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Getting Used to Ghana

Sometime last Christmas, my mother asked me to accompany her for a month’s long trip she’d begun planning to Ghana. She’d dreamed of going there as a Peace Corps volunteer, but after marriage, children and a career as a social worker, that dream was deferred until recently. Friends of our family who had transplanted to Accra, Ghana, invited her to visit. Retired now, my mother began planning this trip in earnest. Wanting to share this experience with someone else from my family, she invited me to accompany her. Fortunately, my health and personal calendar didn’t prevent me from going like it did for my father and brother respectively. Now I was able to fulfill a personal vow of making Africa my first destination for travel outside of the U.S.

Planning for this journey, I familiarized myself with Ghana’s, history, geography, noteworthy sites, virtually anything pertaining to the country so as to maximize my time there. Geographically, Ghana’s calm coastal border enabled easy access for Western merchants interested in her rich interior’s vast gold fields, ivory, ebony and cocoa. The ensuing Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade increased her desirability as a port of call for these merchants, culminating in Ghana’s coast being hit heavily, (arguably) hardest of all of West Africa. As numerous Africans from the region and the interior were enslaved, many were brought to Ghana and left the African continent through her Atlantic border. Realizing this history added a personal significance to this trip as my first journey to Africa would begin through Ghana.

As our departure date arrived, our excitement could not be contained. After months of planning, and anticipation, we hardly noticed the tail end of the rains from Ghana’s second rainy season that September. Our reception at the airport was warm and loving as our friends Sarah and Ian Tweetie greeted us. From there we drove to their beautiful home. Later that day, my mother and I moved into our room at a bread and breakfast in their neighborhood (ten minute walk) in a beautiful section of Accra called Cantemant. We could not believe our luck! Both the B&B and Cantemant in general were more picturesque and lush than we could have imagined. Yards were filled with flowering gardens and plants. Blooming orchids and fruit-bearing tress kept the air fragrant while homes and roads were outlined by statuesque palms. It would much later in our trip when I realized how fortunate we were regarding the weather. The only rainy day we experienced throughout our stay was on the day we arrived. Generally, the weather was clear and balmy, upper 80’s with continuous coastal breezes.

As a photographer, I took advantage of every setting I experienced in Ghana. Keeping my camera with me at all times, I was a sure give away to many as a tourist. Camera aside, my mother and I stood out considerably as foreigners because of our physical features and complexion. Never before had I felt conscious of my skin tone as being light, and in the U.S. it’s not. But there, my complexion and features spoke volumes to any casual onlooker as being African-American. Personally, this fact took time to accept, as I wanted to blend in as much as possible. Just the same, these differences didn’t matter as virtually every Ghanaian I met/encountered, seemed genuinely interested in meeting me and were almost honored and humbled that I made such efforts to visit their country. Many Ghanaians commented, “You’ve come home.” All of the heresy I heard and even read, of Africans viewing African-Americans with disdain was so completely wrong in Ghana. Communicating was not difficult either. Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, chose English as the official language rather than imposing one indigenous language over another. As there are over a dozen different kingdoms with varying cultures populating the country, Nkrumah believed one language that all could agree upon would assist unification, which it most likely did as Ghana’s maintained peace since independence from Great Britain.

Our days began early, with coffee or tea, morning breads and fresh fruit. Later, we usually walked to Sarah and Ian’s for a visit, prior to setting out for the day. One of our first visits was to W.E. B. DuBois’ last home and resting area also in Cantemant. He made Ghana his home as an expatriate, denouncing the U.S. and protesting its civil rights policies. We also visited outdoor markets, some as large as several city blocks, museums, and cultural centers as well as Ghana’s spectacular beaches. One afternoon, we took in a trip to the University of Ghana and toured its beautiful campus and libraries. Additionally, we stayed a night in Kumasi the Ashanti capital, and visited our hostess’ childhood village and home.

Later in our trip we spent a day in the Volta region. Starting off early, we arrived at Nkrumah Dam on the Volta River, supplier of Ghana’s electricity. While overlooking the dam from a neighboring hotel’s picturesque veranda, we enjoyed a robust breakfast including fresh fruit, eggs, hot cereals and traditional breads. The remainder of the day we cruised Volta Lake on an old yet colorful open barge. During the ride, we were treated to a delicious buffet including roasted guinea hen. The barge also included an open bar and live juju music. Volta Lake is incredibly vast; it’s the largest manmade lake in West Africa as we saw up close that afternoon. Similarly, we spent a day visiting Aburi. Located a couple of hours outside of Accra, Aburi hosts a beautiful botanical garden built by the British around the turn of the century. Here too, the settings were breathtaking, for within the gardens are plants and trees representing all of the colonies that Great Britain once possessed. Additionally, this vegetation attracts a variety of birds and butterflies in colors that were spellbinding. Sitting at a high elevation, Aburi’s vistas too, were beyond words, as the surrounding forested rolling hills lead to the Atlantic.

Sharing my interest in the African Diaspora, my mother and I had an overnight stay at a bed and breakfast near two castles involved in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade; Elmina and Cape Coast Castle. Both castles are UNESCO world historical sites. While there, we took in tours that were staggeringly informative. Nothing could have prepared us for those trips, as we saw and learned of the process of enslavement, yet neither of us have any regret in completing them. My mother commented that she felt as if she were “touching souls,” while walking through a men’s holding cell at Elmina Castle. I concurred; overcoming the physical and mental horrors that arose within those castles was a true testament of the power within the human spirit. I later visited two other similar structures to photograph; Forts Good Hope and Patience. Getting to those destinations, two hours outside of Accra, was no small feat as both forts were located in obscure coastal towns overlooked by most mapmakers. But the fulfilling feeling I got after those excursions was akin to a personal Mecca. Positively amazing!

On our last day in Ghana, we attended an Ashanti celebration. A friend of our host’s father is an Ashanti Chief; Oyeeman Wereko Ampem, II. His community was celebrating his 25th anniversary of his (instoolment) or coronation. The pageantry and festivities that day were magnificent! Never before had I seen such dazzling colors, intricate kinte cloth and hand made gold all worn by the Chief, local elders and their procession. How fortunate we were.

My journeys in Ghana were the most moving adventure I’ve experienced. The trip enhanced my outlook on who I am and from where my forbearers originated. I’m definitely returning to Ghana, but I’m also curious of other African locales. At this point, North Africa’s Mediterranean coast and the Sahara are calling loudest.

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