With some reason, Jürgen and I consider ourselves to be fairly “worldly”. We’ve been traveling the world almost non-stop for ten years. We’ve got this down. We know this wonderful planet better than most, and even if we aren’t experts in everything, we’re intermediate-level at worst… right? Well, not so fast. Our three months in Ghana proved how far we have to go. As it turns out, even “worldly” gents like us can still be harboring some laughable preconceptions and prejudices. Our trip to Ghana was a lot of things: adventurous, beautiful, exciting, exotic, eye-opening, amazing… but most of all, it was an education.
We had a conversation on the plane from Cairo to Accra, which I now look back on with shame. Neither of us had ever been to Africa before, and we had some ideas. “Just so we’re in agreement, we’ll always make sure to be home before dusk, right?” Definitely! “And we should treat people with respect, but also suspicion, shouldn’t we?” Oh, for sure! “Never should we carry too much money! Never needlessly expose our camera! Safety first”. Amen.
It took all of 24 hours to realize how silly our trepidation was. Without the slightest bit of exaggeration, I’ve rarely felt safer in any country — maybe Iceland. Maybe Japan. Almost immediately, we recognized what we had to fear from the people of Ghana, and the answer was “nothing”. This is the epitome of a peaceful people. Except for our visit to the Agbogbloshie electronic dump, we never once felt insecure. The people of Ghana were, nearly without exception, some of the most friendly, and genuinely welcoming we’ve encountered in our years of travel.
There was that time we exited a bus, forgetting a bag full of decently valuable gifts, and someone came running up to us a block later, bag in hand. “You left this!” The bus then motored past, everyone waving at us. There was that first time we explored Jamestown, a place of horrific poverty, and instead of people yelling at us, we had swarms of children hugging our legs, wanting nothing more than to communicate their immense joy at the novelty of seeing new people. There were all the times we went to a neighborhood bar at the end of a long day, and were immediately brought into warm conversations about our lives (different), our families (the same), our skin (different), our blood (the same).
The country itself is not without its problems, but the people of Ghana are inspirational. Whether interacting with the educated and sophisticated crowds in Accra and Kumasi, or the rural people who live in the mud-huts of northern Ghana, the experience was always similar: one of kindness and acceptance. Even when we found ourselves marching in a musket-shooting, machete-waving crowd in Tamale, we felt welcomed. Even when we mistakenly crashed the wrong tiny village unexpectedly, we found open doors and smiling faces.
This is our big take-away from Ghana, and so we’re not going to concentrate on the negative aspects of the land. Yes, it’s Africa. Yes, there’s institutional corruption, a disheartening AIDS epidemic, a culture destroyed by slavery, traditional colonialism, and the insidious neo-colonialism of our capitalist world. There are problems, let’s not deny that. But we knew that already. In European or American media, if you spot the word “Africa” in a headline … get ready, because it’s going to be some sort of hand-wringing journalistic investigation of how shitty the continent is. But once you’ve actually visited Africa (or at least Ghana), it’s amazing how fast the hardened scales can fall from your eyes.
Ghana opened our eyes and our hearts. Our experience here made us question deeply-held assumptions, and has opened up so many future doorways. Already, we can’t wait to return to Africa, and see what else we can discover. After visiting a new country, Jürgen and I always grow as people… but I think we shot up a few inches while in Ghana. Thanks to this amazing place, we look at the world differently now, and we’ll never forget the three months we spent here.