This Sunday, my husband and I are heading to Ghana for two weeks. Our younger son, who is 18, is taking a gap year before heading to college at the University of Oregon this Fall. As part of that, he is spending six months in Ghana on an exchange program. He is doing a community service volunteer program as a teacher’s assistant in an after-school program, and is living with a host family. Of course, we have planned to visit since the day he left!
I’m beginning to understand how my students feel as the date for their departure to the U.S. approaches. Oh, I’ve always understood intellectually … but I’m beginning to understand it in my heart. It’s just for two weeks, so I know we don’t have the same anticipation and anxiety that my teenaged students faces each year as they get ready to come to the U.S. for 5 or 10 months.
But on a very basic level, it’s really the same. I’m traveling to a place I’ve never been, a place that is so different from my suburban/urban life as to defy translation. I will suddenly be noticeable – a white American in black Africa. The culture will be different, the weather will be different, the food will be different.
And I’m psyched. Nervous, a bit anxious, but excited and psyched.
We start in Accra, Ghana’s largest city. Accra has a lot to offer — the New York Times named it #4 on its list of place to go in 2013. We might as well check it out!
After a couple of days in Accra, we will head out to Tamale, a large city in Ghana’s northern region. From there, given our graduate work in the study of the international wildlife trade and our lifetime work on environmental issues, it won’t surprise many readers that we insist on spending some time in Ghana’s Mole National Park. As the Lonely Planet says:
It’s not everywhere you can get up close and personal with bus-sized elephants. Face-to-face encounters with these beasts, plus roving gangs of baboons, warthogs, water bucks and antelopes – 90 species of mammals in total – are possibilities at this national park, Ghana’s largest at 4660 sq km and best as far as wildlife viewing goes.
From Mole, we will drive to Kumasi, in the Ashanti region, home of the fabled Ashanti Kingdom. We will stay in the center of Kumasi, a city that is considered the cultural “heart” of Ghana due to its history. It contains places such the Manhyia Palace, which was the residence of the Ashanti kings.
We will now be halfway through our two-week trip. We will visit some Ashanti towns and villages, learning about the weaving of kente cloth in the village of Bonwire; the cloth printing technique called Adinkra stamping in the village of Ntonsu; and wood carving in the town of Ahwia.
On the 27th, we’ll head back to Accra, and then we’re off for a few days for a coastal trip, where we will visit Ghana’s famous (and infamous…) Cape Coast and one or more of the many castles formerly used in the slave trade.
Beyond all this amazing history, we have several personal places to visit on this trip. Our tour guide, when he is not arranging trips like ours so full of history it’s mind-boggling, also works with Framework International, a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon, which is building schools in Ghana. A group of Linfield College graduates founded Framework; they took an idea that started on a college trip to Africa and ran with it. My husband and I connected with Framework through a colleague in the environmental field, who is working with Framework on business development. So of course when we are in Ghana, we will visit one of Framework’s schools.
Finally, we will visit our son and his host family. This is a new experience for us.We have hosted about a dozen students over the past 10 years, and we have had a number of our students’ parents and families visit us towards the end of the exchange term. But now we’re the “family back home,” coming to visit and throw ourselves into our child’s new culture. The Brown family in Accra have hosted our son since January, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for taking our son into their home and making him a part of their family. As our own exchange students have become a part of our family forever so that we now have “children” around the world, we hope that Marcus has found a second home in Ghana which will forever be a part of him. We are excited to be able to see a bit of the world where he has lived for the past five months.