As someone in my mid 40’s who is new to the international travel game, I didn’t start actively traveling internationally until the past year. I didn’t see the true value in it, and I was conditioned to fear anything outside of America (by design as I will share later).
I have traveled to all of the “American-approved and marketed” Caribbean destinations but anything outside of that was met with mental fear and uncertainty. Not to mention, my social circle was equally as narrow-minded about international travel and expressed no interest due to fear.
I do remember thinking to myself how I would love to ‘galavant’ through Europe because those were “safe and clean” destinations. Paris and London were at the top of my “bucket list”. Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean destinations were not far behind. When the topic of sub-Saharan Africa would come up, a negative narrative instantly came to mind. Traveling there was never a real consideration because I didn’t want to “get sick” or deal with some sort of civil unrest. The bottom line is that I didn’t even consider traveling to sub-Saharan Africa (in particular) because the narrative was marketed so negatively throughout my entire life. I couldn’t reconcile why I would want to spend good money to go visit a “dump” (as I was led to believe). Late-night infomercials soliciting donations for sick, poverty-stricken children (from organizations that would keep 70% of the donations for ‘administrative costs’) was all I could think of. Images of fly-infested porridge and distended stomachs kept coming to mind. Never once did I ask “WHY?” was it like this (or if it were even true to the extent that it was promoted). The bottom line is that sub-Saharan Africa (with its many countries, languages and cultures) was never a consideration for vacation or leisure the same way I considered European or Asian destinations. I would think to myself that “perhaps” I would go to Africa on a missions trip to help these poor people in need of my saving grace #whatever Sadly, this attitude is common but misguided on many levels. Truth be told, I was the one who needed a little “saving”.
The wildest part is how I loved to watch fictional movies about Africa. “Wakanda Forever!” and every line from Coming to America was embedded into my heart and mind but actually traveling to Africa was a distant thought. I had no problem claiming Africa with my words but rejecting it with my actions and my money.
A Balanced Story
While there are many challenges on the continent of Africa, there is another truth that is not accurately promoted to the world and in particular America. What I didn’t realize was the European places I held in high regard were the same places that benefitted the most from the abuses of Africa and its people. I never considered this as I dreamed about one day visiting Lisbon and Madrid.
How Did I End Up in Africa? My Ancestry Results
In 2017, I took one of the popular ancestry tests. The results piqued my curiosity as it revealed the cluster of west, south and east African countries in my DNA. I took African Ancestry which offered more detailed information about my African (Sierra Leonean - Temne) and European (Spanish/Portuguese) genetic heritage from specific lines in my family.
I know some people are skeptical about the accuracy (not to mention the various conspiracy theories) of all of these “DNA tests” but they have proven to be very accurate and introduced me to relatives I never knew existed. They also confirmed much of the family history I was aware of. Bottom line is that they worked well for me.
Also, if “they” wanted to get my DNA and clone me, they could get plenty of samples every time I go for an annual physical and the bloodwork gets shipped off to the “lab” for analysis. #justsayin
Google Earth Revelation
The DNA results prompted me to use Google Earth to scan over the west coast of Africa to see what I could find. As I scanned over Accra, Ghana, I could not have imagined how what I saw was going to change my life forever.
Because I had been fed a negative narrative about sub-Saharan Africa all of my life, I was expecting to see nothing but huts and half-clothed, starving children. To my amazement, I saw something completely different and I knew in that instant something was missing from the story I had been told. That night, I decided to make Accra, Ghana my first destination in Africa.
FYI, I had no idea about the “Year of Return” and celebrities had no influence in my decision. This was completely independent.
The Wake Up - Ghana 🇬🇭
My decision to go to Africa was met with various sarcastic comments from friends and family rooted in the same ignorance that plagued me for a lifetime. Most opinions or questions had those same negative overtones I would think to myself.
As I researched the hotels, I was shocked to see the number of upscale hotels and accommodations to choose from. This continued to confirm my feelings about being misled about sub-Saharan Africa. When I arrived in Ghana, I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the people. It was clear to me that there was NOTHING to fear and that I had only been shown one side of “Africa”. But why?
My first trip to Africa answered so many questions but left me with even more. Without going to all of the details of my discoveries, I realized that my affection for Europe and Asia and my dismissal and resistance to sub-Saharan Africa was taught to me through education systems, culture, entertainment and mass media. I knew I needed to explore more.
With my fears gone and my curiosity piqued, I scheduled a trip to Zanzibar to learn about the massive Arab slave trade and its impact. I also visited Ethiopia 🇪🇹 to see the ancient history in a country that is often overshadowed by Israel 🇮🇱 and Egypt 🇪🇬. I was completely blown away by EVERYTHING I saw, and NOT ONCE did I feel unsafe. Ethiopia and Zanzibar were two of the most beautiful places I had ever seen and the beaches in Zanzibar would rival anything in the Caribbean or Pacific Ocean.
I also decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (the tallest freestanding mountain in the world and the tallest mountain in Africa) as a stamp to conquering my personal ignorance and fears about the countries in Africa I had no reason to fear.
In Tanzania, I met some of the kindest African people I’ve ever encountered, and they made sure a brotha was taken care of. My life was forever changed on multiple levels as a result of my experience on Kilimanjaro.
My first trip to Africa was in Nov 2018. I have been back to the continent twice and headed back next week. My trips have taken me to the places that have been most negatively portrayed by American media and marketing campaigns. What I saw in places like Benin 🇧🇯 & Togo 🇹🇬helped me to understand what REALLY occurred (and still is occurring) and why the diaspora in America has been kept in the dark.
It is and has always been about the money. With the American ‘black’ population estimated to spend more than one trillion dollars annually, spending this money in non-American or non-American approved destinations could pose a threat. We would be hard pressed to find a television commercial advertising sub-Saharan Africa (other than perhaps a heavily European-influenced African destination.)
For me, going to the dungeons in Ghana and Zanzibar along with the places I visited in Togo and Benin made it painfully clear how this game was (and still is being) played. It took me some time, but I get it now.
Brazil 🇧🇷 and Colombia 🇨🇴
As I was reading another post on social media, I was glad to see that there were others who were discovering the gross misrepresentations of the diaspora even in places like Colombia. The fact that these countries whitewash so much of our history globally helped me to understand why I never considered the places they ‘demonized’ as legitimate vacation destinations. The wild part is that I saw Europeans vacationing in abundance in the places I had been trained to fear and to avoid.
My trips to five countries (with very different cultures) inspired me to visit Salvador, Brazil, the most African-populous country outside of Africa. I always thought America had the most of “us” but there are many more in Brazil.
As I have shared my discoveries, I’ve encountered the unfortunate comments that would question my knowledge or education level because they felt I should have automatically known this information. I quickly addressed these comments with the simple fact that I along with a whole lot of other very educated people were intentionally not taught this part of history. Many of the people who are clueless about my findings hold advanced degrees from the same institutions those who made the comments credited as the source of their enlightenment.
A New Person
One year after my first trip to Africa, I am a new person. I say this because the mental fog has been removed and I have NO fear about Africa. I also have an accurate perspective to pull from because I saw it for myself and didn’t allow the media or anyone else’s opinions to define it for me. I am bothered by the fact that I thought the way I did for more than 45 years but I’m glad I’m free from it. Moving forward, I hope to inspire people to learn and explore vs condemning people for what they may or may not know.
The opportunities in Africa for the diaspora and local Africans are endless. My fears and lack of knowledge would have caused me to miss out on them in the past. Because the continent of Africa is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, there is no wonder we aren’t told about it. I refused to miss out and have already partnered with local business owners to bring economic opportunities to them vs simply taking from them. As I traveled through the five countries, I could see how everyone else from everywhere else was taking advantage of the opportunities. Sadly, many of us who were taken from there were clueless.