Background Noise

It was still within my new bedroom. I was as snuggled in as it gets being wrapped in a thin sheet, for the warm night acted as a blanket of its own. My first night at my new home in Asesewa could not have been more tranquil. The three window screens allowed for the room to breathe the damp air in and out. The dawn breeze, however, began to carry in a crescendo of noise with it. At 5:00 a.m. sharp my stillness began to stir.

Waking up with confusion, I pieced together where I was and what was the culprit to my premature alarm. I realized that the source was stationed down the road from my home. A man’s voice was booming out of a speaker. The words were unrecognizable, but I assumed the content was either morning announcements or preaching. This assumption wasn’t just a shot in the dark because this is a normal occurrence in Ghana.

In the past three weeks here in Ghana, I had woken up to roosters cock-a-doodling and fallen asleep to dogs barking. During the day there are speakers blaring in the market, at restaurants, and out the windows of the vehicles swerving on the road. Honking horns is frequent, not out of anger, but as a form of roadside communication. Silencing phones is not a concept in meetings. It is noisy here.

I rolled out of bed with that resonating boom of a voice still going strong. As I was getting ready for the day, the swooshes of my host mother sweeping and the chatter of Dangme language between my host brother and father were in the background. Goats rooting around the road were bellering as I walked to a teacher workshop that I had been invited to.

I met many teachers from all across the Asesewa area, the community that I would be residing and teaching in as well. I observed the demographics of the teachers, most being male, most being in their thirties, and most of the females attending the workshop having their small children along. There was such energy between the conversations of teachers, for they were almost as giddy as the students would be reunited from holiday break.

As I was trying to focus on the workshop that was switching between languages, a teacher’s baby boy was waddling around the room on his newly discovered legs. As the instructor turned to face the chalkboard, the boy curiously approached the man’s calves. Before anyone could say anything, the instructor abruptly took a step away from the board, knocking the boy onto his bum. Instantly there was sobbing (from the little boy, not the instructor) and the boy was carried out of the room by his mother. Like nothing even happened, the workshop continued.

It has been astonishing to see how well Ghanaians can focus with the various distractions. We each focus differently between certain environments. I myself do not focus well with crying babies, preaching out of speakers, and the many other background noises of Ghana. But these noises will not come close to the other “noises” wanting to distract me as I am in Asesewa.

As I think about how these next few months should look, I anticipate the challenges of distraction. Physical discomforts, missing home, urges to visit other AgriCorps Fellows, language misunderstandings, and the desire to nap due to a premature wake-up. These background noises racing through my mind are going to be more challenging.

Thinking it through, though, these are just small challenges that I will face daily. However, those small daily challenges are what can become most detrimental to success. That is because any success, anywhere in this world, is reached by many small accomplishments over a period of time. Each day I spend in Asesewa is valuable for making minuscule amounts of progress.

My time in Ghana will not be long enough. Although I cannot change this, I will still offer all that I have to my community and classroom. This means that I must take care of myself first, so I can remain healthy to work. This means that I must set an example for students, keeping focus in the classroom even when distractions arise. This means that I must prioritize plans for the day, taking time to connect with my community whether it is on farms, in the market, or playing with the neighborhood children.

I will lose focus some days, I will prioritize poorly some days, and I will have failures some days. But this will only be some days, for all other days I will keep my vision clear to give my community the best that I’ve got. As I write this, the daily inspirational quote that I flipped to this morning reads, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” – Annie Dillard. The smallest moments in the hours add up to how our days play out. And how our days play out week after week, is what makes up our lifetime.

Although Ghana may tend to have a louder environment, background noises are universal. There are background noises in everyone’s lives that cause distractions. Do not let the booming speakers get you off track from progression. For myself, it will take time to adjust to my new home and progress in any sense. But, as I keep my sights on the aspirations of the Asesewa community, my current distractions will begin to dwindle until they are nothing more than a soft background noise.

Amy Greenberg is an Animal Science graduate from North Dakota State University. Before serving as an AgriCorps Fellow Amy studied abroad in New Zealand.