For me, any successful travel incorporates some element of education. Some of it occurs in the days and weeks before leaving, gleaning bits of information about the intended destination – highlights of its history and relevance as well as the best place for a “traditional meal”. Other nuggets of knowledge are transferred in the new, unfamiliar location from the sights seen, the experiences had and the people met.
Having not prepared perhaps quite as much as we should have for our first trip to Ghana for the Year of the Return, which marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the African slave trade, my husband Keith and I were particularly receptive to immersive learning in the home of our ancestors. We were schooled early on as we were fleeced by a group of men who gave us unasked for, personalized trinkets and demanded payment for them when we exited pensive and quiet from the heart wrenching and haunting Elmina, the departure point for slaves being shipped to the Americas.
On a lighter note, we (re)discovered our love of live music, as we spent many evenings under the stars, slathered with mosquito repellant, listening to old favorites and new, beautifully rendered songs with universal messages of shared struggles, hope and love. We were also reminded that the glory days of staying up past midnight may be behind us when, after doing so for two nights in a row, we slept through our noon departure for a visit to a girls’ STEM school in Accra, where a friend of ours was giving an inspirational talk. Sigh…
Determined to not miss a second major outing in one day, in cocktail attire we loitered in the hotel lobby for three hours before our van was scheduled to depart for our dinner with the British High Commissioner (the equivalent of an Ambassador for current and former British commonwealths). As expected, it was a memorable evening filled with laughter and lively conversation. We admired the expertise involved in crafting a smoothly executed dinner party where the evening began with a champagne reception held on the patio; dinner tempted us to come inside to gather; and the promise of a photo with the High Commissioner, his wife, and a famous British comedian lured us outside to another area where the door was gently closed behind us and the sound of the van’s idling engine was heard, signaling: Time to go.
I think, however, that my favorite part of the trip was getting to know the owner of the shared home that we stayed in for the remainder of our time in Ghana. An artist and designer, and also the daughter of diplomats, our host, Nana, wowed us with her artistic talent and hospitality. Her home was our space of refuge and inspiration in Accra. Nestled behind high walls, with every manner of flora and fauna coexisting to create a lush, private oasis, her bungalow (which she designed herself) radiated with her personality and charm.
When we first arrived, Nana and I chatted for hours, sharing our backgrounds and perspectives. Thereafter, whenever our paths would cross, surrounded by her vibrant artworks on multi-toned walls, we’d continue our discussion about design trends we love, our frustration with social media, the best place to find sushi. In short, the meandering conversations you have with good friends.
As Nana said, paraphrasing Maya Angelou (with a touch of surprise), when within a few days of meeting, I had offered to arrange for an art show of her work in my home, “We’re more alike than we are different.” And maybe that, too, is the treasure of travel: being gently reminded of our undeniable connection to others no matter how different you may at first imagine them to be.
As happy as I am to be home, I can’t help but begin to think of the next trip, and what revelations it too, will contain.