En Route to Accra and Disabusing Myself of Ignorance About Africa

I write this as I am in flight to Accra with about 5.5 hours until we reach. I’m headed to Ghana for the wedding ceremony of two good friends, one of whom is from Ghana the other from Jamaica but both of whom really wanted to bring their family and friends home on this year of return that marks 400 years since the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade. The journey has been interesting thus far. I’m observing everything around me particularly who is going to Ghana. On my flight are primarily Black American, Caribbean, and African persons and some white people. Only two of the white people are guaranteed not to be missionaries–I only know that because they, too, are traveling for the wedding. I bring up this point of the white missionaries because recently when I told a white Christian woman that I was going to Ghana she excitedly said, “Are you going for a mission trip?!” I was reminded at that moment that there are still people, usually white, who think the only reason one goes to any country in Africa is for a mission trip. As I explained to her that I was going to attend the wedding ceremony of a close friend who is from Ghana and who wanted to welcome all of his friends home, she looked at me in amazement as if she never heard of someone going to Ghana or anywhere in Africa for pleasure. I was happy to disabuse her of the notion that Africa is only for missions. Yet this reminds me that many are the misconceptions about the continent of Africa and I myself will probably be disabused of a lot of those through this opportunity to travel to the continent.

As I have been preparing for this trip, I have thought a lot about how I, we, hold Africa in our consciousness. A few years ago Raven Symoné, though few people would admit it, exposed many Americans. Reporting the results of an ancestral DNA test, Symoné declared that she is from “every continent in Africa.” Whether it was a slip of the tongue or her actual thinking, it revealed the fact that many Americans don’t understand the region of Africa. To those people, it is not a vast continent full of countries, cultures, tribes and many things that make clear that people of the diaspora are diverse. Instead, it is usually collapsed because people don’t understand the constitution of the continent or, as I mentioned above, of the concerns of the continent–as if Africa exists only for the interventions of well-meaning white people and their Black friends. This is not helped by the way that schools teach the continent in geography class. I recalled the failings of my education in this regard when I recently came across a video with a brother and sister quizzing one another on the capitals of African countries. I was embarrassed that not only did I not know the capitals, but they also seemed foreign to me altogether in a way that suggests I never learned them in the first place. But ask me to give the capital of American states and I can name most. I can also name a fair amount of capitals of European countries, some South American ones, some Middle Eastern ones…You get the point. It’s really an embarrassment of ignorances all the way around, but I am fortunate to be on my way to disabusing myself of a lot of ignorance on this trip.

I have about 10 minutes of in-flight internet left so I have to wrap this up. Suffice to say, I’m really excited about touching down in Ghana. I’m thankful for the kind of friends who have taken the destination wedding to the next level by inviting all of their friends to come home to Ghana. I’m excited about feeling a sense of home when we land–which according to my own ancestral DNA test I am 22% Ghanain. I am looking forward to learning more about the history of my ancestors who were taken away on ships leaving from Jamestown and held in Elmina Castle and to hear about the work of Kwame Nkrumah and visit Du Bois burial site and eat a lot of wonderful food and meet a lot of people and learn of the assets of the country and be moved by it in general. I plan to document the experience of this trip throughout my week in Ghana, so stay tuned…

PS: Excuse any grammatical errors, I am not just writing this on a plane but on very little sleep.