The Other 90%

There’s a saying in software development: the first 90% of the work takes 90% of the time, and the remaining 10% of the work takes the other 90%.
Well, that’s where I’m at right now. I have about 4 weeks left before I travel to Accra and go through my Completion of Service process, and I feel like I’ve got about another year’s work ahead of me. I have lessons to give, papers to mark, exams to write, computer labs to fix, documentation to write so that other people can keep the lab running, paperwork to fill out, Peace Corps books and property to inventory and return, reports to write, people to say goodbye to, bank accounts to close, and a house full of stuff that I have to decide whether to keep, give away, or try to sell.
On top of that, there’s everything related to returning to the United States. Caroline and I have been working on updating our resumes, looking for jobs (though that’s pretty low key at the moment), trying to arrange for housing in Madison, figuring out how to budget our combined re-adjustment allowances, and beginning to talk about what kind of wedding we want, and when and where we should have it. I’m also at the point in my marathon training where I’m running about 30 miles a week and hungry much more often than I used to be.
So, there’s that.
My last day here in Seikwa is August 1st. My last day as a PCV will be August 6th. As I attempt to wind down my life here, and at the same time try to prepare for a new life in America, I find myself reminiscing about the good times, as well as reflecting on the bad times and what I could have done better. I’ve learned a lot of things here — patience and persistance pays off (case in point: my computer lab); don’t believe anything until you see it for yourself (again, the computer lab, but also travel and other things); no plan survives its first contact with reality; and never be afraid to ask questions, no matter how trivial or ridiculous they may seem to you (Ghanaian culture at large).
The most important thing I’ve learned, though, is this: as long as you are willing to learn, and to try new things, and to embrace your sense of curiousity, anything is possible. I’ve traveled and met people and experienced life here for two years, and every day it becomes more strikingly clear just how little I actually know. I’ve learned a lot about administering Linux boxes, and maintaining computers, and squeezing the absolute maximum performance out of a computer; and as I’ve learned to do that, I’ve realized how much more I didn’t know about using computers, and teaching people how to use them, and teaching people how to maintain them. I’ve learned a lot about myself; and in doing so, I’ve realized just how little I actually knew, and still know about who I am and who I want to be.
I am absolutely fascinated by the world around me, and how it works, and I know so very little about it. But as long as I am willing to be curious, and ask questions, and accept that inevitably I will not know or understand something, then my ignorance will not be an obstacle, and the world will be open to me. That’s true of the Peace Corps and experiencing Ghanaian (or any other) culture, but that’s also true of the American culture I’m returning to. This is work — hard work — that I will likely never finish, but, then again, I’m not sure I want it to be. That’s part of the fun.
And, in the end, that’s the other 90% of what I have to do. Peace Corps has 3 goals; the first one is to train people in technical skills; the second is to help people of other countries get a better understanding of America. But the third one is to help Americans to get a better understanding of other countries. I spent two years here, teaching people about computers and computer skills, learning about and experiencing Ghana first-hand, and now I get to come back and spend the rest of my life trying to explain Ghana to you.
So, the next time you see me in America, remember this: I may look at appliances with varying degrees of bewilderment and confusion. I may ask questions that seem ridiculous, such as “So, who’s this Lady Gaga that I keep hearing about?”, and I might cry a little if you offer me a turkey sandwich on wheat bread with a glass of lemonade. But if you ask me a question about Ghana or the Peace Corps, I’ll try to answer it as best I can, and I will ask questions of my own in return. Together, we can figure out how the world works a little bit better, and take care of that other 90%.

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