Africa, Travel Stories

They Call Me “Foreigner”

There’s a storm coming in. I sense the subtle shift in the breeze. Heat has given way to a cool humidity, and I am grateful. The dense gray clouds collide with the bright blue sky and I wonder how much time I have before the rain starts. I stand under the cover of the porch and try to judge my luck. A neighbor girl stands in her doorway and also peers up at the sky. The contrast of her bold blue and yellow dress against the pale orange house is breathtaking. There is something about the changing light during these afternoon storms that brings out colors I’ve never seen before. Everything seems sharper, more vivid, more alive. Or maybe it’s just me.
My students grow more and more beautiful every day.
Teiman, Ghana

The culture shock is starting to wear off and strange things are happening. It’s as if I had been looking at my surroundings through a thin sheet of plexiglass, separated from the smells and noises, shielded from the intensity of the vibration. I don’t know how, or when it happened, but the muted sounds and colors are suddenly louder and more beautiful than ever. The resounding notes of the woman singing aloud as she’s sewing under a tree, the man on the bus squealing along to the music in his ears, it’s all so palpable and full of life.

Teiman, Ghana

I gaze at the clouds one last time, and decide to take a chance. I gingerly pick my way through the rubbish pile on my way back to the school, grateful the dust hasn’t turned to slick clay just yet. Suddenly, I hear my name being called by the woman selling canned goods and fresh produce from her roadside stand. “Foreigner, how are you?” she asks from her place in the shade. I smile and wave. “Foreigner, foreigner, where are you going?” “Foreigner, foreigner, good afternoon!” “Bye bye foreigner, bye bye!”

I’ve come to wear this name with familiar ease, laughing as the village children suddenly come out of nowhere to grab my hand and encircle me in a grubby hug. My own pale skin seems foreign to me now too, lost in a sea of black, enveloped in their arms. I have done nothing to deserve their affection, yet I cling to this daily afternoon ritual, cherishing the simple exchange and their unconditional kindness.
TheBarefootBeatSome of the village kids showing off their homemade toy truck.
Teiman, Ghana

Encounters like this leave me feeling intoxicated with this place. I sometimes wonder if my happiness and contentment are real, or just a phase of infatuation.

Even the night holds a sense of magic. The sun makes one last show of brilliant orange and fades away as the darkness takes on a violet hue. The stars start to shine above the hills as a rooster crows in the distance and a stray kitten treads quietly on the path beside me. Baby goats lie in the grass, worn out from a day of playing King of the Hill.

Everything is softer, somehow gentler. I take in the change in atmosphere, the calm, the laughter coming from the neighbors’ houses. Returning to my host family I hear the same greeting I heard on the night of my first arrival. It’s the same phrase that’s been repeated every day, each time I leave and come back. “You are welcome.” I may be a foreigner, but these familiar words make me feel right at home.

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  • Reply Agness December 5, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Lovely post, really enjoyed reading your story. When often call me foreigner here in China even if I’ve been living here for nearly two years :).
    Agness recently posted…Polish vs. Dutch people: How We Differ And What We Have In CommonMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah December 6, 2013 at 3:30 am

      Thank you Agness! It’s a weird feeling to not really fit in anywhere you go, but I’ve learned to appreciate the attention, especially from the little ones!

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