-so familiar book in my hands. I’m surprised I didn’t recognize the rough blue texture the minute I picked it up. I turned it over, its size and weight as familiar as my arm, fitting in my hand so naturally, a book I’ve read more times than any other by far. The text of Alcoholics Anonymous, an old copy, but not older than I’ve seen. If I sound deeply sentimental over a simple piece of literature, forgive me, its just that when it was presented to me, it held the stories of so many as afflicted and hopeless as I was in that desperate moment of need and it held an answer as well. It was so great to see that book sitting amidst these old books here in Jirapa in the Upper West.

One last thing, I have just read the most beautiful book and I beg you to read it, oh man its so great, its touched the deepest part of my soul...

Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan


Requiem to My Misperception


After closing the computer last time, I sat on my sofa and took a deep breath, trying to digest all that I’d realized.

Then, I looked to my right at the basket of books next to the couch. The one on top, with its bright orange and red cover, caught my eye and almost in search of an answer to the questions I’d just posed, I picked it up and read the back cover.

It “describes how our attachment to the ego creates…unhappiness.” The book is called A New Earth by Eckart Tolle, which Chad brought during his visit. I opened it and began to read.

Just like that, I moved on. How quickly after seeing the truth revealed, can I no longer recall the falsity I perceived minutes before. It seems as though I’d always known the world was this way and since then I’ve just carried on. I’m making it sound smaller than it felt at the time, but now, it really is that small. Right?

I’ve said so much about those bad days but I want to mention some of the equally good ones I was having…

I learned how to build with bamboo and for a tenth of the cost, I was able to purchase enough bamboo to make the two remaining doors for the bakery. I began cleaning out the library and reorganizing all of it and now people are beginning to hear about it. Last week, I got a nearby school involved and they are coming on Friday to help me! I was able to distribute more than 600 moringa seeds and I planted 135 trees and the word is getting out about how nutritious it is. I’ve met about 11 other female volunteers from France, Holland, Japan and Canada, all who feel exactly the same way I do about being here and about development work and I am again reminded that I’m not so unique. What a concept.

Today, I’m traveling to Wa to paint an HIV Mural with the students from the school for the deaf. I’m really looking forward to it.

One thing that sobriety has taught me is that no matter what I must suit up and show up, even if my ass falls off. So I’ve just continued getting up everyday and doing what there is to do and, of course, it all keeps changing.


Here is a picture of the mural, painted and designed by deaf students in Wa under our supervision. This was the first time that they’ve received any HIV education in the Upper West. Before now, the hearing impaired weren’t included in the lessons for prevention. A few months ago, we taught a few classes using sign language and now, they are able to teach the classes to younger students. Then we had a design competition and in the end, we combined a few designs to create the one we painted on the wall of the school.

The students had to go to lunch, so we snapped this picture at the last minute without them. Next week, we’ll present each student with a certificate of thanks and have a little party, I’ll post those pictures when I have them.

It was a completely beautiful experience.


The Big Ugly Truth

The past two weeks have been filled with ups and downs, to preface the following accounts, I’m ok, I’m not ready to leave Ghana nor am I depressed, I have however, had some really good and some really bad days. I decided not to edit my writings and just to leave it all here, a true account of the day to day emotions inherent in being in this place…

June 23… High speed

Everything I’ve been wanting to do has taken shape since returning from Lisbon: Planting moringa for the People Living with HIV, re-organizing the library, working on the teenage mother’s play about teen pregnancy, and even the bakery… somehow.

There are a few students from New York that are here working for a 7 weeks. Two are architecture students and I’ve been able to help them and learn from them and even work with them. Its been fun and my days have been so long and physically draining, but I really love the feeling. The picture above is from the moringa seedlings I planted.

June 26…So tired

I feel like a movie that’s running one frame off, so the audio is not quite matching up with the actor’s lips and everything is said a few seconds too late.

Yes, that’s definitely how I feel right now. It’s a painful realization, honestly.

While in college, when I was supposed to be glued to my desk, hovering over drawings and models and designing until my fingers fell off or I passed out from exhaustion, I worked part time jobs and wanted to be social, out and about with my friends. Just after graduation, I began riding a bike, and staying in more, reading good books and really learning. I discovered all of these practices that would have been so beneficial to me during college, that I never even considered until it was over. (Especially the bike riding, considering all of those parking tickets and countless wasted minutes driving around and waiting in line, looking for a place to park.)

Now, I’ve come here and in my spare time all I want to do is sit inside my house and draw, read, paint, write, create, but I’m supposed to be out, sitting with people, socializing, integrating. I have nothing holding me back, its just that I simply desire something else now. I’m frustrated. And tired. So tired.

July 3… (Written while waiting for the carpenter)

The Grass is Always Greener

The grass is always greener on the other side, of course it is, because from far away, you can’t see the flaws, the dead, yellowing patches. The brown spots. From far away, I could resemble a model, a petite-not-made-for-the-runway-probably-going-to-end-up-in-a-catalog model, but a model all the same and why is this? Because from the other side, you’re not seeing the grass at all, you’re seeing an impressionistic view of grass. A pixilated and multi-colored image appearing green only when you’re on the other side.

I find myself in a relationship that is less than perfect. I suppose every relationship is less than perfect, however, I’m only now just seeing its flaws. I’ve glimpsed a new prospect and now the grass I’m standing on seems so boring and miserable and the new grass seems so promising and full of life, glistening, fresh and healthy with eyes a glow. So, I lie awake, my mind dreaming of the new one while my body lies stuck in the old and of course, as it always goes in stories such as this, to change would, at least in my mind, bring about all the abundant happiness I could hope for. Filled with easy living and unending smiles. Picture a girl frolicking in a field of daisies, sunlight filtering through her hair, dress billowing around her legs as she runs, arms splayed out, embracing the wind, sweet music humming all around…

Suddenly, the record screeches to a stop. I wake to find myself in the same place I lied down in with all the real world problems, my body still here and my mind fixed on new sites.

The relationship is Peace Corps Ghana; the new prospec is going home and beginning a new adventure. I’ve done it before, during college, when I fantasized about the time when I’d no longer be tied to this ball and chain educational establishment and I could just work for a living, instead of doing both and of course, the money I’d have. I did it while in a sales job after college, when I imagined traveling to foreign lands and helping all the starving children I’d heard so much about (ha ha), with the Peace Corps. I’d practically abandoned my life in America months before arriving here.

Every time, the prospect I long for, or wish to experience, is a fantasy cooked up from somewhere in my imagination with only bits of truth sprinkled into the mixture. Because I decided that I want the new prospect more than the current, I make the current one look mean and ugly and full of flaws. I begin to see only the flaws and not the beauty. I conveniently tear the old one down and dress the new up so that any guilt that may surface about breaking commitments and selling out can quickly be rationalized by my mental list of pro and con, which of course, has been rigged by my sub-conscience for the new prospect to win. I say sub-conscience because it is there that the lie to ourselves must begin, if we are to believe it.

How often have I sat across form a girlfriend as she tells me how useless and horrible her current boyfriend is only seconds after mentioning the cute new intern at work. The entire time, the friend is clueless and I sit listening like the patron in the café window, about to witness a car wreck, all one can do is stair blankly at the scene because the disaster, while being so obvious, is way too huge to stop.

Realizing this obvious-to-some-but-not-to-others-like-me truth has been pretty deflating. My once full sails now hang lifeless and wrinkled. If this is the truth, and my experience shows it is, then my new prospect is no more wonderful than my current one and I have a commitment problem. So, I’ve committed to dropping the fantasies of any other adventure and focus on participating in this one just one tiny day at a time. That means, all of my escape mechanisms have to be thrown out. Where I usually sit for long periods staring into space, my mind playing out some other story that I’m the star of, I’m now trying to snap out of it, find something to get excited about here and now, within the week at least, and then go and do something in real time.

The Break

My friend, Gray, and I often discuss our experiences with what we’ve named “The Break”.

The Break occurs when someone has been living in conditions far more stressful than one person can endure. Sometimes, The Break can happen early in life, when a person only knows only hard knocks and thus is limbered up early on, seeming ever-so-resilient, even elastic. Other times, the break occurs much later, after a traumatic event such as a terminal diagnosis or loss of a spouse. Often, though, it is somewhere in the middle, when everyday life drones on so painfully, the pressure piling ever so slightly day after day until the person snaps, or Breaks.

More importantly than the varying ages people encounter this life changing experience are the similar thoughts and emotions often present. It comes at once, as though a cane snaps down over your brow, waking you from some sort of numb sedation and suddenly you realize this can’t be what life is about and if this is what life is about then you’d rather not participate any longer. Now, this statement may sound terrible when spoken to those close to the person experiencing the Break and first impressions often cause alarm, fear of suicide or even a trip to the local mental ward, all reactions by those still living pre-Break, which often cause confusion. Hospital or no hospital, either way, what lies on the other side of the Break is freedom. Because the person has decided that he no longer cares to participate in life in the same manner as before, all bets are off. Previous worry and anxiety is abandoned. Freedom takes on new meaning. Lightness of step and abandonment of constraint take over. All desires, which until now had gone unacknowledged, now become the only importance. Society’s once sought after opinion now seems trite, idiotic, and inferior to the real goal, true happiness and pleasing the heart.

An attitude of indifference appears in the shape of walking out on a miserable career or a failing marriage, buying a sports car or a boat, or maybe a drastic haircut, followed always by the image of a happy, healthy glow, full of contentment, a look worn only by those knowing true freedom.

What happens? A person goes on living in this new freedom for as long as it lasts, weeks, months, years and then one day, if you’re lucky, you get another break, you continue to grow, evolve, be human.

Later that day, after meeting the carpenter…

If I were an animal today, I’d be a snapping turtle. Hidden in my own little world, snapping at those disturbing my solitude.

July 4… Hmmm, those sneaky words, so that’s synchrodestiny

Somehow, the thoughts I wrote down yesterday while waiting for the carpenter have found their way into the book I’m reading today. I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am because I just read a book about synchrodestiny and this morning I did say a quick prayer asking that I remain aware of the small often unnoticed coincidences that occur in my life, but the truth is, I’m stunned and amazed and all the way over in Africa, sitting in this yellow cocoon with no way to share this other than by text message and so once again, I stare at the ceiling in awe and pick up my black notebook and write these exact words, to release my dis-belief and give it the acknowledgement it deserves.

To quote from the book I'm reading, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, who’s paraphrasing from Tom Laughlin’s talk to cancer patients…

“What happens in that instant when we learn we may soon die, Tom Laughlin contends, is that the seat of our consciousness shifts.
It moves from the Ego to the Self.
The world is entirely new, viewed from the Self. At once we discern what’s really important. Superficial concerns fall away, replaced by a deeper, more profoundly grounded perspective.
This is how Tom Laughlin’s foundation battle cancer. He counsels his clients not just to make that shift mentally but to live it out in their lives. He supports the housewife in resuming her career in social work, urges the businessman to return to the violin, assists the Vietnam vet to write his novel.
Miraculously, cancers go into remission. People recover. Is it possible, Tom Laughlin asks, that the disease itself evolved as a consequence of actions taken (or not taken) in our lives? Could our unlived lives have exacted their vengeance upon us in the form of cancer? And if they did, can we cure ourselves, now, by living these lives out?"

July 7… Fuming at 9 am

Today I am so angry I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s the type of anger that makes you want to flail your arms around and stomp your feet and scream, allowing it all to flow out of you but instead, I just got on my bike and rode to the site where I need to work. Then my dress got caught in the tire of my bike exacerbating my anger and so I got off and walked. I’ve calmed down now.

All is can say is that I am completely powerless over people and how they treat each other and whether or not they choose to be honest or manipulative or kind and considerate. I guess when you live in a place where no one has what they consider to be “enough”, then everyman is out to gain only for himself. Wait, I shouldn’t say that, just yesterday, I watched Francis, at the tea stand, give food and coins to a hungry man who came over and sat down on the bench. I’ve watched him give small pieces of bread and coins away countless times. My friend, Sandra, brings me food when she can barely feed herself. So, I know that kindness exists here and I’m constantly witness to beauty in this world, I guess this week I’ve just been hit in the face with a big pie of manipulation and dishonesty and I want to punch something.
We’ve created a monster. By we, I mean development workers, religious organizations, and all other enablers that show up on their white horses to swoop into “poor” countries hoping to save the day. How could I have been so self-righteous, so egotistical to come here? Its almost impossible to make friends because even the ones who do care for you, are still hoping for a hand out, how can they not, they watch TV, they see what they don’t have and what they think you do have it all. So much of this country is dependant on the money we place here and we’re not helping anyone. We’re enabling them to sit around and drink all day long and not do anything for themselves except beg the white man for money. I do not speak for the entire community/ country, of course there are the heart warming stories of the guy who walked to school from the village everyday as an adult, being teased by his family, wearing a uniform and sitting in primary school as a full grown man because all he wanted to do was learn to read and write and in the end, completed University, and now does grassroots work for the Upper West, a true story that my co-worker Richard lived. But, these are few and far between and don’t always compare to the pain I see others inflict on their fellow man out of fear or greed or some other drive I can’t seem to pinpoint.
WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE? I’m so confused. I want to weep but I’m so angry, the tears won’t come right now. Man, this is a rude awakening. AAAuUUUDIAGFadsfnawofihweofanfoawfehi!!!!!!
Last week, I argued with a carpenter who over-charged the women in the bakery group three times. He gave us a price for the doors and windows and then he upped it once, then he upped it again, this time to accommodate for the hardware, then months later, when we still had no doors and windows, he told them they had to pay even more for installation. This no good bastard, pretended not to understand English each and every time I’ve ever spoken to him and I stupidly viewed him as a nice humble carpenter riding around on his old beat up bicycle. Well, last week, he showed up to put the doors in, after receiving the final collection of money, which these poor women took from their nearly empty pockets and put into the pot to pay him, and he spoke English to me!!! I lost it. I yelled at him, asking why it is that I care more about his community and these women than he does? Why is it that we’re busting our asses to build a bakery for this damn community that comes along and sees a white lady and ups the price? (Which just proves that our presence only brings about greed, and it wasn’t meant to be that way but we designed this monster and after 47 years, its begging instincts are honed and his survival ones have nearly all been forgotten.) And then, the carpenter just laughs, of course, because everyone yells here so much, it has no effect. I start to take deep breaths because I’m fuming and then I look up to see him getting on a brand new motorcycle! I wanted to strangle him, I asked him how he paid for it and gave him a death stare, but then I jumped slumped down on the ledge and sat, feeling weighted with sadness, I thought I was escaping that type of treatment but now I see that it happens everywhere, how was I so naïve?
Yesterday, while I was visiting the Sunday market, greeting the local women and enjoying the wonderful breeze that lasted all day after the storm that blew through the night before, this man walks up behind me and says, White lady, why don’t you give me 2000. I turned around and looked up at him and said in the loudest voice I could muster, I should just slap you! Then I walked away, but I really wanted to slap him, so bad I can only describe it as the way your mouth salivates at the smell of food when you haven’t eaten all day. So I turned and looked up at him again and raised my arm up and said, No really, I should slap you, why would you ask me that? He said, No, no, sorry, sorry. I put my arm down, felt deflated, turned and slowly walked away. I hate this feeling. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I understand, if I was in his shoes, I’d probably ask the same thing. I just don’t know how to proceed. I’m lost. And I’m lost in a place where I was already lost. Everything is not what you think it is, even my own body is not normal here, I get sick easier, gain weight easier, get tired easier, sweat profusely, and last week, I crapped in my pants, probably due to some bad water or a thousand other things that can cause this minor malfunction.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned, that’s just it, I was warned so many times, that I’ve been so guarded against everyone, that I’ve made a lonely little world for myself. Its so messed up and I’m so tired and pissed and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to complain to peace corps admin because it’s a tactic similar to shooting yourself in the foot while your deep in the woods and still need to walk 12 miles to the main road. Admin likes to hear that things are going well. When they hear otherwise, you begin to be viewed as a lame horse, only slowing down progress and we all know what happens to a lame horse. So, preventing that, I am venting this onto paper. I am sitting and waiting until I can speak with a peer or someone I trust and get a clearer perspective on the situation. There is a kink in the chain today and its causing everything to run haywire. I feel it. Its making me tired. Its my own confusion and misunderstanding. Its my own illusions about things shattering to bits and my own little feet walking over the broken shards in order to leave the room.
I know why its called “development work” because it causes the people who sign up to develop whether they like it or not. My soul really does have stretch marks.

Later that same day, after the flood gates broke and I sat sobbing trying to type what I was feeling so that I could let some of it out, its pretty much just rambling but I was in a lot of pain…

I don’t understand how I got to this place. it seems as though I have turned bitter. I weep today for the innocent eyes I once saw people and the world through. Now, it seems as though I only see the negative parts. The angry, selfish, ego driven. Is this what I am run on? It makes me so sad to think that I am seeing a reflection of myself in all of these people and that what I am seeing is so ugly. I don’t understand how so much beauty could exist in the world and all I can see around me is the un-beautiful. Is this what lies inside of me? where did the love and care and true concern for others go? Where did I lose it along the way? How have I become so self-absorbed that I feel complete sadness through and through my entire being? I don’t feel as though an ounce of love or compassion could be squeezed from me. and I can blame no one except myself. It was my grand scheme of helping others that has placed me in this horrible place. my self righteous attempt to escape the misery that I watched others living day in and day out, thinking somehow that I had an answer that out witted the one they were using, but I seem to be the dumbest of them all, the idiot that didn’t know she was an idiot.
The hardest part of this part, the painful part, is that no one can take this away and crumple it up and throw it in the waste basket. No one can come along and hug me or wipe my tears and make it all better. This is the type of thing that you have to walk alone for some reason. No one can tell me which path I’m supposed to take and I’m so confused and alone in the dark, just sitting, waiting for the dawn that I know will come eventually. It doesn’t make the dark any less scary or its depth any more shallow. I’m here, sitting in my yellow cocoon typing this, hoping that the laptop doesn’t go off because I procrastinated on paying the electric bill and now they shut it off and I can’t get it back on for two days. Now I just sound like a pitiful piece of shit, but the truth is I’m just lost.

Oh Divine Soul that lives inside of me, please, I beg you to find me. be bigger than me. tell me what I am to do? Is this as good as it gets? Is this why I came here? just please help me today.

Where have I been selfish, self-seeking, dishonest and afraid?

I came to Ghana because I thought that I’d escape some sort of trap in America that everyone falls into. I thought this was my ticket out of that. I also wanted to push myself past what I thought I could handle, past all of the comforts I was used to. I even judged myself for wanting comfort and material possessions.

I thought it was better to choose this life over the one I was leading. I imagined I was following in the footsteps of the great people that had already given up everything and walked away to help others.

I also wanted to escape from the pressures of always having to look a certain way. Always having to be a certain person, I wanted to go away and find more of who I am.

My motives for wanting to do the cultural center were selfish because I thought people back home would really honor and value that, rather than if I just taught people how to wash their hands with soap.

I’m afraid of so many things here, especially what I think people are trying to get from me. I don’t even want Ghanaians coming into my house because I’m scared they will rob me. I never even locked my door in America, why and where did this come from? I want to have an open heart, but it seems so so closed off.

I’m even afraid of the peace corps and what they think of me. I’m always afraid of what people think. Why am I like this? I’m so miserable like this. I wish I didn’t care at all. I want to be free from it somehow. Just neutral, not for or against, just neutral. I saw how my friends are able to eat and drink and smoke in moderation when we were in Lisbon and I felt retarded somehow. Like I was born without the ability to stop. So I just have to deprive myself of these things. Then when I think about it sometimes, I feel lucky, because I’m forced to just go without, relying only on whatever is inside of me for strength and guidance and fulfillment because in the end, those things never really got me to the point I was looking for anyway.

I think that somewhere along the way, my ego took over and began calling the shots and I need it to go away. To be smashed. Into little pieces. For a long long time. I really miss AA and the 12 steps. These are the steps, right here, step 10. in real time.

I don’t want to leave here today. I don’t know why except that when I leave here, I don’t really know what I’d do next. So I want to stick it out longer I just don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

Work in library
Plant moringa
Make doors
Work on the play
Be still
Know that I am God
I love you
Thank you

(so, I wrote this and then cried a little longer, then somehow, it all just got better. I was drained and empty and quiet and still. I talked with one of the student volunteers and she was so helpful and I just helped her all night to finish weaving her bamboo windows and everything just felt better… this too shall pass, I suppose)