Traveler Story: Exploring the Real Ghana
By Chaunna Henry
Visiting the motherland is something many black Americans talk about but never actually do. With some convincing from friends, no real plan and 70,000 Delta SkyMiles, I booked a New Year’s Eve trip to Accra, Ghana to see a small piece of the continent for myself.
On New Year’s Day, I arrived in Accra with a single task in mind—getting my hair braided! I quickly exchanged my currency, grabbed an Uber and made my way to the Auntie Alice Hair Braiding Center. With my luggage in tow, I sat in an empty chair and requested a head full of Senegalese twists. It took three women four hours to complete the job, all for a grand total of $22.00 USD! (No, that is not a typo).
I spent the majority of my trip with my travel partner, Lauren, and a host of other Ghanaian friends from back home in New York. Lauren and I shared an Airbnb located in a town called East Legon. The area is pretty lively with a good amount of options for food, a few cool bars, a large mall and churches everywhere! The apartment was located on a quiet, rocky dirt road on the backstreets of a major road, and the building itself was beautiful and surrounded by palm trees. It was very spacious with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a balcony. There wasn’t much of a view since it overlooking the parking lot, but it was a lovely place!
My very first evening out, my Ghanaian friends took me to a club that sat right on Labadi Beach, an outdoor club that was full of people. Everyone was wearing all white and hip-hop, reggae and afrobeats played all night long! I guess it pays to know a few cool natives because we were lucky enough to get VIP access to a private section on a rooftop overlooking the beach complete with bottle service. We even bumped into Queen Sugar star, Kofi Siriboe at an after-party.
Outside of the many parties we attended, I spent much of my time visiting the different towns in Accra and people watching. I was in awe at how the locals could balance such large objects on the tops of their heads and walk seamlessly without missing a beat! The people there seem to have a natural hustler’s spirit, rising early to sell any and everything on the streets to anyone who would buy.
I wanted to do a little shopping so I ventured out to the Accra Center for National Culture, which is a local shopper’s market. From the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, be prepared to have persistent vendors try to sell you things. You can find everything from shea butter to kente cloth here. It’s a great place to get gifts for friends and family back home and I even caught Nicole Ari-Parker and Boris Kodjoe at the market doing some shopping, too!
I later visited a little village named Jamestown, one of the oldest districts in Accra. It’s a very poor area of town and is home to many fishermen and their families. Boats and small wooden shacks lined the shore and the smell of the sea water was overwhelming. I met some of the local children while doing a tour there who showed me the school they attend and even demonstrated how they like to swim in the ocean right off the fishing dock.
Toward the end of my stay, I took a 4-hour bus ride with my friend Manny to a city called Kumasi to visit his mother. While there, we had fresh goat meat with jollof rice, and I was excited to finally get a home-cooked meal! No trip to Ghana is complete without Jollof rice.
During our time there, we had the opportunity to give away some toys and backpacks to the children at the school where Manny’s mother works. The kids were overwhelmed with joy and it was by far one of the most memorable parts of my trip.
I spent my last day in Kumasi visiting a small museum to hear the famous story of the Ashanti Kingdom and Okomfo Anoyke’s sword in the stone. Next, we visited the Kumasi City Market, which was one of the busiest markets I’ve ever been to and certainly the most stressful to navigate. We had a local family friend guide us, but everyone moves so quickly that we kept losing him! I purchased my braiding hair and shea butter and got out of there as quick as I could.
Kumasi has a rural vibe, so like any New Yorker, I was on the hunt for something that reminded me of city life. Thankfully, we had another friend in town from the city who could guide us. We grabbed an Uber and drove about 30 minutes to Kumasi City where we visited a few of the local bars. On any weeknight, you’ll find the bars packed full of dancing people and loud music. It was drastically different from the scene we’d just left.
After arriving back into Accra for the last few days of my trip, I spent my time relaxing and enjoying the awesome 80+ degree weather. I even treated myself to a wonderful massage at a local spa. A massage was just what I needed before my return to hectic New York City.
Ghana was everything I thought it would be and nothing I imagined it to be at the same time. As a black American, you always wonder if the negative depictions of you’ve seen of the country are accurate. Yes, many parts are still underdeveloped, but I also saw many mansions. The people are beautiful and kind. The food options are diverse and plentiful. The music is some of the best! And I’m convinced that the shea butter is made with a little bit of magic. Experiencing even this small part of Africa has meant everything to me and I certainly intend to return.