(Number 3 will really surprise you)
Yes, you read that correctly. It had been over 11 years since my last visit to Ghana. This trip was long overdue, and very much needed for me and my family. Of course, it was non-stop enjoyment: We visited many relatives and friends, ate some really amazing food, explored different parts of the country and had some *interesting* political discussions (my favourite!)
Here are 5 key takeaways from my recent trip.
1. I expected things to feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable, since this was my first time back in over a decade. And truth be told, it did, and it didn’t. I felt at home in an unfamiliar place, which was such an interesting paradox. I remember walking through my grandparents’ house remembering every hiding place, remembering every malt biscuit I ate with my grandmother, remembering every gecko I saw as a child. I was drowned in a flood of nostalgia. Everyone who knew we were visiting from abroad made sure to affirm one thing: “This is your home, don’t ever forget that”. I heard this from family members, family friends and even strangers at times. As someone who has struggled in the past with the concept of identity and belonging, hearing this was unbelievably cathartic.
2. Things in Ghana are getting better, and maybe worse at the same time. I think about the Ghana that I had stored in my memories as a child and a lot had changed. Huge amounts of money has gone into the capital city, Accra, in various industries (tourism, real estate, hospitality etc) causing a lot of much needed development, but corruption has never been more blatant, local people are really struggling more and more due to the gentrification of their areas and the critical lack of jobs for young people, not to mention the rapid depreciation of the currency. Ghana is an amazing, beautiful country, but people are really struggling right now, and that was abundantly clear.
3. People visiting Ghana from abroad need to be careful of how they spend their money. Something may cost GH₵ 10, and you may convert the currency to pounds in your head: “it’s only ~£1! What a steal!”, but the item you are purchasing is only worth GH₵ 2. Just because its cheap when you convert to pounds, does not mean you should overpay on items. This also leads to certain items or services increasing in price to cater to the expat market, to the point that local people are struggling to afford these items due to the increase in price (in certain areas).
4. I’ve never been more frustrated to not speak a local language well. Not being able to speak either of my parents’ languages fluently really adds to my struggles with identity. There were many times where relatives would speak to me in Ga or Ewe and I would feel completely tongue tied as I gave a jumbled response, if I gave any response at all. Speaking these languages are not absolutely essential in Ghana; you can get by without speaking them. But improving in these languages is definitely going to be a priority for me going forward.
5. Be a cat. In the first days of our trip, one of our relatives asked us this question with a knowing smile: “Are you ready for Ghana? You think you are, but are you sure you are ready for Ghana?” I’m sure he wondered how we aburokyire children would fair in Ghana.
Another family friend visited us early in the trip, welcoming us, astonished at how much we’d grown since the last time he saw us. He gave us his take on what life was like in Ghana now, whilst also giving us some pointers for our stay. He left us with this advice that I’ll always remember: “You know, whilst you are here, you are going to see some veeeerrrrrryyyy strange and interesting things, oh. But please, be a cat. Don’t be a dog. You see, dogs are always barking and making a lot of noise when they see strange things. Be a cat, quietly look at these things, smile to yourself, and walk away.” These are words to live by, wherever you are in the world. Be a cat.