Change is a scary thing, but it is the only constant. Expectation is the enemy of change, because we seek it as the constant.
Having lived in four countries, traveled to five continents, and kept a passport with added pages for more stamps, I have always prided myself on my adaptation skills. Until I set foot, for the second time, on the land that I fondly remember as a place of passion, joy and vibrancy. It welcomed me the same way it did the first time I arrived: “Akwaaba! Welcome to Ghana!” I was absolutely ecstatic to spend the next four months of my junior year in college abroad — studying beyond the defined spaces of a classroom, learning beyond the rigid lines of a textbook.
The 60-year-old young-hearted man that we affectionately call “Wofa,” a word that means “uncle” in one of the many local Ghanaian tongues, gave us our first language lecture as we sat around a meeting table inside our hotel, atop a hill in a district called Aburi. “Gye Wani!” he said excitedly, “this is the first sentence I will teach you, and I want you to remember it, and remind yourself of it constantly.” He scanned across the room before he let out a smile, “it means to enjoy your life!”
After that class, we would always hear “Gye Wani” throughout our day — on our way to lectures, before a meal, after a meal, or even before a dreaded exam. Wofa was our program coordinator, but he was also our rock. Despite cultural barriers or age differences, he always repeated to us the one phrase that defied the distance we had between us.
Change is integral and inherent in life, and to resist that which is natural is to place oneself in unneeded disorder. I did not know that until I realized you simply cannot prepare or expect enough. After spending a month in urban Accra, where we visited start-up businesses and joined campus lectures, we headed up north and traveled down south to see the presence of globalization and development in each sector of the Ghanaian society. We spent hours in our 30- seat bus, moving from place to place, making overnight stays at places with completely different living conditions that I could never fully prepare for. It seemed like everything was falling apart, both literally and figuratively, as each day my luggage became heavier and harder to close, and the thought of not being able to prepare for what is to come made me feel disappointed and hurt.
One day, just like many others, during our stay at a traditional Ghanaian village of 300 living on subsistence farming, Wofa routinely unfolded the sheet of paper that he always kept in his pocket — it recorded our daily activities and schedules — and was preparing to give us our itinerary for the next day.
“Tomorrow, I don’t have anything planned. It is your day to do whatever you want. Each day, we have a schedule. But tomorrow, I want you to enjoy yourself. Enjoy your life!” He scanned across the room as he enunciated the last three words energetically. But the thought of having empty spaces in my daily routine haunted me. I’ve been planning and preparing, for the next day, for the next month. If you were to ask me what I wanted to do with my life in the next three years, I could give you a proposition to the nearest month, with three backup options in case of emergency. That has always been the person that I am.
I finished the rest of my dinner in a state of subtle panic. Before I stood up to clear my dishes, Wofa raised his hand and, with the same affectionate smile, said, “Remember, yesterday has passed; we forget it. Tomorrow is not here; we don’t think about it. Today, today is important. So, you know what to do. Gye Wani!”
I was stunned by his radiant and delightful outlook on life. I’ve been offered plenty of life lessons. But I guess it only resonates with you when you need it the most. “Gye Wani,” a simple phrase that had been said to me so many times that I would sometimes humorously beat Wofa to the punch and shout it out before he gave us his daily reminder, all of a sudden held so much meaning to me.
We hold expectations of people, places and things in hope that they will remain constant for us. But swiftly, after that constant is no more, we’re faced with disappointment, or even a sense of betrayal. Although I had experienced changes, I had never fully faced up to change. I have planned to adapt, but I can never catch up with the evolution of self as we descend and ascend through different stages of our experiences.
“Gye Wani!” — the two words I repeat to remind myself to always be ahead of my expectations, to live in the moment, to enjoy myself. Above all, to just be.