My trip to Ghana
This year I took a trip back to my homeland of Ghana. It was my first trip there and I expected it to be an enlightening experience. I traveled there with family and a couple of friends of the family and I would not have gone on this first trip to Ghana with any other group of people. The reason for this is that aside from the trip being as enlightening as I thought it would be it was simultaneously challenging in ways I had not anticipated.
The first immediate challenge was that the trip to Ghana itself included a 9 hour layover in New York and the actual plane trip was 15 hours. I am also not fond of flying. But this was a challenge I was prepared for because I knew this would be the case for many weeks preceding the trip and I could put my mind in the right place to deal with it.
It was upon arrival in Accra (the capital city of Ghana) that I encountered some challenges I was not readily prepared for. During the time we were there Ghana was suffering from lack of electricity and water. The problems with power supply are somewhat documented but still it was not expected in the area of Ghana that we were in. In addition, not having running water was tough to say the least. As a result of this, during the trip I let my inner policy analyst out and began asking many of the people I came in contact with what they thought about the water and power shortages. I found out that many of the people in Accra were unsurprisingly not happy about the situation. I found out that the government had anticipated the electrical shortages and had actually given people schedules as to when there would be power and when there would not be. However, the government rarely followed this schedule which made it difficult to plan the simplest tasks. I also found out that these were semi intractable problems which had been existent in the country for some time. I read about it, but it’s never the same as experiencing it. Looking back on it I appreciate being in a situation where I could find out exactly how people in Accra are living as opposed to just simply being a tourist.
Speaking of tourism we did leave the family residence where we were staying and live in a hotel for a couple of days like tourists. The most remarkable part of the trip was when we visited El Mina castle. The castle was a Portuguese fort which doubled as a place where slaves were “kept” until they were taken on ships and sailed halfway around the world to places like Haiti, Jamaica, and the Americas. As we went into the areas where the slaves were caged, you could still smell the odor of blood, sweat, tears, and human torment that existed in that place so many centuries ago. Just the experience of being there is something that imprints itself on the conscience of anyone who goes there. To hear the descriptions of how human beings treated other human beings… to see the places where women were taken to be sexually abused…and to see how the castle was constructed specifically to cater to the needs of the Peculiar Institution was something that is unforgettable in a bitter and deeply touching way. The castle itself revealed the contradictions inherent in slavery. For example, a church was built on top of slave cells. Incredible. Besides El Mina, there are two other castles which served similar functions. The Cape Coast castle, and the Osu castle. While El Mina castle was used by the Portuguese, Cape Coast castle was used by the British. The last point about El Mina is that the area is beautiful. The castle lies on the coast and outside it is a seaport, white sands, and blue ocean. In another universe it would have been a tropical paradise. Perhaps it was looked on as such by the missionaries and soldiers who were at El Mina. The fact that it was stained by slavery in such a deep way is a commentary on how human beings can turn such beautiful places into such ugly environments. The area will forever be scarred by the memory of the horrific things that went on there. It is preserved as a reminder that such cruelty should never happen again.
Another important place we visited was the Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum, which paid tribute to one of the most significant politicians in African history. I knew some things about the man and his significance before going to Accra, but I learned so many more. I got a chance to see how many world leaders he met with and why he was such an important figure not only in Africa but all over the world. He not only acted as a political figure but was also an important figure for peace in the world. Even though his term as Ghana’s first president ended in a cloud of uncertainty, I think it is fair to say that looking back he left a powerful legacy.
Speaking of legacies, we were in Ghana for Ghanaian Independence day! This was one of the most sentimental and fun moments for me. Just getting to travel to Black Star Square and see the people gathered there for the 56th anniversary of Ghanaian independence was great. It was great to hear and see the president speak and to understand that they are very much aware of some of the issues going on in the country and seem determined to push Ghana in a direction of growth. I talked to some people about the state of Ghanaian politics and whether some of the troubles with power shortages are due to political disagreements. Most people I talked to were hesitant to blame the political parties for some of the problems. Notably one person told me that the problems had been around for a long time and as a result both parties were equally to blame. He asserted that as a result both parties should work diligently to find solutions to the problems. That sentiment sounded quite similar to what I hear in America when people discuss our current budget issues. I hope they find common solutions despite the political differences, just as I hope Americans do the same. But the experience has made me much more interested in Ghanaian domestic politics.
Just finally on a personal note, my trip to Ghana really allowed me to be on the other side of the coin. In America, no one can ever pronounce my given name, it’s looked at as weird. In Ghana, one of my favorite moments happened not five minutes after stepping off the plane. A man working at the airport was helping me at the baggage claim and looked at my tag and pronounced my name correctly as easily as if he was saying the name John Smith. It made me feel immediately at home. Everywhere I went in the country when I told people my name, they could easily name the tribe my father is from. Although I am unabashedly American, it gave me a deeper sense of my identity as a Ghanaian, an African American, and as a world citizen. I can place myself in the world and that’s a beautiful thing.
What was even more beautiful is being able to meet so many members of my extended family that I had never met before. It added some pieces to the puzzle of my own personal identity and helped me just to see so many of my cousins interact with each other and interact with me helped me to understand why I do some of the things that I do and why my personality is the way it is. If there are any puzzles about my identity as a person I think the trip to Ghana helped me to answer whatever questions might remain.
Last but certainly not least I think everyone, but particularly every Black person should at least make one trip to Africa. Just go anywhere in Africa. For Black people living in America as social and political minorities we are constantly bombarded by so many negative messages of ourselves. I don’t care if you are the strongest pro-black person, there is always at least a small crumb of an idea in the back of your head the there is something a little wrong with being Black. I know I feel like that some days when I am beaten down by messages of Black negativity and dysfunction. But let me tell you, just to go to Ghana and be in a place dominated by so many different Black faces, and Black people. It just wipes any idea like that away. I always knew and asserted that Black is beautiful. But to go to Africa, is to know it in your soul, that Black beings are beautiful, precious, and of the highest value. After this trip I can say that I know in every corner of my being that Black is beautiful. Without a doubt.