My journey to Ghana during the summer of 2022 started the year prior with me donating 100 copies of my book Qiana’s Braids (2020) to Brothers and Sisters in Christ Serving (BASIC) International, a nonprofit organization located in Ghana. BASIC is a global community committed to promoting literacy, economic empowerment, health, wellness, and social inclusion. Qiana’s Braids is about a little Black girl getting her hair braided for the first time in her mother’s African hair braiding salon.
As an author and educator for over 20 years, with the past 16 years working with linguistically diverse children and their families, this trip was an opportunity to connect with my African brothers and sisters. I knew that this journey to Mother Africa would enhance my knowledge of the continent and bring a heightened awareness of my own heritage, which quite frankly I had only experienced from a “textbook” lens.
As the plane descended on the beautiful continent of Africa, I could feel butterflies fluttering in my stomach. Once we landed, a group of beautiful Black men holding signs greeted us at the airport. With a soft but mighty voice and his chest pumped up, one embraced my daughter and me. Holding a bright yellow sign that read, “Welcome home, we are happy to have you,” I knew this trip would be life changing.
Our eight-day adventure took us from the big city lights of Accra, which is the capital of Ghana, to the “slave market” city of Salaga. Each morning was filled with an anticipation of growing, learning, and “becoming.”
Day 1: The Accra City Tour
Our first stop took us to the W. E. B. Du Bois Center for Pan African Culture, where we spent time in Du Bois’s personal library among his personal works. Next was the Black Star Gate, a monument in Independence Square, where my daughter and I took pictures from the top, overlooking melodic sounds from the local high school drum teams. They were preparing for Ghana’s Republic Day, which is celebrated on the first of July every year. This day commemorates the 1960 establishment of Ghana as a sovereign republic.
Day 2: Kakum National Park and Cape Coast
After a four-hour drive, we arrived at Kakum National Park. Kakum is home to over 40 large mammals and several species of birds. This tropical rainforest experience did not disappoint. One of the most powerful and moving experiences of this trip was our time at the forts/slave dungeons and castles in Cape Coast. To hear and see where my ancestors had endured the most unthinkable, most inhuman treatment moved me to tears and then anger. The many emotions of this visit were at times overwhelming. This particular experience challenged me to reflect on my own access to many things and my ability to move freely. As a Black American, I have benefited off the sacrifices of my ancestors that now meant something very different. The waters that boarded the castle were so choppy that you would see boaters grabbing on to the edges of their handmade wooden boats. If you stood quietly, the waters sounded like they were screaming. I mentioned this to our guide, and she explained that old storytellers would say how the waters would “cry” from all the death that had taken place in those waters.
Day 3: Home Cooking
Our next adventure led us to the colorful culinary class of Auntie Esi’s Kitchen. We drove through the dirt road village right up to the kitchen. Upon our arrival, Aunt Esi had aprons prepared for us. We each grabbed one and headed to our assigned cooking stations to experience authentic Ghanian food. From the purple onions being chopped up by my daughter to the bright red tomatoes that awaited their turn to hit the pot, I could not wait to wrap my lips around every single thing that was brewing and boiling. Aunt Esi was a kind and gentle soul. Her skin was beautiful and her energy matched. The “Aunt Esi” experience taught me the importance of not being wasteful and of holding on to family traditions. After cooking up traditional Ghanian dishes, we had an opportunity to take a glimpse into the life of local artisans and to work side by side with the Global Mamas. The Global Mamas are wives, mothers, grandmothers, and sisters who are entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. We spent the evening making our very own African batik. Batik is a waxing, dyeing, and boiling of fabric.
Day 4: To the Water
The life-changing journey continued at our next stop, Donkor Nsuo, the Slave River. We walked the path of our ancestors and learned the importance of the mimosa plant and its role in notifying my ancestors of the slave hunters. The “sensitive plant,” as it has been coined, has medicinal properties and helped West Africans escape during the transatlantic slave trade. We ended our time at Donkor Nsuo by holding hands and singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Negro National Anthem, by James Weldon Johnson.
Day 5: Artists Abound
At the Ashanti craft villages, the sounds of manual weaving machines roared. The colorful threads bouncing back and forth brought life to the room. Each craftsman had their own store selling beautiful handmade pieces. There was a sense of pride and joy as each salesperson approached us to tell the story of their cloth. This experience reminded me of the day that my daughter and her classmates wore kente cloth during a Black History Month program. The labor that went into each piece of cloth made me proud.
Day 6: “Thousands Have Lived without Love, but Not One without Water,” H. Auden
Kintampo Waterfalls, a lush green land with water bouncing off the rocks, could be heard from as far as the edge of the street. We took the long trail over the waterfalls, where we could see children picking bright ears of corn for their families. There was also a lively soccer game happening. Families were eating, dancing, and playing music. The energy drew us immediately into a space of love, peace, and happiness.
Day 7: Wildlife
This was one of the most exciting days of our African adventure. We arrived at Mole National Park, where we saw West Africa’s finest animals. We were up before 7:00 a.m. to catch a glimpse of nature’s greatest creations. Elephants roamed through mint-filled fields, grazing on the spearmint of the land. There were spider monkeys jumping from branch to branch, enjoying the morning as we watched in awe. Our guide was careful not to disrupt the routines of the animals as they moved through their habitat freely. There was so much peace in watching the animals.
Day 8: Before We Go
Our last and most profound experience in Mother Africa was when we arrived in Salaga. Salaga is known as the slave market town. Our group met with the traditional village leaders. English is spoken widely, though Ghana is home to a number of Indigenous languages, such as Akan, Ewe, Ga, and Dagaare. While in Salaga, we participated in an atonement ceremony.
In the atonement ceremony, our feet were washed and the village leaders apologized for the role of their predecessors in slavery. The act of humility and the plea for forgiveness were offered as we sat and listened to the village leaders reading their proclamation of peace. This day also included a naming ceremony. On this day, I received my African name, Boresha, which means I am God’s gift.
The journey to Mother Africa was one that I will never forget. As an educator and language specialist, having an opportunity to experience African culture has enhanced my appreciation for diversity and history. This experience made me think not only of my own journey but also of the journey of my linguistically diverse students.
I wonder about their experiences in the US, in American schools, in their communities, and how they stay and feel connected to their countries of origin or cultures. This experience helped me to see myself as part of the story. While we cannot rewrite history, I am forever grateful to my ancestors and for the sacrifices that were made.
Chanda Boresha Austin is an author, an educator, a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and mother to an amazing, talented teenage daughter. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Chanda holds a BS and an MEd from Alabama A&M University and an EdS in school leadership from Cambridge College.