An Unexpected Life-Changing Trip to Ghana

February 14, 2021
An Unexpected Life-Changing Trip to Ghana

My husband Wes had a business trip to Ghana and he asked me to join him. Africa is one of my favorite continents so it was an easy decision.

It turned out to be quite a trip. A trip full of the unexpected despite a full agenda beforehand. I thought I was a seasoned traveler that knew Africa. Was I in for surprises.

While Wes was taking care of business I explored the neighborhood. To me it is always a delight to see in person what you have previously only seen in pictures. There in front of me, one day, walking down a dirt path, was a woman dressed in a brightly colored, African wrapper of Kinte cloth. She was balancing a huge basket on her head as she deftly swayed down the path, a toddler holding tightly to one hand. My first thought was, “women really do that.” I watched in amazement as I witnessed a vision come to life.

I watched in amazement as I witnessed a vision come to life.

Each day I would have lunch alone. The friendly waiters advised me on their specialties. The tasty menu ranged from foofoo (a tapioca dough), equisi stew of greens, peanut stew, or moimoi deep fried beans with many spices or pounded yams. My taste buds excitedly came alive, no favorites here, all were in competition as winners.

One day, Wes was free and we went out to be tourists together. A cab driver kindly agreed to drive us around town, answering our many questions, gratefully responding over and over. Upon observing our delighted curiosity, he suddenly turned to us, “Would you like to go to the market place where tourists don’t go?” This brought our resounding “Yes!”  In short order we were at the back edge of a large outdoor market. We were in a different world, my eyes taking in unfamiliar sights. 

In front of us on long tables, were dog skulls, rat skeletons, monkeys paws, bat wings and scores of jars with pungent spices and other unknown substances.  These were all for the Ghanian women to use in their JuJu spells. (or voodoo). To my sensitive sense of smell there was an underlying faint putrid smell of a dead animal.

One woman seemed particularly wary of my questions, apparently reluctant to talk, perhaps sensitive to being labeled a stereo typical witch doctor or possibly being mocked. Her wariness made me a bit uneasy. My curiosity was thus tempered by her guardedness. Could she put a spell on me? Despite my unmet curiosity I was ready to move on.

Could she put a spell on me?

As we walked along the narrow bustling aisles no one jostled or bumped against us. Folks seemed to have a sixth sense about energy and remain non-intrusive to our space. We continued on our way to see, spread out before us huge vats of tempting stews along side, fried caterpillars, roasted termites, grasshoppers and bush meat (rodents or other small mammals). I must say none of the later was tempting me. 

One night Wes’ hosts invited us to dinner with a dance later. Dancing is one of my greatest joys. When the music started, after our delicious meal, my body was ready. All my cells immediately were moving to the music. When in time I came out of my self imposed dance trance, my eyes took in an altogether incredible sight. A kaleidoscope of mixed traditional African colors, adjacent to dark western suits all topped with huge white toothed gleaming smiles and clapping hands.  As the only white woman in the room, I was surrounded by a circle of Black admirers.

Next our hosts invited us to an overnight excursion to a state park.  The guide briefed us about the main attraction upon our arrival. Tomorrow he exclaimed “you will have the extraordinary opportunity to walk across the tops of trees.”  I gazed up near the sky to see wooden bridges, barely two feet wide, with rope railings, meandering from tree top to tree top, swaying with the breezes.

No way I thought as my fear of heights engulfed me. A little voice inside whispered, “are you sure? When will you ever have an opportunity like this again?” 

When will you ever have an opportunity like this again?” 

That night I barely slept. I HAD to take this risk. Somehow I knew it was a risk worth taking. My mind drifted back and forth between fear and trust as I pictured my self conquering fear, walking across those bridges. The next morning there I stood at the bottom of a mammoth old tree. My body took over, even as it shook, up the ladder it took me, my mind not quite comprehending. 

Just as I was about to step unto the first bridge, a group of young girls ran by. I was terrified as I clung to Wes and the bridge swayed under their steps.  Again my body responded from some unknown space,  and it proceeded to take one tiny step, then another.  I crept slowly forward, sometimes literally crawling from tree platform bridge, to the next platform. I was determined not to look down to the ground far far beneath me, keeping my fear in check.  A friendly stranger in front kept calling my name, Wes encouraging me from behind. Meanwhile,  I too was talking to myself, only look at the board ahead, the towering leaves above, listen to the birds, do not look down.

At the end, I was giddy with triumph.  My body so free of tension I related to the colorful birds flying over head. Was it my imagination or were they too cheering? Yes, some risks are just worth taking.

I HAD to take this risk.

Yet the unexpected life enhancing experience was still on the horizon. Wes’  hosts planned a visit to the Cape Coast Castle by the sea. My vague understanding of how Africans arrived in the USA, through superficial book teachings was about to burst open. Of coarse I knew Africans had been captured to be shipped far off, and enslaved. It seemed so far removed from my life experience I had never taken time to be curious about this experience for them. That was about to change. The door opened to deepen my lifetime quest to understand  the injustice of inequality. 

The Cape Coast Castle is where thousands of captive men, women and children were kept chained before being shipped to an unfamiliar world.

As we toured the damp, dark dungeons, where the hooks that had once held real bodies prisoners, were still on the walls, rusted chains still curled on the floor, as humans had once curled in fetal positions as fear consumed them. My stomach heaved as I envisioned hundreds of souls, mashed together, stripped of their humanity, in these tiny windowless cells.

We were then led up narrow stone stairs to a huge outdoor veranda. The exit from the cells to the human cargo ships was underneath this veranda.

Cannons were mounted across the front of the veranda overlooking the sea. Waves beat unto the cement walls below us.  The sun’s heat above us was smothering. The tour guide glibly enumerated details of how on this very veranda nuns had taught young school children who knew nothing of the horrors going on beneath them.  

An Unexpected Life-Changing Trip to Ghana.

Wait! Did you say they never heard the screams, the clank of chains, the wails of children separated from parents?  “That is true,” he said in his matter of fact tone.  At this point I could take no more in. I broke down in horrified loathing. I left the group, sobbing as I gazed out at the sea, envisioning ships sailing away, sensing the terror the captives must have felt.

This was supposed to be a vacation. For me it was a deepening understanding of the history I had not been taught. A history we all need to truly take into our bodies if there is ever going to be true equality. 

Thus a vacation melded into a life mission as I opened myself to the unexpected.

An Unexpected Life-Changing Trip to Ghana

About Judith Donovan

Judith DonovanJudith Donovan is a retired Clinical Social Worker. She currently divides her time living in Costa Rica with visiting her children, grandchildren and five great-grandchildren in various parts of the U.S. Judith is grateful to have the time to write her memoirs plus travel experiences. She is also a dedicated meditator, and besides attending retreats, mentors those wanting to deepen the gift of meditation in their lives.

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