I thought long and hard about what my first trip to Ghana would feel like. I’d spoken to friends and relatives who had gone for a while before I left from Gatwick Airport in early April 2019. All the people I spoke to told me how amazing it would be and how much fun I would have. They told me that travelling through Ghana would make me feel as though I was coming home. Up until the moment that I landed I had doubts that I would feel like this. Despite having grown up in a Ghanaian household where there was always Ghanaian food on the table and the sound of Ghana radio was never far away, I thought that travelling through Ghana would be a huge culture shock. I’d heard all sorts of stories from friends who spoke of how they felt like an alien when visiting Ghana, or in their respective cultural homelands. They explained that they were always viewed as “British” and that this labelling came with a whole raft of hostility and prejudice, for obvious reasons.
Last year I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and it made me curious to find out more about my heritage and culture by visiting Ghana. Although I’ve always been aware of various aspects of Ghanaian history and culture, I’ve always thought that there were things I would never truly understand until I visited. 2019 was dubbed “the year of the return” as it marks 400 years since the first enslaved African arrived in what is today known as the United States of America. As a result of this, and of reading Homegoing, my sister and I decided to plan our first trip to Ghana to take advantage of this drive for tourism and see everything that Ghana had to offer.
I can’t say that after coming back I had a greater understanding of Ghanaian history or culture. In fact, a lot of what I saw in the museums I visited I had already read in books or heard in lectures, notably at the V&A’s Ghana @ 60 celebrations. What I experienced when I travelled to Ghana, however, was more valuable than anything I could have read in any book or heard from any lecture. What I saw was a country that was much more prosperous than any television advert or National Geographic documentary could ever and would ever have you believe. When I was based in Accra I saw “Afropolitan” businesses, cafes and restaurants that would not look out of place in the most metropolitan parts of Cape Town or even London. I visited shops that sold fine, handmade accessories, as well as furniture and clothing which was made by Ghanaian craftsmen and women. I visited art galleries which featured works from Ghana’s finest contemporary artists. In short, Ghana has a lot to offer for the seasoned traveller who is used to mainly exploring European cities.
Of course, there were some things that I found frustrating about Ghana. Firstly, Ghana is not a cheap place to visit. In fact, the prices that you’ll pay for food in the newer, trendy restaurants are on par with prices that you’ll pay for food in London. This makes little sense given its status as a developing country but it’s something to bear in mind when saving to travel here. Trying to get a visa to travel to Ghana is also a highly stressful and disorganised affair, but I’ll cover some tips to help you navigate through this in a future post. Also, there are times when the customer service I received was questionable, especially when visiting key landmarks like the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Aburi Gardens, but this is not unique to Ghana or indeed any African country. Having said this, however, Ghana has a lot more to offer than that which it lacks. As well as traversing through the bustling hub that is Accra, I had the pleasure of travelling to the Western Region where I relaxed on the beautiful Ghanaian cost and enjoyed the surprisingly warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I also visited the Central Region where I listened to detailed and harrowing tales of the world-famous Cape Coast Castle from one of the many formidable tour guides that take you through this UNESCO Heritage Site.
No story or anecdote will ever be a substitute for venturing to faraway lands. Every breath, view and smell are a feast for the senses and cannot be achieved other than through travelling to experience this for yourself. I hope that through my subsequent posts I will present a side of Ghana which will change your perceptions about it and reveal all the wonders that it has to offer visitors from near and far.
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