I have read quite a few things about why African Americans do or do not travel to the continent. Some of it I can totally jive with like Glo from the Blog Abroad’s perspective here.
As an African American who has been to continent twice (going again next year) I have been asked about my experiences and I always say that I think it is one that all person’s of the diaspora should have. I have been indelibly changed by both of my experiences in Ghana and Kenya respectively. I won’t lie, it is expensive to get to and stay in parts of the continent, especially in places like South Africa but I also think that it is entirely worth it to plan and make the trek at least once in your life. Here are five reasons why:
1.) It is vast. One thing that irks my nerves is when Africa is expressed as if it were a small country and not a continent with 54 countries and 3,000 or more ethnic groups. There are so many different perspectives that one can experience on the continent. Just like anywhere the regions have their own flavor. If for no other reason than to eat, go.
2.) You are the majority. Both in Ghana and Kenya, I was surrounded by black folks. Beautiful hues of all kinds and I did not stick out at all. Matter of fact, I had multiple experiences where people would come up and just begin talking to me in Twi, Ewe, or Swahili and I would sheepishly have to tell them that I didn’t speak the language. But it was a strange comfort to not feel as though people were watching you because you’re black. I did not realize how much systematic racism colors how I move about the world until I went to places where errybody is black.
3.) There is so much history and culture. Again, Africa is a vast continent and you can experience so many different cultures and religions in one country alone. It will definitely open your eyes to an array of ways that people exist if that’s what you want. One of my most transformative and heart-wrenching experiences was going to Elmina Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana.
For those who aren’t familiar, it is one of the many castles in West Africa where enslaved Africans were held before beginning the trip across the Atlantic. Seeing the 3×3 foot hole where the newly enslaved were sent out to be loaded into cargo ships was absolutely painful. Especially because the castle is juxtaposed to the beach and waves lapping the shore. I thought of the fact that someone survived all of that so that I would be here. Look, that experience sent chills through me and I sobbed almost uncontrollably.
On a less sad note. It was interesting to speak with Kenyans and Ghanaians about family dynamics and some of the values that they hold on to, like keeping the elders, and realizing that there is indeed some overlap with African Americans. While there are many arguments about retentions from the continent, talking with both Sammy and Julius made me feel that much more connected to the continent.
4.) You’ll (most likely) be embraced. I’m in no way romanticizing dynamics between African born persons and African Americans, my experience has been really good thus far. I do still recognize that the connection between the two communities tends to be really fraught, especially for African folks that may have immigrated to the states. This may not actually be the case when I go to Morocco or Egypt (who is to say?) but in Ghana, in particular, I heard, “Welcome home” a lot.
A lot of Africans do feel as though African Americans are part of them and want us to come back to visit and get to know the continent; to find a bit of home there. In my experiences thus far, I have felt as though I was finally home. Going to the continent was an opportunity to heal that deep displaced feeling. While I am in no way co-opting any part of the continent as my home, I am after all still American by birth, I had a spiritual connectedness to the Motherland and felt as though I’d be reunited with part of myself.
Until the next one!