More sights and experiences in Ghana

IMG_6775Greetings to my readers:  I’m BACK…

I began 2018 with an extended weekend trip to Chicago to see my Mom, sister and family followed by a longer trip to Santa Fe to spend time with my daughter, son-in-law and some of my grands.  Interestingly, when I was growing up 3 generations of my family, including both sides of my grandparents,  all resided in the same town – and while I loved it, I also took it for granted, because it was all I knew. Now my family is spread out all over the US. When I travel I try to spend all my time engaging with family and/or friends to the maximum, and I planned on resuming this blog when I returned. However, life has a way of taking us on unexpected twists and turns and so it has been for me. My back went out on the first day of my vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico with 5 grandchildren eager to rip and run up and down the mountain roads… My body said “Hold up – not this trip” – lol. So, instead I honored my body, slowed down immensely, received some holistic and spiritual treatments, and enjoyed my family in a more laid back fashion. After a few weeks of taking care of me, I am ready to resume this blog… In fact, I am eager to finish sharing my experiences in Africa so I can begin writing about more travels…(my trips and experiences are overlapping!)

Ghana – is so full of life, culture and art in the everyday fabric of the people. Everywhere we went we met crafts-people, including:  wood carvers, brass sculptors, weavers, bead makers, and seamstresses. Yet, in the US many of these art forms have either been lost or certainly not been cultivated in the masses. In fact, we call the few who keep the arts alive “artists.” In Ghana, it is just a way of life. We were headed to Jamestown, when the traffic was halted by a funeral procession – a massive procession, with folks marching, dancing, and chanting along with trucks blaring music –  for a rather long time. The funeral procession was for a young elected official, and they believed he was poisoned because he sat down and drank with someone and then he died. There are funeral traditions pertaining to clothing – red and white colors are worn for a younger person, and black and white colors are worn for an older person.  The Honorable Elijah Muhammad always said certain colors (red and black) had specific  meaning in African society that Blacks in the US no longer understood the significance of. In Ghana there is also a particular manner in which the funeral and celebration of the person’s life is conducted.  There is an initial small-scale celebration that takes place immediately – then the burial and final big celebration takes place at a later date. It usually takes 1-2 months before a person is buried, because the community (all that the person has ties to) has to be notified and contribute  money to bury the person, and feed all the guests to give a proper burial and ceremony. After a lengthy, high-energy funeral procession, with hundreds of people  – we continued on to our destination – Jamestown.

Jamestown is a large fishing village of 5,000 people. Accra began with the Ga people and the original name of Jamestown was Ga Matse’ (pronounced Ga Mashe). The village is part of the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM). I was told there is some negative history associated with the term AWAM – so today if you display westernized behavior, you are called AWAM – which has a derogatory connotation. When the timber marker opened, it took away “the shine” from the Ga people. Fishing is the life of the people of Jamestown. The boat maker is a master carpenter and if you want a boat made you have to pay this specialist to make your boat, and 1-2 months later you get your boat. This is the only way to get a boat in Jamestown. Huge logs are carved to make the boats, and they are pretty sizable – I measured one boat (using a non-standard measurement tool – “my foot”) at over 40 feet long. Although fishing is their life – they observe a “No Fishing” rule on Tuesday.

Jamestown is a highly dense population, with very basic housing units. Many people live in tiny shacks, huts, small shipping containers, and make shift dwellings.  Some of the folks had businesses in the front and lived in the back. The people of Jamestown are resourceful and used many recycled materials in the construction of their homes. Many of their daily activities take place outside the home, including food preparation, cooking, smoking fish and washing clothes.  Everything revolved around fishing. We saw men cleaning fish, women scaling fish and stacking fresh herring and mackerel on huge trays for smoking. The atmosphere was buzzing with the activity of people, the smell of food cooking and the sounds of different languages.

We were escorted by two brothers, born and raised in Jamestown, who served as our tour guides. One brother (with the locs) rounds up all the school age children to send them to school, because the parents want them to work in the fishing business to help the family. He said he realizes it is important for the children to get an education. The other brother became somewhat of a “personal guide”, directing me through the village, greeting everyone and introducing me in different languages: Twi, Fante, Arabic and other dialects. Each language flowed effortlessly off his tongue – and I was amazed at how easily he could visually identify folks who spoke the different languages.

I greeted the sisters and brothers, hugged the elder sisters – “My Auntie’s” and was enamored with the children – who were thrilled to take pictures with me. I felt a kinship so strong – I knew I had come home. Even though our experiences, environment and way of life differed drastically – my spirit felt a strong connection. We are one regardless of time, circumstance, geographic location and situation – we come from the same root – the same source – the Motherland.

The experience of visiting Jamestown was powerful. The people were very friendly, warm and welcoming. From a western lens – the village was poor lacking many of the modern creature comforts we so easily take for granted in the US and other developed countries in the world. Running water, toilets and indoor showers are the norm in most of the US but not readily found in certain areas of Ghana. In the US folks are frequently guilty of being water-wasters and complain if and when we don’t have “enough” hot water. Yet, that would be a major luxury in Jamestown and many other areas. Seeing how happy people are with less makes you appreciate what you do have and not take it for granted. For millions of people throughout the world access to clean water is a challenge. This experience taught me to be more humble, appreciative of what I do have, less wasteful, more resourceful and grateful.

The Kente Village in the Mamobi area

The Kente weavers were absolutely amazing. We drove up to a small dirt area about the size of a little strip mall, with wooden weaving looms – that were made of the most basic materials – wood, string and rocks. The weavers were young brothers, with rippling muscles and strong legs – working the looms with their feet and guiding the yarn with their hands. The rhythm was a steady ebb and flow – and it was fascinating to watch. The end result were beautifully woven strips of kente that were sewn together to make vests, jackets, dresses and throws. One of the picture above shows a distinguished elder shrouded in beautiful Kente cloth.

There were so many wonderful things to see and exciting experiences to have… I couldn’t do justice to Ghana trying to cram all of this into one blog entry…so I am letting my experiences on this journey unfold one at a time – so my readers can slowly take in the images of the environment, people, cultural practices, daily life and history. I want you to travel with me in this blog and experience through my words and images a up-close and personal look at life in different places. In the next blog entry I will continue on my journey in Ghana – through restaurants, a national park, schools, a traditional naming ceremony in a local village,  and a hands-on lesson in batik making. The final blog entry on Ghana will take you up in-depth into the Slave Castle/Dungeons and the horrendous stories that began 535 years ago there, that must be told…Stay tuned…

Come along and travel with me…

Preparing for Ghana

IMG_2383Greetings to my readers – I’m back… I originally planned to write on this blog at least weekly, but life somehow seems to get in the way 🙂 …so two weeks later I’m back…eager to share my thoughts, and reflections as I was preparing physically, mentally, spiritually, holistically and legally to go to Ghana.This trip will be explored and unpacked over several blog posts, showing images and descriptions of people, places and things, because there were too many  incredible experiences to describe in a singular blog post.

I have been to numerous states across the United States and many trips to different islands. This would be my first international trip and I made up my mind 40 years ago that before I go to any other country in the world I MUST go to Africa first. It is the land my ancestors were taken from;  and although my great grandparents hail from 4 different continents: Africa, North America, Australia & Europe – it is the spiritual connection to my African roots and that DNA running through my veins that bonds me to the continent. So it was essential for me to make the trip to the continent of Africa first.

As a little girl growing up in Englewood, NJ – I always felt a sense of wonder and a love for adventure. The Englewood of my childhood was a rustic and wooded land of “enchantment” and there were always new parks, woods and places to explore. IMG_3455My friends and I played make-believe games and explored new parks, factories & neighborhoods in our town and surrounding areas. Since I was a little girl I have also loved learning about  foreign places and different people.  I guess I was on the path to cultural competence – way before I even had a clue what that term even meant. I spent many days transported in time  with movies of Heidi and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, and was fascinated watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries of under water sea life with my Dad.  I was often confused watching World War II movies with my Dad, wondered why people would hurt other people and was puzzled over the point of war.  Yet, I wanted to one day go to the places I saw and read about  and see the land, the people and the culture for myself. So my love for exploring new lands was born in me as a young child. Now, I had the opportunity to go to Africa – to go home to a land where my ancestors were forcibly captured from.

The book and movie Roots launched me on a mission to compile and document my family story. I have been the family historian since the early 1970’s. I have collected original documents, including: US Census records dating back to 1800, birth and death certificates, photographs and family stories. I can see the strong African features on my paternal family line…from my great-grandfather,  a Blacksmith who hailed from Rocky Mount, NC. I always wondered where did he gain the skill and trade to be a blacksmith – those were trades passed down along family lines, and usually directly linked to Africa. Although I have traced my family history going over 200 years back in documents, and underwent 2 DNA tests revealing predominately West African and some European ancestry – I have still never made a definite link to a specific ethnic group in Africa. So this trip to Africa would  be an opportunity for me to explore my ancestral, spiritual and genetic connection to Ghana – the land of the Gold.

Ghana mapOur trip organizer, Marlene begin sending us a series of emails – each one informative, filled with tidbits and pertinent information we needed to know in preparation for our trip. We learned about the Passport/Visa regulations, required and recommended shots to take, clothes (100% cotton) – and must haves to pack (like medicine, phone chargers, converters, adapters, snacks and wipes of all kinds), things to do, comfortable shoes to wear…and on and on. She sent us book titles and I ordered and read both of them immediately. One book: Home going by Yaa Gyasi was a fascinating novel of two sisters impacted by slavery, and their families through 8 generations in Africa and in the United States. This book, although a novel, was filled with historical fiction and gave a sense of the history of enslavement, colonization and oppression in Ghana beginning in the 18th Century. The other book: Returning Home Ain’t Easy but it Sure is a Blessing by Seestah Imahkus details the experiences of a sister and her husband from NYC and their move “home” to Ghana some 25 years ago. I highly recommend both books as they gave me a greater awareness of Ghana, the history of the people, the culture, traditions and impact of the Transatlantic slave trade from past to present.

 

I began pulling out all of my books about West Africa and African art and reading about the different ethnic groups, traditions, art and cultural practices. With online access to information at our fingertips I poured into reading about Ghana – learning of the foods commonly eaten, the indigenous spiritual practices and common religious beliefs,  the artistic crafts of wood carving, Kente weaving, batik making, Adinkra stamping, glass bead making – many traditional art forms that Blacks in the US have been separated or removed from over the generations. Yet, interestingly, many a Black grandfather used to whittle wood – which is essentially the same work African wood carvers do on larger pieces, and many a Black grandmother made patchwork quilts with appliqué that mirrors many of the traditional batik story cloths in Africa. The more I read and saw – the more excited I became. Our itinerary included visits to a variety of schools, communities and traditional villages composed of diverse ethnic groups; and various business and craft markets where we could see and learn first hand about a myriad of traditional African art forms.

In preparation mode, I began gathering clothes, comfortable walking shoes/sandals, toiletries and electronic equipment. I scheduled appointments for my annual physical (making sure I was in good health before exposing myself to immunizations). I am not a proponent of immunizations today (flu shots/ pneumonia shots) – instead I usually boost up on Echinacea and Vitamin C and I generally do not get the worst case scenario “bug.” However, the country of Ghana requires the Yellow Fever vaccine and proof must be submitted along with your original passport to the Ghanaian Embassy for the Visa to be stamped in your passport. So, after deciding I may be better safe than sorry, I went ahead and got several of the additional recommended but not required shots, including: Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid and Diphtheria/Tetanus. I also filled my prescription for Malaria and made note of when and how I need to take it. So, here I was immunized and in packing mode for this trip – but I realized there was a whole other mode of preparation I needed to make. This was not just any trip…or just another vacation…this was a special trip – a Homegoing and I needed to be spiritually and mentally ready.

 

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I recharged my ancestral altar, offered more light, prayers and energy through prayers and meditations to my ancestors. I trusted more in the spiritual messages that whisper in my ear, emerge in my dreams or plant themselves in my conscious or unconscious mind. In other words, I begin to pay attention more intently. I also started focusing on the spiritual ties that connect us to people through multiple generations (when acknowledged and fed) and knew this trip would be a life-changing experience for me.

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Well I packed everything I thought I would need and then some. I filled my largest suitcase with school supplies (books, pencils, sharpeners) for the children in the schools we would visit and name brand T-shirts to barter with in the craft markets. Finally, the day came – I called my personal Uber driver who gladly drops me off at the Airport at off hours and times and was on my way. During the long lay over,  I begin to meet my fellow travelers. There were 11 of us in total – 11 Black women from all over the United States. Most of us did not know one another, but we each knew at least one person in the group. So the long lay over went faster than expected because we were all talking and laughing and sharing our expectations about this upcoming trip and the experiences we were embarking on.

On board most of us were sitting in different areas of the plane. I was glad I had paid a little extra for Delta Comfort seats because the extra 5 inches of leg room and the greater recline to the seat was more than needed on the long 10 hour non stop flight from Ghana to Accra. I brought books, magazines and the Kindle app on my Iphone as reading material – but I spent most of my time… thinking, wondering, imagining and reveling in the fact that I was actually on my way to Africa! IMG_5965

AFRICA… the “jungle” depicted in stereotypical Tarzan movies from my youth, the land the teachers in Catholic School made fun of, the place I “only” read about in books, the continent where rumors, myths and negative portrayals about the people run rampant… Yet – I know this too is the Africa that gave birth to the WORLD… the place that invented Archaeology, Mathematics, Medicine, and Science… the place that housed the first universities in the world… the continent richest in natural resources. This is the land that has also suffered under enslavement and colonization for hundreds of years. This is the continent I have wanted to go to since 1975 when I began learning the truth of my history and the knowledge of self. Contrary to people’s thinking this place called Africa is a huge continent and this map (above) gives a visual image of the many countries that can fit inside the land mass of the continent. So I sat on this plane for the duration of this long flight and all these thoughts came rushing through my head.

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Through it all, I realized how very blessed and fortunate I was that I was able to make this trip. I continually gave thanks and praise for the Creator for blessing me to return home when I knew without a shadow of a doubt that some ancestor(s) of mine were forcibly removed from this continent and never thought their descendants would ever return.

 

As the plane was making our descent, these are the first images of African soil I witnessed. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I acknowledged the magnitude of that moment. I was HOME… HOME as in the place where I finally felt a sense of connection in the world. Riding through the streets of Accra, Ghana and seeing black people everywhere – brothers and sisters dressed in colorful Kentes, Batiks and Ghanaian cotton, mothers carrying babies on their back and baskets on their head, street vendors, hawkers, crowded streets, tro-tro’s and a renewed sense that in spite of the trials and tribulations, struggles and long-term effects from hundreds of years of enslavement, colonization and now corruption – I had truly returned HOME!!

 

I was ready to check into our hotel, unpack, and begin savoring every moment of this trip. We were given a traditional welcome as the brothers played the talking drums and jimbe upon arrival at our hotel. Stay tuned and join me as we witness neighborhoods, people, craft markets, fishing villages, schools, Slave castle/dungeons and more… Come along and travel with me and experience  Ghanaian life and culture…