Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are,” a Ghanaian philosophy I have come to embrace.
“What is your name my brother.” Were the first words I heard as I stepped off the boat of the MV Explorer onto the port of Tema, Ghana. I had voyaged around the Atlantic Ocean for six weeks with the Semester at Sea study abroad program and finally reached Mother Africa.
“Hey my name is Eugene” I responded while I conversed with the man; a bracelet appeared around my wrist written “Ugen” in the Ghanaian national colors: red, green and yellow. This was my first time in Africa and I had many misconceptions of the continent. But this country became an instant favorite throughout my journey thus far.
I decided hop on a two-day trip with Can Do Tours led by my guide Fred. Our first stop was the Tafi Monkey Sanctuary, where we were given the chance to feed “the friendliest monkeys you have ever seen.” Given that I had never seen a monkey up close, I could neither vouch for this statement nor compare with other species of monkeys. Fred used his monkey call to lure them to our tasty plantains. All you do is place your arm out with the plantain, then prepare for the worst.
Down the road, we then prepared for lunch which I heavily enjoyed. This meal contained jollof rice (red rice), fried plantains and broiled chicken. Topping it off with Star beer, that comes in one size comparable to a large soda. Then we headed to Wli Waterfalls in the Volta region of Ghana dodging countless potholes, goats and incoming cars. Might I add that there are
no traffic lights or speed limits, it is a free for all on the road. We arrived in a small woodcarving village selling carved figures of human genitalia. Traveling with a group of college students you can imagine the giggles.
It was 40 minute trek through the forest and by the time we arrived to the waterfall, the sun was setting quickly. With no time to lose, we stripped down and dove in. It was definitely a sight to see – Mother Nature at its finest, hidden away from the villages and all too familiar dirt roads. On our way back to the village, it was pitch dark and Fred forgot to mention to bring our flashlights. With a group size of 30+ and four flashlights, it was quite the hand holding, t-shirt grabbing, ankle breaking journey which lasted a couple of hours. Then topped it off with a long bumpy ride to the Tafi Atome Monkey Village where we stayed the night.
Carsick and weary, we arrived to the village in the middle of the night. In the distance, a campfire with many school children waited for our arrival. They performed a traditional Ghanaian two-step dance accompanied by Djembe drums in background. Soon enough our whole group lost ourselves in the frenzy of music. We danced, we sung and we yelled with the village children.
To our surprise Fred was our host for our overnight stay, he had two other brothers whom I had an interesting conversation with about American pop music. This revealed to me how much globalization and westernization were rapidly dispersed to every corner of the world. They introduced me the dance craze of Ghana, “Azonto.” I quickly learned from the school children the next day.
There is nothing like visiting a community abroad and immersing oneself with the locals. It expands the mind of the traveler from their narrow perceptions. Trying to comprehend the native’s way of life, their views on the world and their philosophy is such a blessing.
For the last day of Ghana, I decided I needed to experience the historical side of Ghana and for a side trip, see the breath-taking views of the jungle of Kakum National Park in southern Ghana. Upon arrival, I had no idea that there was a canopy walk hundreds of feet above the jungle. Wow, it really was a beautiful sight to behold. While I swayed side to side on this walkway, I closed my eyes and took it all in. The air, the howling monkeys and the chirping birds for a moment I had jungle fever.
Elmina Castle, the first European slave port built in sub-Saharan Africa is now a historical tourism site, supported by a local fishing economy. As my group and I walked into the entrance, the guide quickly figured out we were American students. They immediately presented us the plaque created when Barack Obama visited Elmina Castle with his family back in 2009.
Walking through the old chamber rooms where they held the African slaves captives was chilling to the bone. Our guide explained to us that the very grounds we stood upon were formed by countless years of human excretion, torture and cruelty. The details he shared with us were horrific and unimaginable. I finally understood why the Ghanaian people took so much pride of their heritage and past.
Such a beautiful but solemn place…
Ghana treated me wonderfully. The people, the culture and the experiences were unlike I have ever experienced before. I really do believe they stand by the Ubuntu philosophy.