Arrival in Ghana, then and now
When I arrived in Ghana, the whole experience was a bit overwhelming – both via the fact that here I finally was, after eighteen years away – eighteen years of maintaining the intention to come back, as well as the fact that my experience now was so strikingly different from that of each of my three arrivals in the past. First in 1997, when I came to Ghana on a study-abroad program while in college; then when I returned two years later, in 1999, seeking a life and future here; and finally on my last trip to the country in 2000, when I returned shortly after receiving the news of my husband’s very sudden and unexpected passing from this world… each of those times… I stepped off the plane and directly into the warm, welcoming, evening African air – onto those stairs that are rolled up to the plane for disembarking. The air felt amazing and refreshing and just so very welcoming – a big warm “welcome home” smacking me in the face each time. After stepping down the stairs and… I think taking a bus to the airport building itself(?), I would walk through the airport delighting in its lack of air conditioning (as I’m usually freezing in airports or any other air-conditioned building) and its lack of… rush. I have memories of it being small and warm and not very brightly lit. Things felt easy, laid-back, and… different (from the West), as I passed through Immigration and Customs…
This time… I experienced none of that, except for the lack of rush, the ease of Immigration and Customs, and the general laid-back attitude of the people. The airport was like… a “regular” airport – it felt pretty much just like the European airports I had just been passing through in Edinburgh, Munich, and Lisbon, except smaller. It had a regular jet-bridge to get us from the plane into the airport. It had air-conditioning. It had fluorescent lights. It was CLEAN. It had clean, modern bathrooms that looked just like any European airport’s bathroom. And this was all a little confusing (though I certainly didn’t mind the nice clean bathroom).
As I waited for my ride outside (still at least an hour of car travel to go, out to Kokrobite), finally enjoying the very warm African air, plenty of the men working at the airport spoke with me, and I learned that this is actually a totally new airport, that the old airport is now only used for local air traffic – within Ghana. Once I finally got picked up by the caretaker of the AirBnB I had booked, it took ages to get out of Accra; everything is extra busy right now because of Christmas, as loads of people come to the city to shop or to be with family, etc.… I was also told at the airport that Kokrobite, too, would be very busy now, and that there would be music and parties at the guesthouses every night, etc. – which are the kind of things that I never enjoyed about Kokrobite in the past… Keep in mind that when I lived here before, Kokrobite was just a landing point. I came here (after not liking the farm where I started out my journey back in ’99) because it was a place I could study dance that was outside of the city (Accra) – back then it had a hotel that doubled as a drum and dance school. But after a couple weeks it was clear that I was not actually at all fond of Kokrobite itself, and my whole “real” life in Ghana was life out in the bush – outside of the village of Kokrobite. My husband Koro and I had a very private and isolated experience together; once we were together, we very rarely went into the village. And we did not plan to stay around these parts for too long – our plans for the future involved a move up North, to his home village, in the very rural, traditional, and fertile Brong Ahafo region (the perfect place, Koro assured me, to make the organic farm that I intended to have).
But back to my arrival… Finally fully out of the city and the immense exhaust fumes with which it is filled (hello diesel fuel and no emissions controls), we took the “old” road to Kokrobite, as opposed to the supposedly super nice new road, which Justice (my host here at the AirBnB, while the English woman who owns the house is away) said he never takes because it is always too backed up with traffic. So this was the same old road I used to take… but, as I had indeed imagined, it looked nothing like before. First of all, it was paved. Second of all, there were quite a lot of other cars on it, whereas in the old days it was always pretty empty. And thirdly, the entire way out to the village, the road was now lined with little shops and kiosks that had not been there before. I was not surprised, but it was completely unrecognizable.
My first night here at my AirBnB in Kokrobite (a marvel in itself – that I found an AirBnB out here) was hard. My throat and nostrils were burning from breathing the highly-polluted air of Accra that whole time we were stuck in traffic, and the air even here in Kokrobite was – and is – extremely smoky. It seems at its worst at night, and honestly at times it really feels just like, or possibly even worse than, the smoky air we recently experienced in Santa Cruz during all the horrendous fires happening around California. Of course, I always remembered the smell of Ghana as a somewhat smoky smell – way stronger in the cities, but everywhere… it’s a mixture of foods being cooked, most often over coal braziers, AND… much worse, the burning of trash – plastics and all. Well… back in 1999ish, my senses were nowhere near as sensitive as they are now, my diet back then (simply vegan) being so very much heavier than it is now. …And with the moving towards the whole Pranic Nourishment thing… air quality is by now pretty darn important to me. My friends who were in Guinea last year warned me about this, and I knew it would probably be a bit of an issue for me, but… wowza. Yeah, it’s bad. It is really bad.
And back to that first night… the music. The recorded music, BLARING. Yes, Kokrobite (which had just gotten electricity shortly before my arrival in 1999) is already in full party/celebration mode for Christmas. And it was the start of the weekend. And I like quiet…
I reminded myself that my first night somewhere new often involves a bit of a rough transition, tried not to think too much, and then also decided that if I do nothing else here besides write, and make my requisite visit to the site of my old home, to see what is there now, and to feel what I feel, I will be a happy girl. After all, I have felt “behind” on writing work for ages, for months and months now have wanted nothing more than uninterrupted time to myself to focus on the writing work – not only to make progress with the sharing of the writing, which I have felt called to do for some time now, but to get deep into the writing itself – and just be able to be with myself in this intimate way… Honestly, in the couple of months before my departure, I was most looking forward to this small piece of my potentially five months abroad – these two weeks in Ghana – because they are two weeks ALONE, without any major agenda or schedule, which for me can only mean, hallelujah… WRITING RETREAT!!! (And let me tell ya, fast-forwarding a bit, I am enjoying it!)
Again, back to that first night… as much as I encouraged myself to try not to think too much just yet… to first give myself a minute to adjust… I couldn’t help it – the thoughts came. I might not have given them much consideration or weight, but there they were, coming and coming, that first night in Ghana – and the following morning, and into the early part of that first day here. And these thoughts were all centered on how different my experience was now – not just externally, but internally.
I think probably everyone who signed up to receive these emails, these blog posts, knows a bit of my story with Africa – the fact that I fell in love here, married a Ghanaian man, lived with him in a shack out in the bush – without water or electricity, and then, after eventually returning to the States to make some money for us – to fund the plans we had for our future in Ghana, became a sudden widow at the age of 24, when Koro very unexpectedly passed from this world (due to mysterious causes). I have written a whole memoir about the experience, and I really hope to have it published, so that those of you interested in reading more about that whole time of my life can. But for now, it’s enough to know the basics, and the fact that, back then, I only wanted to live in Ghana. I was ready to leave the America in which I grew up (suburban, middle-class, Midwestern America) far behind me – I had become quite turned off by the general culture of consumption by which I had been surrounded; had become interested in sustainable living, intentional communities, and eco-villages while in college; and then had completely fallen in love with the Ghanaian culture during my first trip here, which was during my final year of college. That first trip to Africa was life-altering, and it involved a very transformative spiritual awakening. In part, this came from my exposure to and fascination with the traditional religion here (including its ceremonies involving drum and dance) as well as from eventually hanging out with hard-core Rastas in Accra; but I believe that it was simply the God-consciousness I experienced all around me, in everyone I met, that perhaps played the biggest role in this awakening. Whatever their religion (mainly Christianity in the South, Islam in the North, Rastafarianism as a minority mostly in the South, and traditional religions everywhere – and usually mixed into all religious expression as well), the Ghanaian people all simply seemed to have the Divine in their minds, in their hearts, in THEM – as a constant of daily life. And (especially as I was emerging from the spiritual void of my very mainstream suburban American upbringing) this was what I most loved about the Ghanaian culture. …After dropping out of the academic program with which I came (and proceeding to have a bit of a crazy ride exploring Ghana on my own), I eventually decided to return to America and finish school – but mainly just in order to wait till I was ready to become a wife and mother before returning to Ghana, because by the end of that first trip, this seemed the only real option for a girl my age who wanted to live in the country and assimilate into the culture. (And I had no interest in being a volunteer, student, tourist, or any other kind of Westerner who found a way to be here for a stretch – I was in for the whole shebang.)
…When my husband Koro passed, I was beyond devastated. I was broken. I felt I had lost everything – not just my husband/partner/best friend/other half, but also the future I had with him, which was my whole life; I didn’t see anything for me back in America, other than my family, most of whom, at that time, I was having issues with (stemming from the difficult time they were having understanding or accepting the whole desire-to-live-in-Africa thing). …When Koro died, the only thing that I felt remaining for me was the Divine. God/Jah/Allah/the Divine One Within – whatever you want to call it – that was simply all that remained.
Life changed drastically for me after losing Koro. I used to be such a dreamer. I was so good at it – not just at having grand dreams/visions for my future, like a family and farm in Ghana, but even fantasies about all the minute details (especially in the two years it took me, after that first, life-altering trip to Ghana, to ready myself for the realization of these dreams). I had a very clear vision for my future, shaped by the cultures to which I had been adapting – both the Ghanaian culture and also the conscious culture within which I found myself in British Columbia, Canada, after college, where I was learning to garden organically and help care for beautiful, healthy children. …After Koro passed, all of that changed. Besides ONE sort of dream that formed about going to Guinea, which will be discussed in a later blog post… I stopped dreaming. And besides the far-fetched fantasies in which I indulged during my first year of mourning, about Koro actually still being alive somewhere… I stopped fantasizing. I also stopped having a vision for my future. Life became about service to the Divine – just follow whatever divine direction I receive, do whatever I feel divinely called or inspired to do; and eventually the basic structure of my life became …to simply do whatever I did that helped me to realize/experience the Divine manifesting through me – to help me realize/experience my Divine Self.
Dance. Craft. Write. Those were the first things that kept me going after losing Koro.
Around those former Ghana times – during, just before, and just after, I used to use medicinal herbs and fungus to help me experience the Divine. Then I discovered raw foods and dietary cleansing and found that through a drastic change in diet, I no longer needed those medicines to gain the expansion of my consciousness. And that fact, combined with the health factor – with wanting desperately to find a way to stay perfectly healthy so that I could live in Africa again without getting sick (because yes, I had come very close to dying from malaria once before…), were what got me started, back in 2001, down this road of dietary cleansing that eventually led me into Pranic Nourishment and all THAT. The ease of having the physical body in tip-top condition, as a constant, is a HUGE and wonderfully joyous aspect of the whole Pranic “diet,” or even of just a minimal liquid or fruit diet; but to me the much greater and more important part of it all is the CONSCIOUSNESS we can access – the consciousness that naturally comes – from the shifts involved with this path; and I’d say that, ultimately, that is my biggest reason for getting into it. After all, all we really have in this life is our consciousness…
…Then came the yoga. Though it started (in 2003) simply as a way for me to keep my physical body in shape for my West African dance classes, eventually… after years of daily practice, and I believe especially, for me, after years of pranayama and the regular practice of the Advanced Series (Ashtanga’s “old” 3rd and 4th)… I have found that this, too (go figure), really does help a great deal with the growth of the consciousness, with the realization/experience of the Divine Self (just like they say it does!). And with teaching the yoga, too… as to why I do it… though I always felt I would share this practice that has had such a profound effect on me – even back when I felt the effects mainly just in my physical body, what really cemented the deal was when I first began to get more serious about it (in good, sweet North Carolina) and felt the Divine coming through me in the teaching – just like with a good dance experience – feeling the ego step aside as the Divine takes “me” over and passes through “me.” I love that sensation, that feeling that it’s not “me” – the ego – doing the teaching, but that the teaching is passing through me, and beyond it being one of the major ways in which teaching feeds me, it is what tells me that yes, I should indeed teach. (Though I must admit that lately it’s mostly my sweet and dedicated students who tell me this, with their love and appreciation…)
Lately it’s the writing that has most been helping me to experience the Divine, and there is so much more to say on this subject that I have begun a whole other blog post about it, so will not spend more time on this here! I could also expound a bit on why I do the drum and dance, as these activities, too, for me, center around the experience of the Divine, but as I’m sure there will be more said on that later as well… enough on all this for now – I think you get the idea of why, in my post-Koro reality, I generally do the things I do.
And I am sharing all of this with you now, here in this particular post about my arrival in Ghana, in order to help explain that… on my first night and morning back in Ghana… my thoughts and reflections included the fact that I am no longer a 23-year-old girl seeking a settled life (husband, family, farm) in the culture with which I had fallen in love. Though I am essentially still the same girl that I was then – and really that I was even as a child… so much has also changed for me… in the way I live my life… and in the way I perceive things, and understand things. And this, it seems, is as it should be – now as a 42-year-old woman-girl, I would hope that some growth and evolution would have further developed me during the course of all this time away.
Ever since my first year away, I always thought I would be back in Ghana, or at least somewhere in West Africa, within a year or two of whatever present moment I found myself in. For the first few years after I left, it seemed that I would go in the coming winter – until something would invariably come up, or I wouldn’t have the money quite organized. After a few years, when I started with the yoga and decided to spend the next winter on Maui, to study with a particular senior teacher living there, it became “not this winter but next winter.” Every year. Literally every year since I left eighteen years ago I have thought that I was no more than a couple years away from a return to Africa. And eventually, after quite some time… there was this big question mark involved with this thought: would I want to live there again? And, too, as I became closer with my parents over the years, there was a sort of pressure attached to this question – which I know formed through their fear of the answer being a resounding YES. ...Africa had always been the escape-plan in the back of my mind – in case things got too difficult or unbearable in America, with the lifestyle, or the culture; in my mind, in my memory, in my past experience of it… Ghana was at least an affordable and easy place for me to live, where I also loved the culture and got to experience so much continual personal growth…
Eighteen years have passed. And there is so much that has remained the same for me, during my time away, including my preference to live simply, and ideally in a place that I not only love but that also challenges me and propels me to grow and evolve – which has all been so much of the draw of being in Africa… But now it also seems that so much has changed for me since I was living in Ghana. Back then, I really had zero interest in a life in America. Since then… a life in America eventually developed. And I have accepted that – I don’t resist it happening anymore, like I believe I did for many years post-Ghana. When I returned to Santa Cruz in 2012, I dedicated myself to living there for at least four or five years, just to see what would happen if I did indeed stay put somewhere for that long (my previous record being a whole two years, also in Santa Cruz). And though I do feel, after my many years of the semi-nomadic life, that I tend to eventually get stagnant when I stay put for too long a stretch, without some rather interesting travel in there, some experience of another culture or another place to challenge me or move me or shake things up and spark some growth… I do love the life that has developed for me in that sweet bubble we call Santa Cruz. And I know this is mostly due to the wonderful community that has developed for me there, both the drum/dance community as well as the yoga community, and the wider community of random friends and acquaintances – all of whom make Santa Cruz my home. I had none of that when I was in Ghana eighteen years ago, starting a life for myself here.
As I mentioned, all I really saw for myself back in America after I lost Koro – other than the potential for education, because by then I knew I wanted to at least study a bit of permaculture and yoga – was family, with whom things were rocky at the time. Now, settling into my first night in Ghana, my thoughts also included the fact that… nowadays… having easy (relatively easy) access to my family is much more important to me than it was back then. My parents were much younger eighteen years ago, and coming so recently out of the experience of having them there for me all the time as I was growing up with them, I honestly didn’t care so much about being able to see them every so often – it just wasn’t something I thought about. Now… it’s not just that my parents are getting older, which certainly is a factor. It’s also that… my mom and I are extremely close – even much closer, I think, than we were when I was 23 years old, which was still plenty close – this has been a lifelong thing. But since then we have had some experiences together that have sort of cemented our relationship as… partners, of a sort. We check in with each other daily; we’re there for each other; we’re a team. And with my extended family as well, which includes quite a lot of special people… while I have always known and appreciated that I do have such an amazing family, I think that perhaps as I am getting older I am cherishing my time with them ever more. And this is all to say that… unlike before, I can no longer see just living the rest of my life somewhere in Africa, without at least a very regular back and forth to the States to spend time with my loved ones there.
And finally, my thoughts that first night and morning here in Kokrobite also included the fact that… Africa doesn’t just mean Ghana anymore. When I first came here in 1997, and then in 1999/2000, Ghana was my only exposure to West Africa, and its culture, and its music and dance – and it was a wonderful introduction to African culture, all those years ago. But since then… Guinea, and Senegal, and Mali – my drum and dance teachers in the States are all from these countries. And as for the music and dance… I will talk about this in a later post, when we reach the Guinea stage of the trip, but for now I will just tell you that I have loved the drum and dance I found from Guinea so much that I have always been hopeful about enjoying spending time in that country, where I am headed, for potentially four and a half months, just after Ghana. I realize I have no idea if I will like Guinea, or if I will love it as I have loved Ghana, but I might, and I hope I do, because I know that, so far, at least since my first trip to the continent, I have always craved time in Africa, as part of my life in general, and because Guinea is much more relevant to the life I have finally created for myself back in the States.
That first night, morning, and afternoon in Ghana… while I acknowledged that I felt open, as always, to whatever the universe and the Divine might bring my way, to whatever direction in which I felt led to go – while who knew what would happen during this stay in Ghana… I felt… so far… that Ghana was my past, and that this trip would be a laying-it-to-rest. It’s not even so much that I wanted to come here, I knew, but that I have felt for so many years now that I needed to come back, simply to feel whatever I feel – just to be here and experience the place and the culture again, and just… be with myself and feel. I have known that my previous thoughts of “a life” here had gradually been left behind, over the years – that thoughts of a long-term “life” anywhere, in fact, have not been on the table, either – as planning too far into the future completely stopped upon losing Koro, and the resultant change in the way I approached my life – which involved letting go of so much desire, including the desire to have a certain kind of future.
…Still, though… all that being said… at the same time… I also must admit that I did love it here so very much before that I have always felt like I at least needed to give it a chance to take me, in some manner, again…
* * *
My first day here in Ghana was restful and contemplative – all these thoughts and reflections swirling around in my head, and coming out on the page, as I lounged on the big bed in my room at the AirBnB. As I wrote away, suddenly the background noise of recorded music (and nothing good) was broken into by some live drumming. Hallelujah! It filled me with energy, and eventually motivated me to stop what I was doing and finally step off the property of the AirBnB and out into the world. …And as soon as I started walking down the red dirt road, surrounded by Ghanaians… I got a huge smile on my face. It just felt SO GOOD! To be here, to see Ghanaians all around me… to feel my body moving after the long journey and the long rest… to feel my independence in this country where most people speak at least some English – to be able to walk up the road and easily communicate enough to buy some fruit at some of the kiosks now there (one of the changes that actually makes it so much easier to be here now – no more making trips to another village quite a ways away to get to a market, like I used to have to do)…
After dropping off the oranges, pineapple, and watermelon at the AirBnB, I also took a quick walk down to the beach. …The ocean’s water was warm on my feet. And I was in an area of the beach familiar to me from my arrival in 1999 (though it all looks different, now totally lined with structures – but the one guest house that existed back then, my point of reference, is still there). And the ocean was… just beautiful. Walking along the beach, I felt my past here, and Koro, more strongly, just as I often do when walking along the ocean at West Cliff back in Santa Cruz. I stopped for a moment to stand still and gaze out at the water, before turning around to make it back to my room before the disorientation of dark – conscious of how very swiftly night comes here, so close to the equator… And looking, in my stillness, at the immensity of the water… I felt my heart so fully. Not that I felt this or that – any particular way, but just that I FELT, my HEART. As if I had indeed left it here, all those eighteen years ago, and now here it was, waiting for me, greeting me, joining what had always remained inside me. …That sure felt good.
Aharona Shackman has used writing as her primary practice for connecting with the Self pretty much since she learned to write. With the commencement of this blog, she is now beginning to practice the sharing of some of her writing...