June 25, 2014 I left the United States to explore my identity in Ghana,West Africa. The trip was a program through the University of Washington Social Work program and focused on Sankofa which means “to go back and get it” to bring life from receiving knowledge on your roots. In Ghana I realized how much I as an African American am not just a result of African culture, but slavery. While there, we visited Cape Coast Castle which was a holding place for slaves where we walked and sat inside different slave dungeons. I’ll never forget seeing old carvings in the wall and thinking they could have easily been my ancestors. We walked through the “Door of No Return” which was the door the slaves were forced from the castle to the ship. It was extremely empowering to walk back through the door, which was later titled “Door of Return”.
Another big part of the trip involved volunteering within the community. I chose to volunteer at a charity school and orphanage where I taught a class of 5th graders. While there, I mostly taught English grammar, but on a few occasions I led discussions and activities on goals and dreams and ways to achieve them. By the end of the trip, those were my kids!
I learned two valuable lessons in Ghana. One was the importance of ethnicity, as an African American my history is extremely unique in both the best and worst ways. The people in Ghana would continuously say to myself and others “welcome home” and I knew I had fulfilled my ancestors’ dreams, I had returned home.
Since being back home in America I realize even more how much of my culture isn’t represented here, not just in America, but specifically Seattle, Washington. I realize that there really is no reflection of myself and it has made me want to move to the south, so that I can at least be surrounded by other brown people. I’ve also realized just how isolated and individualized we are here in the U.S. and it makes me sad. While in Ghana everyone speaks to each other and is friendly, but being in the US where people sit right next to each other on buses and never bother to even say hi has made me miss the unity in Ghana. I realize that if people were more united here, like they are in Ghana, fewer people would struggle, (or at least struggle alone.) My neighbor’s struggle would be my struggle and we would be more inclined to find a solution together.
The second thing I learned is that I am extremely privileged to live the way I do in America and to be aware of my westernized way of thinking whenever judging someone. Since being back from Ghana, I am actually more inspired to travel, because I realize that Seattle is not a place I want to stay forever. I am more aware of all the things I take for granted, like healthy, clean water that is accessible everywhere. I am more aware of all the things I don’t need like a TV in every room or the latest cell phone. I am more aware of just how saddening this capitalist society we live in really is. The most important change however is feeling a connection to my ethnicity and my culture in my homeland; Africa.
Viche Thomas is senior at University of Washington.