This is a guest post by PASA member Nony Onyeador
Let’s be real, everybody now seems to be claiming the motherland. There are your Africans who live there and your Africans who don’t. Some have been before and others have never stepped foot on the soil of their forefathers. Black people around the world are living in their “Back to Africa” movements and white people around the world are trying to get a piece of the “Save the Africans” histories. Every race and person in between is either indifferent or has found their own connections to the great continent (country?) of Africa. Are these generalizations? Sure, but I suppose that’s all you get when talking about Africa. The continent with nearly 50 countries (depending on how you count it with Sudan splitting, and more countries possibly following) knows no end to stereotypes, good and bad.
Any who, I tell you this to say that I (American-born Nigerian female) went to Ghana with my own generalities and had them all challenged when I got there. In return, I encountered some Ghana-wide stereotypes about Americans/Nigerians that I was also amused to confront and disprove. And since I’m technically—definitely—African, I had my own battles with people who came with me on my trip as I sometimes felt the need to offhandedly defend those who were indirectly my people. So let’s get onto it:
My trip to Ghana was actually pretty amazing. I say actually because it could have gone all wrong since I thought we were without any real guidance. I say pretty, because sometimes it was boring and sometimes the humid heat seemed unbearable and sometimes I was annoyed; but that’s life. The overall trip couldn’t have taught be more about loving the diversity of the continent that I came from, learning how to be clever and being myself. The food was great if your favorite meals include rice (which for the most part mine always do) and the country is beautiful. I had every experience under the sun; from marketplace marriage proposals, to being ignored by little children who ran by me to say hi to the obruni (light skinned people) that I came with. My group was given special priorities for being American and other times cheated for the same reason. I got my hair braided (something that can cost over $200 in the US) for less than I would pay for a haircut (about $12 to be exact) and I rode in a 9-seater van with over 15 people. I practiced code-switching into a general African accent and one of the girls on my trip and I took advantage of the fact that I was Nigerian (and she Ghanian) to make allies with people. I learned that I’m prettier by Ghanian standards than American standards and that I’m too dark to be a Nigerian Igbo girl (which I am). I learned that apparently Nigerians are very well known for eating eba (or garri, a ground version of the cassava plant) which I hate, and that I was confusing a lot of people with the name “Nony”. I found that the Ghanian accent worked better with my middle name, Ijeoma, and that they preferred to call me that instead. I learned that the small city of Cape Coast, Ghana runs on a clock MUCH slower than the average person and that it is possible to wait 2 hours for the first plate of your table to come out at a restaurant and another 1 hour before the last plate comes. More so, I found that though the cultures were different, most people in Ghana were exactly the same as people in the US. College students party, streets hustlers hustle and parents make a living for their kids. It’s just that the context of the hustle or the party, or the living may be slightly different.
Really, I found that all these things were perfect for the state of mind that I was in. I came off an extremely stressful Spring semester and I was frazzled. I couldn’t possibly see past my Penn/Amerian existence. In Cape Coast, very few things were urgent and so I was able to let my mind wander in a way that simply wasn’t possible in the chaos of a Penn school year. I read at least 3 books while I was there and I met wonderful people from Ghana and from Penn who I would talk to and go out with now that I’m home. Ghana for me was definitely a bit of therapy for a worn-out mind and the hospitality that her people showed us was more than I can have wished for. Some people on our trip couldn’t let go of their inherited generalizations and I don’t believe their experiences were nearly as good as the rest of us. I’d go again in a second, and I’d even live in the capital city, Accra, if the job was cool. Because the greatest lesson that I learned is that there is more to life and to this world than the United States and its wonderful; meant to be explored. Speaking of a job, I went to Ghana to consult for an NGO for 3 and a half weeks. That was also cool, but that’s for another post. This one’s getting long. Hit me up if you want to know more!