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 ūüôā …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 Рit 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 Рlearning 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 Рmany 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 Рwhich 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 Рthe 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 РI 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 Р11 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 ‚Äúonly‚ÄĚ 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…