Year of the Return
On January 16th, 2019, I embarked on what I felt was the adventure of a lifetime: I was taking my first trip to the African continent and was spending 10 days in Ghana. This trip was very significant and special to me because this would be the first international trip I’ve taken in my adulthood and my first time in Africa. It was even more significant because growing up I always felt a disconnect not knowing where I came from like the rest of my friends. I’m a native New Yorker (Bronx native all day, every day) and my parents are also New Yorkers. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents, and their respective families are from South Carolina (Gullah/Geechee) so it felt strange having people ask me where I’m from and giving them the same answer verbatim. While I love and proudly represent my New York and South Carolina roots, I wanted to know more about my ancestry. I understood the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade stole millions of people from their homes and families and dropped them throughout the Americas, but I knew my history was more than just slavery and I knew that one day I would get to Africa to reconnect with that history.
I can say with confidence the 10 days I spent exploring Ghana were some of the best days of my life. I got to experience things like the Kakum National Park and walked the famous canopy walk, visited Wli Falls which is the highest waterfall in West Africa, toured Cape Coast Castle, learned about the Big Six and the history of Ghana at the Kwame Nkrumah Museum, admired the scenery from Akwapim-Togo Range, and toured the Bonwire Kente Village. I was immersed in this history and culture and people, and it was all so comforting to learn and speak and laugh with the people I met. There were some similarities that reminded of South Carolina, for example seeing the sweetgrass baskets being sold in markets and on the sides of the roads, and jollof rice which is basically red rice. These small moments helped me put into perspective the ways in which the culture is still connected to Africa, and I felt proud knowing that I was witnessing the connection.
While I enjoyed being a tourist and having this great experience, one thing that really made this trip special was being around other people who looked like me. It is very exhausting for me being so hyper aware of my Blackness when I walk into a room or when I speak, as I hold much of Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness within me. I’m conscious of my identities as a woman and a Black person in a world that can be insensitive to both identities. I’ve mastered code switching and knowing when to let my true self be present in the presence of others I feel comfortable being around. As people, I think we need more of those comfortable spaces to be our true selves, to share our true emotions and experiences with people who can appreciate and share those similar moments. But the feeling I had, being surrounded and greeted by so many people who looked like me, I felt accepted. As I began to meet more people and explore new places I began to experience déjà vu, and of course I’d never been to Ghana before so I don’t have the words to explain it, but I felt a connection.
Having already been back home for about three weeks, I would love to go back to Ghana for a longer trip, or travel to another country in Africa. I feel like I was able to accomplish my goal of finding my connection, but I was also able to gain a better appreciation for my Blackness. Ghana now has a special place in my heart and I couldn’t be more grateful!
By: Sierrah Nicole Smalls
Follow Sierrah On Instagram: @acrosstheuniv3rse