10 Thoughts and Observations About My First Trip to Ghana (and Africa)

Illustration for article titled 10 Thoughts and Observations About My First Trip to Ghana (and Africa)
Photo: Panama Jackson
ReturnedReturned is a series that chronicles the Year of Return, an initiative to reconnect Africans in the diaspora with Ghana in 2019, the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in America.

When I got married in October 2018, my wife and I broached the idea of going to Accra, Ghana, for our honeymoon. Now, this wasn’t a random “Let’s go to Africa!” ideation; I’d never been to the African continent in any of my travels and had wanted to go, and my wife grew up in Accra, eventually moving to the United States when she was 12. As somebody who also grew up overseas and hasn’t been back “home” since I left at age 14, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to honeymoon, get my wife back home and, for me, to see a new place. We weren’t able to make that trip in 2018 for various family-related reasons, but what a difference a year makes.

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In 2019, Ghana dropped the Year of Return, an initiative coinciding with the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving in Jamestown, Va., to encourage reconnection and reinvestment in the African continent, specifically Ghana.

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Somewhere around the middle of 2019, we revisited the idea of making the trip to Ghana and in November we purchased tickets to Accra for late December. If you know any Ghanaians, they’ll tell you that December is the best time to go. It’s when everybody comes home and when Accra basically turns into Miami for a month. And that’s not an exaggeration. Coupled with the Year of Return initiative, Accra, for the entire month of December, was the equivalent of NBA All-Star Weekend in a city like Washington, D.C., or Atlanta—it was THE destination spot for black folks from everywhere.

To say we were excited is an understatement. And I must say, for me, Accra, didn’t disappoint for many, many reasons. In an upcoming piece, I’ll discuss some specifics about the trip and particularly the things that held the most resonance for me, but here, I’m going to present 10 overall thoughts and observations about the roughly 10 days I spent in Accra. Also, if you had FOMO because you didn’t come to Accra and your social media was kente’d out, your FOMO was well earned.

1. I really like Accra. It’s an interesting city that contains many different realities at once. For instance, there were times where we’d be out somewhere—a grand opening for a store called The Lotte, for instance, or a cool, trendy restaurant called Kozo—where I felt pretty much like I was in Washington, D.C. Or any city with a majority black population. But there were other places we went (like Jamestown) where I saw the kind of poverty that made me feel like an asshole for touring there and gawking. There are highly-trafficked dirt roads with crater-sized holes in some places right off the main thoroughfares like Spintex. But there are also some of the most beautiful (and biggest) homes I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes. It’s a city that feels both entirely foreign yet remarkably familiar at the exact same time. I never felt uncomfortable or like a fish out of water anywhere.

2. Ghanaians are very friendly. And they like telling you that they’re very friendly...unlike some of their neighbors a few countries over. *hint hint* *wink wink* Nigeria. Which felt very true (I’ve not been to Nigeria, for the record, so I have no idea if the comparison holds water). I was challenged to a dance battle at the Accra Arts Centre (apparently Yandy Smith was challenged to the same battle, according to her IG page) and I had very interesting and in-depth convos with folks about politics and life in Ghana, also at the Arts Centre. Shoutout to the cat who told me his name was Omar Epps, who, upon finding out I was from D.C., stopped trying to sell me random things and wanted to understand impeachment. True story. Once I said “D.C.,” everybody was more interested in getting Trump out of office than making sure I bought something. It was fascinating. Everybody hates Trump, yo. Shout outs to “Omar Epps,” though. I bought something from him off G.P.

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I think Ghana is a perfect gateway country to West Africa for that reason: It’s a very friendly, English-speaking country where how you choose to live during your time there is entirely up to you. And everybody hates Trump there, too.

3. Time really felt like a theory in Ghana. My sleep schedule was trash. I thought CP time was a thing; I was introduced to “Ghanaman time” (as I was told it’s called). Lawd, hafmercy. The wait for food, service, etc., almost ANYWHERE was borderline trolling. I went to AfroNation and AfroChella. WizKid was the headliner on the third night of AfroNation. Do you know he didn’t hit the stage until like 2:45 a.m.? Fam, we got to the venue (Laboma Beach) at like 10 p.m. and thankfully were in VIP, which means there were seats and drinks, etc. The folks in the crowd near the stage??? They were there for AT LEAST five hours just standing, waiting. If you looked at flyers for events, there was only a start time (and I’m guessing that’s a theory, too); stuff ends when it ends and that’s a moving target. Point is, we got our CP time honest over here is what I’m saying.

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4. Traffic. Bruh. Fam. Homie. I live in D.C. It’s a high traffic city. So I’m not saying that this traffic was unbearable or anything, but gotdamn. I got in a cab at 1 a.m. leaving AfroChella (I can’t decide if AfroChella deserves its own piece—and not for good reasons—or just a bullet) and the cab driver, in his best broken English, told me and my homie that we brought all of our traffic from America with us to Accra. I’m still in traffic right now trying to get to the airport.

5. I will get more into this in a later piece, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of history while there. African-American history, my history, many of our histories, really starts there. So even in the middle of a party or at a concert, I kept looking out over into the Gulf of Guinea and thinking about how many of my own family members left those shores and never came back. It was trippy. Here I was during a Polo Beach Club party; there are bottles being popped and an alarming amount of Drake and Soulja Boy (seriously) being played and I’m staring off into the ocean, thinking about the past. It happened several times. It was quite sobering. So I washed the mental anguish down with inordinate amounts of champagne.

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6. So, yeah, I’ve NEVER in my entire life seen this much champagne popped at clubs and parties. It was damn near unsettling. The FIRST night we got to Accra, we went to a party for my wife’s best friend’s husband’s cousin (yes, that was a black statement; it’s Ghana, home of blackness), and just at the day party, I saw something like 30 bottles of champagne get popped. But after, we went to a club called Twist—the equivalent of D.C.’s The Park at 14th—and no lie, I probably saw AT MY TABLE ALONE something like 50 more bottles. The club was awash with champagne. It was easily one of the most impressive and confounding displays of opulence I’ve ever seen. To that end, I’m out on champagne until 2022.

7. Can I shout out my wife’s best friend and her aunt and uncle for putting us up for almost two weeks? As I said earlier, my wife grew up in Accra. Her best friend from that time still lives there with her husband and their children. We stayed with her best friend’s parents (hence her aunt and uncle) in their guest house. I don’t know how else to say this so I’ll just say it straight: When we pulled up to their house, I felt like we were rolling onto a movie set. The house was so beautiful and looked fresh out of a movie about royalty. The guest house we had the privilege of staying in would be quite a fine home to live in anywhere. It was amazing. Her best friend and her husband showed us the best time ever. From parties and dinners to events, I literally could not thank them all enough for being so awesome and making my first trip to Accra feel so comfortable and entertaining.

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In fact…

8. Christmas Day was, well, amazing. For starters, there was a bit of sadness for my wife and I. We were thousands of miles away from our children on Christmas Day. And though the kids were with loved ones, Christmas really is about spending time with your children. The Christmas we had, though, was as good as it gets without the kids. We did Christmas lunch at a restaurant with our hosts’ family, then we casually ran over to the Jubilee House, Ghana’s presidential palace, because, well, my wife’s best friend is the niece of the president, so we ended up meeting the president of Ghana. Then we went to easily the most movie-ready house I’ve ever laid eyes on in my life and chilled there for a while. But the real gem was the end of the evening, which I think I can honestly say was my favorite part of the entire trip.

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As I said, we stayed in the guest house of the parents of my wife’s best friend. So when we got back to their house on Christmas, we all sat around talking and drinking champagne and you know, it felt really, really good to be in a family setting on Christmas, watching the parents open gifts and listening to ’60s oldies and just...talking. For a trip to a land far, far away, it felt so much like home that I remember going to sleep that night smiling. I still missed my kids, though.

9. Naomi Campbell (yes, that one) took my phone and took a gang of selfies with it. Yes, that happened. I saw Naomi Campbell do Naomi Campbell things, including touch a statue of a leopard and say, “I want this.” Also, I’m not in a single one of the pictures Naomi Campbell took with my phone.

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10. This is pretty high-level here, but I really enjoyed my time in Accra. It’s a foreign city (to me), but after a few days, it didn’t feel like it. I knew how to get around to specific places and honestly felt quite comfortably at home. Could I live there? Yes. Maybe not forever, but I could do extended stays there at a time. I would absolutely recommend that if you’re interested at all in taking a trip to Ghana, that you do it. It’s not cheap to get there, but it’s a very reasonably priced place once there. There are tons of great restaurants and the culture (more on that in a future piece) is present and accounted for. The nightlife is great, the partying is top notch, the folks are friendly and the accommodations can be just fine. But for me, the hook was just how much history I felt like I was walking into. I didn’t go to Accra looking specifically to connect, but I definitely loved the idea of being in a place where everybody literally could be my long-lost cousin.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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DISCUSSION

muddybud
Mud loves everyone except you. You suck

a grand opening for a store called The Lotte

I wonder if it’s part of the Lotte Corporation? South Korea (and rest of the East Asian nations) have been trying for years to make Africa their own version of what they were to America and the west: A source of cheap labor and cheap goods.

I’ve been told they get all of their chocolate from Ghana for their *adjustsglasses* Ghana Chocolate bars but I have no idea if that’s for real or just marketing.

Anyway, sounds like a hell of a trip.