Ghana will always hold a special place in my heart. I traveled there alone in 2011 to hang out with the dancers from Noyam African Dance Institute. It was last minute, unplanned and on reflection a totally crazy thing to do! But despite all of that I had the most incredible time and it really did change my life and the way I travel.
Unfortunately, my visit was too short, 2 weeks, and I had just days before my flight be hospitalised with exhaustion so I wasn’t really up for dancing in the African heat. Instead I ‘hung out’ and observed. I stayed in the family home of the Director of the company the late Professor Nii-Yartey, went to the University of Legon where they were rehearsing for a performance and spent time learning some moves at their school in Dodowa.
So what did I learn? And why did it change me?
Respect for other people’s culture. To observe and not judge
Although my trip was short it was a steep learning curve. I had long conversations about white privilege, religion, democracy and slavery. Sadly I witnessed an incident of domestic violence which brought up a lot of things around the traditional roles played by men and women and the hierarchical roles in traditional Ghanaian culture. It would have been very easy for me to be judgmental about all of these situations. But instead we talked openly about these things and I was able to gain a new understanding of their culture, I learnt a lot, and I was able to understand without judgment. Something that I always try to do when I am travelling.
Sometimes you have to let go of your plans
I tried my hardest to plan my trip before arriving. This all went out of the window once I arrived. I went with the flow, took each day as it came and it didn’t weaken my experience one bit. Now when I’m planning a trip I spend more time researching the culture and the do’s and don’ts. I’ve found this is often much more useful than planning what I’m doing to do each day. For example knowing it’s considered rude to wear your shoes inside in Thailand can be a really useful thing to know before you travel so you can pack footwear that is easy to remove.
I found out what type of traveller I am
I realised during my trip that I’m not a traveller who wants to be in 5* luxury when away from home. When I travel I want to be able to immerse myself in that place, to really get to know it, not to just holiday there. I loved staying with a family sleeping on a mattress on the floor and washing using a bucket of water.
My hosts never hid any of the bad bits from me. They walked me through the poor areas of the city lined with beggars, I spent nights in the dark as the electricity had been turned off due to the storms and I was told I had to pull my weight in the house and taught how to cook and hand wash my clothes. Now when I travel I try and immerse myself in the culture as much as I can. I occasionally book myself into a nice hotel but 9 times out of 10 you will find me staying with a family or in a hostel. Seeking out long conversations with locals about their life, looking for the similarities and differences. I listen, I observe and I learn.
When I came back from Ghana I had a new outlook on life and travel. This trip will stay with me forever and I will always be grateful for the incredible hospitality I was offered by everyone I met.
Have you had an experience whilst travelling that changed you? I’d love to hear about it so please drop me an email or comment below.