Today is my first day of self-employment. The idea alone overwhelms me with excitement and uncertainty.
In October, my director gave me the news that my contract wouldn’t be renewed beyond the original termination date, Friday, December 19th. I was deflated, to say the least, and caught off guard. But the news didn’t come unexpectedly in light of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Although 12 of the 18 countries in the region haven’t recorded a single case, including Ghana, the stigma around Ebola has disrupted earnings targets for businesses across the region, especially in the tourism sector.
I would like to say that I am clam, cool and collected every hour of every day. But after hearing the news, I stepped into my room (yes, I lived at the office) and spewed profanities. After a moment’s pause, I inhaled deeply, closed my eyes, and tilted my face towards question hanging over my head.
I had two months to figure it out.
Earlier in the year, I had closed my affairs in Chicago at a large public accounting firm, after just over two years with the firm, and moved my possessions into my family home in Missouri. I had taken a dream job with an NGO in Accra, Ghana and agreed to an 80% salary cut.
That night I nursed my doubts on a Tall Horse Shiraz. The next day, I moved out of the office and into a cozy studio flat near an American friend and her Syrian husband. The space was small but my notion of freedom was immense.
Two months after receiving the news, I resolved to travel and write. And within days anxiety and self-doubt struck. So I confronted the unknowns.
Unknown 1: What will other people think?
The customs officer that stamped me into the United States through San Francisco this Thanksgiving helped me confront this unknown.
When I dictated my recent travel history to the officer, he lifted his eyes from my passport. “Ghana? And Togo?” He repeated, confirming that he had heard me correctly.
Shaking my head, I shifted my weight to the other leg. “Yes, in West Africa.”
“Where are these countries relative to the Ebola outbreak?”
“Well,” I began. “The hardest hit countries are Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone borders Ivory Coast to the west and Ghana borders the Ivory Cost to the east. Togo borders Ghana to the east. None of the countries bordering Ghana or Togo have reported a case of Ebola.”
“So what are you doing in Ghana?” He asked, looking me over critically.
“I work for an NGO there.” I replied.
“But why would you even risk living there?”
“Ghana is a beautiful country and….”
He waved me on.
Lesson learned. No matter the path you take there will always be trolls.
Unknown 2: How will I make money?
For now, I will freelance and cover any shortfalls with my savings until I recover my footing and find my next handhold. If or when I come to the end of the money that I have set aside for travel, I will go back to public accounting or seek a full-time position.
During my first couple of years working, I saved. And I saved. I shared a one-bedroom apartment near Roosevelt University with a violin student and walked to work. The space was tight but the soundtrack was captivating and inspiring. It wasn’t glamorous, but living frugally then, allowed me to take chances now.
Unknown 3: Where will I live?
For starters, I will travel around Ghana using Accra as my base. There is still a lot of territory that I have yet to explore here and I have dreamed of a trip to Ghana’s northern most regions since I started traveling to Ghana in 2010. Now, I finally have the time to plan out an itinerary and go!
In April, I have a ticket from Accra to St. Louis and a one-way ticket from Chicago to Moscow a few weeks later. The Moscow ticket was a late-night impulse buy. It was 420 USD. Honestly, who could resist?!
My itinerary for Russia is TBD but I think a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railroad is in order. Stay tuned.
Good decisions aren’t always logical.
Over the past four years, I’ve studied in Spain, volunteered in Bolivia, worked in Ghana, and cycled across the great state of Missouri.
I started Traveled & True to breakdown borders by sharing stories from abroad to a like-minded audience.
Striking a balance between writing and traveling will be difficult. Finding good friends and good coffee along the way will be key. I hope you join me.
If you’re in Accra, let’s start the day together with a cup of coffee.