A Birthday in the Motherland

“How about a birthday in the motherland?” That was the request that Karen Gibson of Travel Quest Network got one day from one of her clients in the Bay Area. Her client wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday alongside 20 of her closest friends and family. And she wanted to celebrate in Ghana.

The West African nation is one of the most appealing destinations on the African continent. It sparkles with a dynamic music scene, fronted by AfroFuture, the yearly music festival that brings in name acts from across the continent. The capital Accra is a haven for West African food and home to one of the best shopping scenes in the region. Ghana is also one of the stablest democracies in Africa and caters to any travellers who want to see exotic wildlife or have cultural encounters in a safe and secure destination. But it’s also a nation that offers a haunting reminder of past tragedy.

Karen Gibson’s group celebrating a birthday in Ghana.

While Ghana was the first sub-Saharan Black African nation to gain independence from European colonial rule, it was also a lynchpin of the transatlantic slave trade. For hundreds of years, British slavers used Ghana as their base, swapping manufactured goods for kidnapped Africans who they would ship across the ocean to the American colonies. Today, many African Americans trace their lineage back to Ghana to the slave castles of Elmina and Cape Coast or the infamous Slave River of Donkor Nsuo. Ghana is the motherland, the place of their origin, but it’s also the site of their family’s past tragedy. It’s a place of celebration but also sombre remembrance.

Karen worked with Goway to plan her client’s customized group trip to Ghana. Her client got to the motherland on her birthday, where she celebrated on Bojo Beach just outside Accra. “We had drums, a saxophone player, and Ghanaian dancers. We danced, drank cocktails and wine, and partied on the beach. It was a celebratory day.” The trip was full of encounters with Ghana’s colourful culture, including the astounding craftsmanship of local “pots, stools, textiles, jewel carvings, and masks.” The group feasted on the cuisine buoyed by fresh seafood and fruit. “Our hotel restaurant in Elmina Bay prepared delicious lobsters and shrimp with rice and plantains,” Karen recalled. “It was one of the many great meals in Ghana.”

But the trip also proved to be a profound experience. Karen’s group reacted with “Mixed emotions based on our excursions. They were both joyful and sad and emotional at times,” reacting to the enormity of their surroundings and the historical landmarks, which stand as beautiful works of architecture, but also constant reminders of the past injustices of the slave trade. 

The impact of meeting “proud and warm-spirited Ghanaians” would stay with Karen’s group long after their trip, but so too would the impact of their sightseeing. Hundreds of years ago, a relationship with the motherland was stolen from their ancestors. This trip reforged that relationship and rekindled the flame that was feared extinguished.

This article was originally published in No. 31 of Globetrotting Magazine.

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Jennifer Murray
Jennifer Murray
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