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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” (Marcel Proust). When I found out that we were going to Ghana for our next family vacation, I was elated. Although I am half-Ghanaian, I had never visited the continent of Africa. I expected this to be like any other vacation — Bermuda or Paris. However, now I realize that this trip would have long-term effects on me like no other vacation has had.
On the evening of June 26, 2008, we landed at Kotoka International Airportin Accra and later checked into the Fiesta Royale. I could not officially formulate an initial reaction to the country until the next day. We drove around Accra and visited many historical sites. The most evident culture shock was the aggressive pedestrians. Driving on unpaved, pothole-filled roads are dangerous enough, but the several street dwellers that make a living by selling products such as foodstuffs, jewelry, and cloth in oncoming traffic often made driving the streets of Ghana very risky.
After staying in Accra for two days, we drove three hours to Kumasi where we lodged with my uncle’s family. This part of our vacation was devoted to visiting family members and observing the culture and lifestyles of the locals. It was quite daunting to meet so many family members that I had never even heard of. As a traditional part of Ghanaian culture, we were formally welcomed into their homes and we offered gifts to the families.
After we said our last goodbyes to our family members in Kumasi, we drove another three hours to Cape Coast. This was perhaps the most poignant part of my vacation — the tour of the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles. From a distance, these castles looked beautiful; the eggshell color complemented the placid shores and the serene pace of the coastal villages. My first impression of the castles would dramatically change upon closer examination. As we took a tour through each room, I felt as if I could actually see the ruthless European slave traders forcing the captives into the dark and poorly ventilated dungeons, or hear the cries of men and women that were tortured or beaten if they resisted. We were told that some “rebellious” slaves were kept as prisoners where they were denied food and water and eventually died. As I listened to the tour guide’s lecture about the “Door of No Return”, I could only imagine how the slaves — my ancestors — must have felt knowing that they would never return to their homeland. As the tour came to a close, I began to appreciate how fortunate I was to be returning to the place where my roots lie. Ever since touring those slave castles, I constantly wondered whether I would have been strong enough to sustain the brutality that so many people could not escape. Stepping out of the Elmina and Cape Coast castle doors and into the developing landscape and beauty of Ghana gave me a sense of reconciliation and emotional healing. Even though this was a horrific period in the history of mankind, I realize that it would be counterproductive for me to assign blame or anger about the slave trade era. Also, I realized that I have an obligation to ensure that humanity will never again perpetrate such injustice. My ancestors involuntarily left their homeland through the “Door of No Return”, but thank God, I returned. On the flight back home and in the months and years to follow, I will always be eternally thankful for my “new eyes”.