By: Amira Barrett
Spelman College/New York University Student
“You’re going to Africa?”
“Ghana? Where is that?”
“Hide your money, take off that Louis Vuitton phone case”
“Do they have water?”
“Have fun in ‘Guyana’!”
In October of 2022, I found out that I would be going to Accra, Ghana in west Africa for an entire semester with New York University. As a visiting student to the NYU Accra campus from Spelman College, I was so excited to travel and receive academic instruction for my film career abroad at one of the world’s top universities. I landed in Ghana on January 21st. After a long day of jet lag, layovers, airplane smells and hunger I sat down in my dorm room and said to myself:
“Now, my journey begins”
When people ask why they should come to Ghana, they may often hear the cliches. “The weather is warm”, “The people are nice”, “I like the food”. I want to give more in-depth reasons when it comes to the Ghanaian experience as a visitor in college from the U.S. Here are five reasons from a bilingual, HBCU college student why you should come to Ghana.
- The Friendliness and Beauty of the People, the Weather and the Food
Ok, I know I said no cliches, but let’s just get them out of the way. Ghanaian people are very friendly and kind. To each other as locals and to foreigners. In the states, it was not common for people to smile, say hi and be generally amicable like they are in Ghana. As a girl who has been in the southeast United States for almost six years, I can say that southern hospitality is good, but Ghanaian hospitality is great.
If you love warm weather (and despise the cold as I do), leaving the United States where temperatures can hit around -14 degrees Celsius during the winter months is a dream come true. Coming closer to the equator and year-round sun was excellent.
While I am still getting used to Ghanaian food, banku and tilapia, kenkey, red red and others (with kontomire and ripe plantain and waakye being my favorite) I must say that the overall quality and freshness of Ghanaian food is hard to beat. Coming from one of the world capitals of high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, unpronounceable ingredients, obesity and other health ailments, it is a breath of fresh air to eat in Ghana. My skin and body have responded positively by glowing in a way I have not seen before. I have lost a good amount of fat and gained muscle mass causing me to look toned and have an overall confidence boost when it comes to my body. Ghanaian cuisine and food quality do not disappoint.
- Why does America do this?
Alright, now for the real reasons to travel to Ghana. Traveling to Ghana has made me more self-aware as an individual and self-aware of my country. Seeing a different way of life has led me to ask questions about my own American proclivities and mindsets. An example is back home, we are taught to “be yourself”, “do it yourself”, and “do what you want and don’t worry about anyone else”. American culture is an individualistic culture. Ghana on the other hand is more along the lines of “do this for the family”, “this is for the people” and other communal-based ways of life. One way I observed this is in the differing concept of personal space in the U.S. and Ghana. On multiple occasions, women and men who were strangers to me sometimes sat much closer next to me than I am used to, sat at the same table, touched my arm or hand or even put their hand on my leg to help themselves get up. Another prime example of this is copyright laws for art in Ghana. In one of my classes at New York University where we study Ghanaian music history, we visited the Ghanaian copyrights office in Lapaz. It was explained to us that creators, musicians in particular, sometimes do not copyright their work because it is believed that it belongs to the community, their ethnic group and it is for everyone to claim.
Additionally in Ghana, greetings are not only common but a way of life. During my first weeks here, I would walk focused to my location and not mind who was around me. This is what I was used to in the states. On multiple occasions, an older person would stop me and say “Hey! Why didn’t you greet me? What if there is danger ahead but I can’t tell you because you have not greeted me?”. This and being religiously tolerant when it comes to Christianity and Islam and their coexistence with each other. All of these are things that as I lived in Ghana I wondered “why don’t we do this in America?”. This thinking caused me not only to be aware of myself as an American but as a global citizen.
- Spending in Ghana
Many western currencies go very far in Ghana. This enables more spending from foreigners which in turn supports local businesses. For this reason, the economy in Ghana is very welcoming to visitors. So far in Ghana, I have spent my money on clothing, shoes, meals, snacks, transportation, hotel resorts and more. This is friendly to my wallet because these things are cheaper in Ghana and beneficial to the local Ghanaian who can earn a profit. However, still come to Ghana with a budget! The ease of spending can cause some wallet overconfidence and leave you wondering if you got robbed when really it was your Friday afternoon at Makola.
- The Interconnectedness of Blackness Throughout the Diaspora
This one is huge, particularly for Ghanaian travelers of African descent. As a Jamaican-American myself, I am constantly in awe not only of the beauty of Ghanaian people but how familiar they look. Often times I joke around with some Ghanaians and tell them “If I didn’t hear your accent, I would have thought you were from Chicago”, “I feel like I have seen you in Atlanta before”, “You look like your name could be Rahim or Maurice”. Over time, Black Americans and Africans have thought of one another as different. Through the slave trade, colonization and economic differences both groups of people expect the other to differ significantly. This is so much so that it would almost appear as if the two groups that are within the same diaspora are not related at all. Of course, this is not the case. As a western Black person coming to Ghana, I see the faces of people who look like they could be in Trinidad, Brazil and Los Angeles. I can hear the inflections and tones in Ghanaian languages that sound similar to Jamaican Patwa and Haitian Creole. It is truly one of my favorite things to see the manifestation of the fact that nothing can separate Africa’s children from one another.
- Debunking Stereotypes About Africa
Last but absolutely not least are the myths and tropes of Africa. I vividly remember growing up as a Black American child receiving what I was told was a great education. When it was time for that great education to teach me geography, I remember biased documentaries of African people making two dollars a week as farmers, dying of famine, war and naked in structures that pre-dated modern society. This creates a controversy and confusion within a Black child in the Americas. Black American children know Africa is where their phenotypes come from and that African people look like them. So what does it to do a child when they see moving images on screen of people who look like them only consisting of dying, disease, famine, war and thirst and barely wearing any clothing? It creates disdain, resentment and rejection toward Africa. This is not just for Black children but all races and ethnicities of children carrying incorrect information about a continent. This is manifested in the very mention of Africa. Europe is venerated for its many countries and their cultures that stand alone and have their own identities. Africa is practically considered a ‘country’ in the sense of being a monolith land mass filled with poverty. I loved coming to Ghana because instead of being fed incorrect information based on white supremacy, I saw what Africa was for myself. So many myths and stereotypes were uprooted equipping me with the power to go back to the US and tell of my experience. It amazes me that I will have to say certain things such as “ Africa is not a country. I didn’t see the entire continent”, “I was in west Africa. I don’t know what’s going on in Rwanda”, “Ghana and many parts of Africa have plenty of water”, “African countries are in about as many wars and international disputes as America is, if not less”, “People did not hunt me with their spears”, “African countries have corrupt governments… just like North America and the rest of the world”.
The Future of Ghanaian Tourism
The world knows Bali, Cancun, Las Vegas and many other cities as top travel locations. Does Accra, Ghana have what it takes to be a top tourist destination like these places? According to easynterglobal.com.ng, a location requires the five A’s to be a top tourist destination:
I believe wholeheartedly with the initiatives from the tourism ministry in Ghana that with continued work and foreign relations, Ghana can perfect all of these things and become one of Africa’s top destinations for tourism. Ghana’s moniker “the Gateway to Africa” is a perfect campaign to show that Ghana helps usher the foreigner into the culture and life of the continent.
My experience in Ghana
In Ghana from the new glow of my skin, my body feeling at its physical peak from all the walking and delicious and nutrient-rich food, I really am enjoying everything about this place. At NYU they taught us that in the states “time is money” but in Ghana “time is just time”. Waiting 4 hours for food and people showing up to things at least twenty minutes late has taught me to be more patient and slow down to appreciate life. I have learned in Ghana I do not need to be stand-offish and unfriendly in order to protect myself like in the states. I can be open to other people and still feel like I am being safe. And last but certainly my favorite is seeing the diversity of the African continent in Ghana. African genetics and phenotypes are not a monolith. I have learned that Africa is the most genetically diverse continent in the world. Even though I am Black like most Ghanaian people, before I open my mouth to speak, people know I am not Ghanaian because of my features (tall, big forehead, loose hair texture). I have been assigned many ethnicities like Kenyan, American, Liberian, and more. Race in America causes a simplification of ethnic grouping. In Ghana and most of Africa, everyone is Black, so the diversity within Blackness is seen. There is an abundance of appearances here in Ghana. The variety in the looks of local Ghanaians, the albino population, the presence of central African refugees from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, visitors from south Africa and east Africa and much more. While Africa has many descendants, it is truly beautiful to see the continent’s uniqueness of features.
So what are you waiting for? Book your ticket to Accra and come see what I mean for yourself.