Being B(l)ack In Kumasi
“The citizens of the country have been able to survive on what they have and will continue to do so regardless of my presence there.”
The best thing about returning to the country of your birth for the first time in over ten years is seeing the places and faces that were once familiar.
The faces. My grandmother looked like she had not aged. My cousins all looked and sounded the same making it hard for me to identify which of them asked me to bring snow with me to Ghana. My childhood best friend looked the same as she did when we were little but it still took me more than fifteen seconds to recognize her.
The places. The house I grew up in before migrating to the United States. The mini storehouses where we could purchase necessities at as late as 10pm at night. The hair-braiding shop on the side of the road where an appointment does not take up the whole day in contrast with hair-braiding in the U.S. And more.
Everything was a breath of fresh air. Back to the country that I have grown to love, even from afar. To the place where my extended family lives and thrives. The place to which I felt like I belonged. Home. Where I was also a foreigner.
- Home may not embrace you right away and that is okay
I tried to dress like the local people – no extravagant clothing, jewelry, nor accessories even when I went to teach at Blessing International School. I spoke Twi outside of the house in attempt to fit in. Yet the people could smell the foreign-ness on me. I was bitter at first; that the place I have always called home refused to embrace me as one of its own. Then I understood why. I grew up in the US. It is what it is. My childhood best friend could negotiate well with the seamstresses and market sellers whilst I couldn’t. It is what it is.
My stay was quite a trip (no pun intended). I spent my first two weeks criticizing everything. The roads. The people in the market who kept pulling on my arm. The traffic. And everything else in between. I was so excited to be back in the country I spent so many years admiring from across the Atlantic Ocean that I forgot to leave my expectations at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, NY.
- Google and social media will offer you a romanticized narrative of your travel location.
For me, my expectations robbed me of enjoying my first two weeks in Kumasi. Realizing this allowed me to appreciate Kumasi for what it was at the time. I acknowledged the infrastructural progress that had been made in my neighborhood and focused my energy on appreciating them. My presence there was not to find ways to fix anything:
- Leave your “savior” hat where you purchased it.
The citizens of the country have been able to survive on what they have and will continue to do so regardless of my presence there.
What I loved most about home was that even though I was a foreigner, I was not placed on a pedestal. Yes, my students saw me as the coolest teacher ever (I’m not sure if that’s because I had come from the US or because of my personality). And sure, some vendors tried to sweet talk me to convince me to pay ridiculous prices for items but I soon learned how to negotiate my way to getting what I wanted at fair prices. People could tell I lived abroad but I received no special treatment – which I greatly appreciated. I hopped on trotros (mini buses) like the locals. I briskly walked through the market, like the locals. I fetched water, like the locals. The students I taught at Blessing International School treated me with respect like their teachers. I ate street food. Like the locals. And it was all very comforting.
The most refreshing aspect of my stay was the fact that I never worried about selective treatment based on the color of my skin. I was not black in Kumasi. I was an American. Acknowledging that, although hard, was the first step to enjoying one of my favorite travel experiences to date.
Veronica Addai Mensah, Washington, D.C