I’m sitting in the Dulles airport in Washington, D.C. In a few hours, I’ll board a plane to Amsterdam and then another to Accra, Ghana, the capital.
The weather this week is supposed to be a high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with the bright sun and full humidity. Our professor told us bring lightweight clothing and to avoid jeans. “Most Americans can’t handle wearing jeans in West Africa – you’ll pass out.” Most Americans don’t live on the Alabama Gulf Coast, where the climate is similar during the summer months, the air so heavy, you could wring it your own sweat out like a dishrag. I know better than to wear jeans.
I do have to dress conservatively, with loose clothing and shorts and skirts that have to reach my knees. I don’t want to stand out too much, more than we already will, and want to be culturally respectful, especially in religiously conservative areas. I packed about 9 days worth of outfits: lots of cotton shirts, one or two dresses for church on Sundays, if I end up living with an evangelical Christian family, two bathing suits for when we’re near the coast, my Birkenstocks and Adidas.
For the flights, I brought Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a fiction novel that follows the stories of several generations of Asante women and their experience with the American slave trade. I’m determined to finish it by the time I land in Accra. I’m also about halfway through Lexington-native photographer Sally Mann’s Hold Still, a 400-page memoir I started during spring break and couldn’t put down. I bought Roxane Gay’s newest book Hunger, another memoir. I also have our class “textbook,” which outlines history, culture and customs in Ghana.
On the bus ride to the airport from Lexington, I finally read Junot Díaz’s piece on childhood trauma published in the New Yorker in early April. It was so powerful and vulnerable. I could almost feel the weight of his trauma through his words. Something I’m incredibly aware of is the trauma that fills the stories of the Ghanaian children, women and men we will be engaging with through nonprofits that rescue and support victims of child labor and sex trafficking. Diaz mentions in his piece about the weight of sexual violence and trauma that has penetrated the African diaspora and is still very present now. I’m not here to pretend to fully understand the depth of this generational and historic exploitation after spending one month in one country.
I’m grateful for the guidance of the local, grassroots nonprofits we’ll be working with. If not for their guidance, I wouldn’t be traveling 5,392 miles to stick a camera in a child’s face who has been trafficked and write their script for them. I understand the power dynamic here: I am a white American traveling to a black, African country with a focus on modern slavery. I know that I still benefit from an institution in my home country that exploited Ghanaian people and set the precedent for the slavery in effect today. I know the power a camera has, to harm or to empower, to tell a story wrongly or to shed a just light. This will be a learning and a listening process for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to use and build upon my filming and multimedia experience to support these nonprofits in the incredibly necessary work that they do.
I’ll be entering Ghana with more preconceptions and knowledge than when I traveled to Vietnam last summer, thanks to the precursory film and culture class I’ve taken this semester and to friends who have lived and traveled in Ghana and the West African region. Here’s what I’ve been told, uncensored – (this could all be false information, guess I’ll find out):
- Malaria pills will give me crazy dreams.
- Malaria pills will make me sick.
- Ghanaian food is just watered-down Liberian food (thanks, Ramonah).
- Don’t eat hamburgers, because the 100 beef will wreck my stomach. (My question is, what’s in our American hamburgers, then?)
- Definitely try Ghanaian interpretations of other American food.
- The government is corrupt, but democratic (sounds familiar).
- Once you make friends in Ghana, they’ll be your friends for life.
- Police are corrupt and expect bribery.
- Everything is spicy. (Yay!)
- The dancing – both in churches and in clubs – is contagious.
- I’m going to receive a lot of marriage proposals.
I’m flying 7 hours to Amsterdam first, with a 7-hour layover before I board the plane and fly another 6 hours to Accra. I can’t wait to land.