In January 2016, the nonprofit MusicXChange, founded by Berklee student Federico Masetti, organized a two-week service trip to Ghana to build strategic partnerships and raise awareness about the organization. The following post was written by tamia rashima jordan, one of the trip’s participants. Read posts by fellow participants Apiwe Bubu and Ellie Foster.
By tamia rashima jordan
There are no words to convey how excited I was to finally visit THE continent. Prior to departing the U.S. I’d ask two of my friends, one from Tanzania and one from Mozambique, for any thoughts or advice with respect to my impending travels. My friend from Tanzania said a few things and while I remember them all, I deeply internalized two. The first: let go of all expectations of what it will be. He shared that having expectations, good, bad, or even neutral, can be incredibly difficult to reconcile when those expectations are not met. He said this is the case especially for African-Americans traveling to the continent for the first time.
The second: he told me to let go of Western notions of time. He said to just leave that behind. What he meant, especially for me as an event planner who can be time-on-task obsessed when I’m in charge of an event, is that I would be much happier and would get the most out of the trip if I realized that when someone says “5 minutes,” know it may actually mean 5 minutes. However, it may also mean 50 minutes, or even 5 hours – and I should be OK with that. Most importantly, he meant that I should move slower, enjoy my time, be present, and take as much in as I possibly could. Suffice to say, except when I was “hangry” and needed to know EXACTLY when we’d eat next, I took his advice and did just that.
When I am very much looking forward to an impending experience, my first response is to get jittery and excited. Just thinking about it keeps me up at night. Or, if I am able to sleep, my dreams are filled with vivid visions of me doing that impending thing. Then a day or two (or three) prior to the experience, I go into what I call “zombie mode.” I imagine this is some sort of primitive survival instinct: this only happens when my enthusiasm and anticipation of a thing is so over the top that it’s no longer healthy for me to ruminate about it in the many ways that I can!
Suffice to say, my trip to Ghana was one of those aforementioned “impending experiences.” So when I finally arrived at the airplane to begin my journey from New York’s JFK airport to the airport in Accra, Ghana, I was incredibly calm. You see, the depth of my calmness is inversely related to the level of my excitement. So in this instance, I was so calm that my pulse may not have registered. By the time I settled on the airplane and we took off, I’d stopped thinking about Ghana altogether and it wasn’t until we deplaned that I “woke up” and regained a profound level of varied and diverse emotions.
When I exited the airplane and the dry heat of Accra, Ghana hit me like a brick wall I thought, “Oh my God, I’m really here.”
When I descended the airplane steps and my feet finally touched the tarmac, I thought, “I’m on THE continent.”
When we traversed through immigration, gathered our luggage, and walked outside to a group of strangers who were already family with outstretched arms and huge smiles and an energy so warm and welcoming I thought, “I’m home.”
In fact, one of the first things I remember was hugging someone; I’m not entirely sure who, because at that point I did not know their names, and as that person hugged me back he said, “Welcome home.”
In that instant, so many thoughts traveled through my mind: “This is our home. This continent is the birthplace of civilization with Ethiopia being ‘the cradle.'” “This is our home. I’ve NEVER seen this many black people in one place at one time.” And finally, “This is our home: this continent certainly is all of our origin story. However, as the only African-American on this sojourn, I am the only one in our group whose ancestors were stolen from their homes, shackled and chained, shipped across an ocean, and forced to survive the unspeakable on their way to becoming “Americans.” Then alas, once given their freedom, still had to live through the horrors of Jim Crow’s de jure and de facto segregation. Then, despite all of that madness, someone begat someone who begat someone who begat someone – until someone begat me.
The grand sign on the airport’s facade that reads “Akwaaba,” which is the Akan word for “welcome,” meant something different to all of us. To me it meant an incredibly overdue return to my home and my people–my land and my heritage–in honor of my ancestors who suffered greatly yet lived so that I might one day return to our continent of my own will and devoid of shackles and chains.
tamia rashima jordan, M.Ed., is an educator, event planner, blogger, and social justice activist. Professionally she serves as director of Student Activities at Berklee. Outside of Berklee, tamia channels her energy into inmate justice and education work. In her writing, tamia is most interested in the intersections of pop culture, race, politics, & social class. Visit tamia’s blog, Astroland, at tamiarashima.com.