Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana, Africa for several days. I explored three major cities, including Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast. This adventure was reflective in that I was able to think about my role as a Black man in America, insightful in that I was able to shatter many myths and stereotypes of what Africa and its people are really like, as well as empowering in that I felt a surge of energy and connection to a culture and group of people filled with much tradition, strength, and creativity. My personal journey to Ghana, Africa has taught me much more than any myth or mistruth found in a book or screenplay ever could.
In reality, I learned much more than seven things from my journey to my African motherland, but here are a few reflections if I must narrow them down.
1. We are more alike than we are different.
As a foreigner traveling to a new part of the world, it may be easy to adopt the notion that the people you will encounter will be very different from you. But what happens when you encounter the people in a new land and realize how much you have in common? Ghanaians I interacted with were just like me in many ways—many of the men dressed similar to how I dress; many Ghanaians listened to the same music I listen to; many valued family, spirituality, education, and career in similar ways to me.
2. Many people have it worse than we do, many people have it better than we do.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for poverty and Africa to be closely linked in the same sentence. This stereotype was almost immediately shattered when I learned about and experienced Ghana’s rich history of gold and salt (Trans-Saharan trade). An empire that once relished on the production and trade of gold continued to show signs of a history of great wealth. The most vivid example of this for me was seen through the traces of gold that settled in and floated atop the Assin Manso Slave River, where it is recorded many Ghanaians took their last baths, including being cleaned and inspected, prior to being sent to slave castles and later enslaved.
3. There is power in oral storytelling.
Verbal and written communication are very important. While both have its advantages and disadvantages, there was something about the value of oral storytelling from the many Ghanaian tour guides, museum docents, and educators I interacted with. As they told the stories of the Ghanaian people, their land, tradition, and culture, these narratives felt very alive. Most striking, however, were some of the smallest nuances to largest discrepancies between stories I recall reading as a child to stories that were being told to me as an adult by African native peoples.
4. The strength of women is mighty.
I viewed Ghanaian women as full of strength, fortitude and focus. I observed women in the streets and marketplaces working relentlessly to care for their families. While in Ghana, my most favorite image that symbolized the strength of women included seeing Ghanaian women carry their babies on their backs (African kanga carry), while simultaneously carrying baskets or other loads on their heads, and not missing one beat or step.
5. Multilingualism is obtainable.
Learning a second language is a great opportunity for cultural immersion and expansion. While it may be easier to learn a new language at a younger age, it is not impossible to learn a new language at an older age. Many of the Ghanaians I interacted with spoke a minimum of two languages, and some even spoke three languages.
6. Collectivism versus individualism goes a very long way.
Collectivism defines a group of people as stronger together than individuals can ever be alone. As a Westerner who is accustomed to individual success, I was inspired by the value of collective building as I witnessed it in Ghana. Many of the Ghanaians I observed and interacted with were seen as existing together, working together, and assisting one another despite their varied backgrounds or individual differences. One pivotal example of this included me witnessing different religious groups uniting, including once during lunch at a local restaurant. At the local restaurant, I sat next to a group of religious leaders from both Christian and Muslim faiths—not only did these individuals eat together, but at the end of their meal they held hands and prayed together in harmony. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” -African Proverb
7. We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
After experiencing a small segment of African history and culture up close, I am convinced that the human race is built and created to sustain, endure, and accomplish more than we probably give ourselves credit for. The plight of captured Africans who endured slavery to the resilient triumph of their descendants dispersed throughout many regions of the world is evidence enough for me to be convinced that chains, shackles, and whips are not enough to kill the strength of a nation and its people.
My journey to Ghana, Africa was unlike any other trip I’ve taken before. Considering the many insights gained on my journey to my African motherland, I can only imagine how much there is for others to learn about their own cultural motherlands. It is never too late to learn about where you come from. Conversations with your very own family members, along with aids such as AncestryDNA® or 23andMe® are great opportunities to start. I have heard the following quote many times, but now it has taken on new meaning, “It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going…” -Terry Pratchett