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25.06.2003 Feature Article

Going Home- A Search For Identity

Going Home- A Search For Identity
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“Ladies and gentlemen, we should be arriving in Accra within the next 45 minutes”, the pilot announced over the intercom.

“The weather is cloudy with isolated thunderstorms in the surrounding area”, he continued. That doesn't sound like good flying weather I thought. I sat back in my seat and tried to relax as the plane continued its ascent. I hate this part of the flight!

I tried my best to avoid the video screen and the steadily increasing numbers for altitude displayed on it. Well, God brought me safely from Washington through Zurich to Lagos, almost an 8-hour journey. I'm sure that He can manage the shorter plane trip to Accra. I began to get excited, to wonder how Ghana would look like, how I would feel being there and what types of experiences I would have. How will it be meeting family members I can't even remember and many that I have never met? The video screen read 30 minutes to landing. I made my way towards the bathroom to freshen up. After combing my hair and making sure my face was clean, I returned to my seat and gathered my things together. I glanced back up at the screen. 20 minutes left. I closed my eyes and tried not to think too much. The pilot came and announced our descent over the intercom. 15 minutes to go. Exciting! What was that? We were over Accra!!

I saw a flash of light outside of the window, likely from the wing of the plane. I looked at the screen again. Just ten more minutes! The pilot was back on the intercom: “Flight attendants, please prepare for landing.” I felt the plane shaking and saw flashes of light outside. Oh no! We're flying through a thunderstorm! The plane continued shaking and making noise. I leaned back in my seat, said a little prayer, and glanced at the screen again. Eight minutes! I looked out the window again. We were out of the storm and flying over Accra--such a big city, so many lights! Here we go!! The plane sped towards the runway. We've landed! We are on the runway!! We slowed down and came to a complete stop. The seatbelt sign went off and the lights came on. I picked my things and walked towards the exit……………..

Although my journey from Virginia's Washington Dulles International Airport to the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana took more than 16 hours, my personal journey leading up to the actual trip took almost one year. My interest in Ghanaian culture and heritage surfaced during my final year in college. My senior research project on ethnic identity among second-generation Ghanaians opened my eyes to several issues facing Ghanaian youth and young adults who have spent most, if not all, of their lives in the United States. The project also made me begin to look into my own Ghanaian culture and heritage. Although I proclaimed this culture and heritage to my friends and proudly displayed a Ghanaian flag in my dorm room, there was much that I did not know about Ghana, the people and the culture. My project made me question the Ghanaian identity that I had proclaimed so proudly over the years. Was I truly a Ghanaian? What did it mean to be a Ghanaian? I had always defined my identity as Ghanaian because both of my parents are Ghanaian. But is a blood heritage enough to declare oneself Ghanaian or Nigerian or a Kenyan?

One year ago, if someone asked me to name a Ghanaian president besides Kwame Nkrumah or J.J. Rawlings, I would be hard pressed for an answer. Although I have Ghanaian parents and was raised with Ghanaian cultural values, I began to realize that I have many American ideals and mannerisms. Then there was the other big issue of language. I could barely speak it a year ago. How could I be a Ghanaian if I couldn't even speak the language? I began to feel like a fraud. Maybe I didn't have a right to proclaim this Ghanaian heritage so proudly. I turned to my mom for some insight. She insisted that I was a Ghanaian, had Ghanaian blood and should get a Ghanaian husband. I decided that the time had come to go “home.” I had not been to Ghana since 1987 and all I could remember of that earlier journey was catching crabs in the sand and watching chickens with their heads cut off running around. Now was the time to go home. It was the only way that I could answer my questions about who I am and to discover more about Ghana.

I spent two months in Ghana and was able to experience and learn so many different things not only about myself but also about my Ghanaian heritage and my Ghanaian culture. One article is not enough to account for all of my experiences and all of my feelings during this trip. I cannot detail all my emotions about living in Accra, shopping at the Makola market, teaching English at Accra Girls or how people love using their car horns!! I can't describe how it was visiting Enyan Abaasa (my father's hometown) or Ekumfi Eyisam (my mother's hometown) and seeing and reuniting with my grandmothers, aunties, uncles and their children. I can't describe how much I enjoyed visiting Akosombo, Takoradi, Cape Coast and everything I saw and experienced at these and other places. I can't forget Richmond, Edward and Tony who painted a seashell for their “homeland sister” so that I would remember them after I visited the Elmina Castle. There are so many memories of Kasoa, Next Door, “lights off” and so much more. I feel I have started to know Ghana. I have begun to re-connect with my culture and a part of myself. Now I can picture Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Osu, and Cantonments. I can talk of “The Big Six”, Busia and even Acheampong. I can tell you what “Abuskeleke” means and mention musical artists besides Daddy Lumba. I also have a sense of being Ghanaian as well as being American. I was constantly confronted with my American-ness while in Ghana but at the same time reminded of how much I am a Ghanaian. I've even learned more of the Fante language.

My “journey” has taught me that identity is fluid and constantly changing. Although in the United States I feel I am reminded more of my Ghanaian identity and heritage, in Ghana, I was reminded much more of being American. Am I Ghanaian? I would answer yes. Am I an American? I would answer yes. These identities are not something to be ashamed of or shy away from because I feel that I don't quite fit the qualifications for that identity. Rather these dual identities are a result of my life experiences, where I have lived and how I was raised. They should be embraced and explored. By endeavoring to explore my Ghanaian identity, I was able to discover a part of myself. As young people, we have so many pressures from so many aspects of our lives and we may not feel we have the time or even the concern for exploring our identity- whatever it may be. But I encourage all the young Ghanaians, indeed all the young Africans, to develop interest in who they are and where they come from if they have not done so already. It may not mean getting on a plane and going back home. It may simply involve reading a book, asking your parents questions or visiting various African news websites. Get to know your culture, your heritage and your identity.

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