In 2007, I travelled to Ghana in West Africa, for two and a half weeks. I went with two friends one I grew up with in Washington, D.C. And the other person was her boyfriend who is originally from Accra, Ghana.
We set up our “home” base in Accra but being the adventurers we are, we wanted to travel up and down the coast of Ghana into the more rural areas. We wanted to see more than just the major city. We wanted to see it all.
So we packed small bags and backed packed through Ghana.
During one trip to Mole National Park, a safari in North Ghana, we took a taxi for several hours to a luxury resort in the middle of the woods. When we finally arrived at the resort, it was full. They had a large party come at the last minute and didn’t have any available rooms.
It was late. We were exhausted. I was scared.
I looked around and there was nothing. And I mean nothing in my eye’s sight. The drive had been long and dark. There didn’t seem to be another hotel anywhere near where we were. We looked at the cab driver with a hopeless look, “I can’t take you back to the city today.” He said with a really strong accent. “But my buddy’s family has a place up here.”
We sighed in relief. Until he drove us to this supposed place and it looked like nothing. There were a few structures that looked more like huts that a hotel with clean sheets and showers. We were frantically looking at each other as the cab driver got out the car to see if they had any space.
He came back, ” they have plenty of room. You’ll stay here.” Really….really….really.
“Really? ” I said pleadingly to my two friends. “I don’t think we have a choice.”
So we got out bags and headed to the place.
They showed us to our room.
The room literally had two beds with mosquito nets over them and a night stand. That was it! There was no bathroom, toilet or shower.
I hesitantly asked about the bathroom and the women took me to the back of the huts to a place with several holes in the ground.
Alright I thought. This is going to be interesting.
When I went back over to the group, my friend said food was being prepared for us. They were even making a vegan dish for me. I was not really looking forward to what could possibly be offered to me in a place like this. But I was starving so whatever it was, I would happily eat it. There was no electricity so I wondered how they would cook the food. Silly city girl! They started a fire in no time and cooked the food over a fire. That was pretty cool to watch.
One guy there asked us where we were from. I said the United States. Usually that was enough to invite awe. But this guy wanted to know specifically where in the U.S. I said Georgia, half thinking why does it matter, he wouldn’t be familiar with it.
Most people I encountered thus far in Ghana only knew of New York and California if they knew any of the states at all.
To my surprise, not only did this guy know of Georgia but he had been to Atlanta before. In fact he’d been to New York, Cali, and parts of Canada. He’d been to Washington, D.C. too. He’d also visited every other continent in cities like Basil, London, and Tokyo.
Ignorantly, I thought to myself, why in the world do you like it here. He must have read my mind because he quickly said, I love traveling but I always come home. I blurted out, “Really? Why?”
He replied, “Look around you. Look up. Everything I need is here. My family. The earth. Don’t get me wrong New York is fun but its just entertaining, it’s not nourishing. I can’t feel my heart beat when I’m there.”
I looked up and almost lost my breath. My opinion of this place was so limited I didn’t’ even bother to look up.
But when I did, I saw more stars in the sky than I’ve ever seen before. It was magnificent. I almost forgot there were that many stars up there past the smog and pollution I was use to. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was one of the most magnificent sites I’d ever seen.
My friend who was from Ghana said he’d never been this far north of Accra. The guy was shocked. He said, “You’ve lived in Brazil, America, and Europe, but have never bothered to explore your own country? You must explore home first before you can ever really understand anything else.”
This was the most profound moment of my entire trip to Ghana.
It really opened my mind to traveling in way I had never thought of before. I scoffed at America and sought to see other lands. I considered foreign countries, exotic spaces, and native people to be so much more interesting than anything I could ever see in my own country.
But this man’s comment made me think. It made me question my own motive for coming all the way to Africa and I’d never even been two hours north of Atlanta, Georgia where I lived. At the time, I’d never been to California, Washington, or any of the midwest states. I’d never visited Sedona. I had wonders and beauty and awe at home I’d never even bothered to explore.
I’d always desired to leave, but never really took the time to explore the land in which I was born.
Home is more than the place in which we live or first entered the world. There’s significance in it even if we did not choose it or come to it voluntarily. It is a space in which we are rooted beyond our control. It can tell us things about ourselves that are beyond our conscious thought or present understanding of ourselves. It can teach us who we were before we were. It deepens our connection to our own souls.
So while the conversation with this man did not extinguish my desire to travel internationally, it definitely ignited my desire to see and explore my own country.
Although I traveled to Ghana and had this realization in 2007, I’m just not starting to fully understand it and act on it. My husband and I are currently making plans to travel full-time. First across the country, and then across the world.
We’ll keep you posted on our travels.
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