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African American in West Africa: First Impressions

I’ve been in Ghana for going on three weeks, spending a week traveling through Togo and it’s already been an amazing experience. So I thought it would be a fun and interesting conversation to talk about my first impressions as an African American in West Africa.

  • Alaffia-Journey_TrudyStills261In America we take for granted the beautiful shades of dark(er) brown. Travelling through Sokode and Bassar in North Togo, places that are not easily accessible to non-Togolese, I’ve never felt so melanin deficient. Every one is glorious shades of deep dark brown, with various hues of purple, yellow, red undertones. It’s just a random thought that in Western media, the color scale for deeper browns trails off without any consideration to the undertones and hues.
  • It is very easy to see that African Americans are (largely) descendants of West African slaves. I don’t know where folks came up with the whole Hebrew Israelite theory, but sure maybe Israel was originally the Gold Coast and the white folks relocated the holy land to an area of lesser melanin cause white folks love to Columbus. One of the first things that struck me was how many Ghanians and Togoless people look like people I know in the States. Like your memaw that loves to listen to Tom Joyner every morning or the uncles that are excited to go to white linen parties so they can line dance to Frankie Beverly + Maze. You’ve got cousins in Accra. 
  • While there’s a conversation to be had about the lack of coverage West Africa receives in the news., part of that conversation needs to consider how the governments and lack of infrastructure cause perpetuate the lack of coverage. Most of West Africa is compromised of centralized governments, with their capitals on the southern coast line with a major shift and breakdown in the overlooked northern regions. Soon as you leave Togo’s capital Lome, there is a significant shift downward in the infrastructure, that impacts access to everything from running water to technology, leaving internet and cell phone service scant. On top of that, the national language is French, with most people learning French in school (which is not free), so local or indigenous languages are much more common. There isn’t just one or three that are spoken, but a mixture depending on the ethnic groups of that village. Think about who is doing all that translating to ensure the facts make it to the right sources and news outlets can fact check their sources in a country that’s government is not to keen on the freedom of speech or press.
  • IMG_2425
    Maternity Clinic in Bassar, Togo

    In the villages of Togo, I experienced my first moments of White woman guilt. Feeling quite guilty that my first inclination was to want to help these people to have the same “luxuries” of living that I do in America, when in reality I have no clue what will actually make their lives holistically better. But to be in a village with no access to clean or running water/sewage, where the “pharmacy” consists of a box of ibuprofen, and this is where women are giving birth in a chair stirrup chair that I would balk at if I even had to have my pap smear on there….and there’s nothing I could do to better their situation. Nothing. It was just an overwhelming day of high emotions.

  • IMG_2288Driving in West Africa is like Grand Theft Auto, and that’s putting it lightly. Brace yourself. Traffic laws that are enforced do not exist, they’re just a concept you dream about as you pray that you make it through this mountain in North Togo safely. I did  not think it would ever be possible for me to appreciate the concept of speeding tickets. In Togo, where there is a paved road, it’s a paved road with one line down the middle, but folks just drive where they want. Once we got outside of Lome, traffic lights were a nope and in Accra, dumsor – where electricity is cut off in the city, just cancels out that whole concept. Motorcycles are popular, especially in N. Togo, and cars drive dangerously close to them, while no one flinches. Ah and the language that is honking of the horn, people use their horns in place of seat belts. Honking your horn prevents accidents, I guess
  • Eating out, is one of the most frustratingly hilarious experiences of Ghana. It’s not just half the menu that you can’t order, but placing your order and an hour later they tell you their out of something — with attitude, oh girl, did you not this experience is a privilege? Don’t have the nerve to be a vegetarian or a non-seafood eater. When you explain to someone at the beginning of your meal what you do not eat and they still serve you a plate of meat, then insist “oh vegetarian? so not even chicken or pork?” Just laugh, really, laugh your ass off, cause there’s joy in this experience. It’s always a fun time. Just stick with the fufu or banku.
  • IMG_2510Speaking of food, kelwele and red-red are all I need in this life of sin. Still trying to figure out if that’s a balanced diet and if I can lose weight only consuming those two dishes? Plantain every day, until I die. 
  • If you’re from the Americas or Europe or have spent substantial time living there, dating in Ghana is absolutely no better than dating in the Western world. This deserves it’s own separate post. But to go to Ghana to find a man thing… yeah girl unless you want to get your groove back like Stella with a bottom or someone swindling their way into a green card…it’s not looking so bright. Just think, would you date someone who has never left the state they were born in? Oh but there are plenty of gorgeous men here, emanating hoeness unabashedly. On the flip side, Accra is too small for you to revel in much if any thotful activity. So discretion and tread lightly if you dare. 
  • Accra can be expensive, especially if you have an American accent and don’t speak Ga or Twi. But magically if someone is with you and they speak a local language things get substantially cheaper. For that and a few other reasons, traveling to West Africa requires connecting with a local, will make your experience so much cheaper and safer. Though getting clothes made out here is the best thing ever…just wait for my haul after this trip. Got a whole new wardrobe for under $200. 
  • Lastly, I’m connected to more people in Accra then I was in Houston. How does this happen? Well, part of the appeal of Accra to African Americans, is that for the most part there’s been favorable political relations between the USA and Ghana, lending itself to more Ghanians migrating to America or at least pursuing higher education in the States. There’s also a large Black US Diplomat constituency in the Greater Accra region. Also, it’s very refreshing to easily connect with intelligent people who have a genuine interest in the world around, especially to pertaining to the African diaspora and how the politics of sub-saharan Africa impacts us all. This is how you learn. Even sitting at dinner and having a casual conversation about Tanzania’s new president Magufuli on some non-pretentious shit, is great brain food that’s much harder to come by, without someone asking why do you know this or care, in the States.

I will definitely be doing a follow up post on traveling as a tourist to West Africa, cause girl, it is not easy. But with a heightened interest in Black millennial travel, it’s worth having a discussion on in hopes of making it easier. Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic can’t get all the travel shine.

Comment below and let me know if there are any other topics specific to my travels in West Africa. You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to see my travels. 

Tags : african foodafrican historypan-africanwanderlust
Jouelzy

The author Jouelzy

Jouelzy is a #SmartBrownGirl, Author, Vlogger & Writer, addressing lifestyle issues that impact women of color from beauty, culture to technology. With 162k+ subscribers she’s reshaping the image of women of color, who honor their right to revel in their diversity.

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  • Tami Shay

    “without any consideration to the undertones and hoes”–I think you meant hues; “Most of West Africa is compromised of centralized governments”–was this supposed to be “comprised?”

    Anyway, I find this very insightful, and I’m happy that you are posting about the trip as you go. Travel to Africa and learning about the diaspora is a goal of mine, for myself and my daughter. Your discussions on YouTube and willingness to document your trips is very encouraging.

  • rainydaze80

    Man, I can’t wait to go to Togo! I’ve been begging my Togolese boo to take me after our baby is born. I’ve never been to Africa and I’m dying to visit.

  • I live abroad – currently in Ghana. Nope, not easy at all. And you are very correct about the govn and the lack of infrastructure is an issue. I’ve seen some nice beaches in Ghana and West Africa overall, that do not make it to the Travel Channel.

  • Gilo

    Hello Jouelzy, I enjoyed your videos and blog, it’s cool
    seeing an African American taking interests in Africa, you should definitely
    visit East Africa, Rwanda in particular,

    1. It’s beautiful : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke9A7zjduBY

    2. It’s clean (plastic bags are banned), the roads are good and its safe.
    http://www.nation.co.ke/news/africa/Rwanda-rated-among-the-safest-countries/-/1066/2889148/-/11nd1daz/-/index.html

    3. Rwandans are very friendly and welcoming.

    4. There is a lot to learn.

    4. Americans get visas on arrival in Rwanda, but you can get an East African
    Visa which gives you access to Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

    5. It’s my country 🙂

    • Theoisback

      I agree 100%.
      I am biased tho 🙂 I am Rwandan and I am trying to make a youtube channel like yours, about Rwanda. Thank you for the inspiration

  • Jayla

    I wanna go to West Africa now, I am a #Smartbrowngirl

  • Jayla

    Also, I can’t stand how everyone is always interested in going to the islands instead of Africa and I do believe that you can make a change in West Africa, it’s just going to be a lot of work.

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  • Hi Joulzy. I was going to post this on your Youtube video but theres probably a better chance of you reading it here. China is not the best and sometimes it does shady things but its a lot better than the alternative(The West). Right now the Chinese are working on a huge project tarring over 8000km of road in my country (Zambia). They’ve been at it since July last year and I have to be honest parts of the city have practically transformed over night. China is NOT colonizing Africa, it has a monopoly on trade deals but lets be honest they just surplanted the West in that regard. They offer significantly more benefits and freedom than the West ever did. Obviously, the West does not like losing so much leverage over the continent. As such typical propaganda is to be expected. Initially it worked, but now that notion has completely faded away. When the Chinese first arrived things were shady, there was a very clear clash of cultures and some Chinese businesses didn’t follow regulations at all. There were a few riots and even industrial accidents. The media jumped on that as proof of “Colonization”. That has now changed drastically and a lot of the population (which hated their guts circa 2008) has completely come around. The Chinese have done a very good job at integrating and working with the locals. You’ll find them on public transport, speaking local languages and on construction sites. Many have even settled down and started families here, more often with locals. They integrate with the population unlike most westerners who stick to their offices and gated communities. Some western expats have been here for years and cant speak even the most basic of Nyanja (the most common local language), they show very little interest in the people of this country in that regard. China has completely won the war on hearts and minds, in Zambia at least. As far as textiles and steel? This is a global issue, the Chinese have destroyed these industries in countries like the UK as well. They are simply better at production. Its a shame but Africa needs to be moving away from such industries and start embrace industrial manufacturing and modern service based economic models anyway. Western news outlets will NEVER say anything positive about China or even Africa in that regard. I encourage you to look at this angle from different news outlets like SABC (South African), Press TV (Iranian) and even CCTV (Chinese) to get an even view of the situation. Thanks

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