I just got back to Ghana from the UK and finally have time to reflect back on the last few weeks.
Nothing crystallised the reality of my return to London like the rain hitting the plane as we landed in Heathrow. The door opened and the cold air hit us as we boarded the bus to the terminal.
After getting home, I ignored all the unpacking I needed to do and walked to the station store for my usual staples. I was the only one walking in my direction, the rest of what seemed like an endless sea of bodies, bumping into me, were returning from their daily jobs. It reminded me of a note a friend of mine hung up on our residence at university: “only dead fish go with the flow”.
The first week back was spent catching up with friends and setting up meetings. I won’t tell you what the meetings were about yet, so be patient, but the catching up with friends was a social experiment. I made no calls and did no chasing.
Those that mattered, reached out; it was refreshing. Quality time was spent with those that I cared about and the manic back-to-back social engagements were gone. Life for those few weeks was organic.
Beyond my circle of non-profiteers, academics, entrepreneurs, athletes and third culture kids, it was clear that I had built a bubble for myself. And for the first time in almost 20 years, I felt like a stranger in London all over over again.
Don’t get me wrong, London has always been good to me. It’s through this wonderful city I got the education that I have, met the friends that I love and gained the experience that I need to grow. But as the fog lifts, I am left exposed and alone, longing for Africa, being close to my family, feeling the hot sun against my skin and smelling that musk when the tropical rains fall. That for me is hope, and opportunity, and everything that defines the great continent I call home.
As my trip to London comes to an end and my time becomes more limited, I had to accept an early breakfast next to my old office.
I boarded the District Line into central London at 6:30am. As I rushed to make the closing doors, the train was typically full of the two types of early risers: workers on their way to their construction sites and investment managers. My eyes darted around for a free spot and there he was, my commuter nemesis.
Now l have “known” this person for years. And now, after months of no contact, we meet again. Like an episode out of a spaghetti western, our eyes squint and stare at each other. This person tormented me for years, forcing himself ahead of me as we searched for seats, always walking slightly faster than me along the carriages, picking up the pace as I did, sometimes even elbowing me out of the way to get onto the escalator first, only to stand as I walked past him on the left-hand side.
Not this time. I was in no rush. Not anymore.
As the train arrived at Green Park, he sprinted towards me, determined to get ahead. I didn’t bat an eyelid, I just stood there. So he stopped and he watched, puzzled at my non-standard reaction. I held my newspaper out of the door in a polite “after you” gesture. He got angry, grunted, then stormed ahead.
I smiled. I smiled as I stood on the escalator knowing I did not have to rush, I smiled knowing that I would never have to face him again, I smiled through my meeting and I smiled on my way back home at 9am when I was the only soul walking in the opposite direction against the throng of people on their way to their 9-5 jobs.
So here I am, back in Ghana. Exactly a year after my 30th birthday when this correction began, and how things have changed.
I am not surrounded by 150 people that have flown halfway round the world to party in Beirut. I am not getting an endless sea of texts asking if I am St Tropez-ing it this summer. I am not staring robotically at a computer screen trying to figure out the most efficient structure for a tax-exempt investor. I am alone, stripped down to my basic fundamentals, rebuilding my life one day at a time, surrounded by the friends and family that mean the world to me (both in and out of Ghana).
And those days. Those days that I woke up with my heart rate through the roof and could not fall back asleep. Those days that the red flashing light of my work Blackberry at 3am sent me into a guilt trip. Those days I trained to fill the void and run away from my problems. Those days after an expensive weekend away where I came back to an empty house. Those days I had panic attacks, angry at myself for making the wrong choices.
Those days. I cannot remember the last time I had one of those days.