Reflections on My Trip to Ghana
by Kate Donohue


Kate Donohue was an ABA Tours participant in August of 2000.

The seeds of my trip to Africa started many, many years ago with my love for African art and dance. About five years after attending an expressive arts therapy Symposium in Switzerland, I started to have dreams about African dancing. Soon after that, I found a West African dance class and started my current passion for West African dance. In the spring of 1999 when I was 49 and half, I had this mini-midlife crisis and began thinking about turning half a century and my life. How did I want to celebrate it? It came to me very quickly; I wanted to dance in West Africa!

So I decided to find a way to get there and do this. Thank god or the goddess for the Internet for trips to West Africa are harder to find. Here I found Aba tours and a woman who spoke about travel as connection through the arts and culture, what I wanted. I talked to Ellie/Aba and told my dream trip and she said, "No problem" and gave me some ideas. After many emails, calls, reading and talking to folks who had traveled to Africa, I decided on Ghana and Aba tours. I knew this trip was a sole journey and spent the next year reading, planning, dreaming, practicing my West African dance and getting excited about my adventure. My excitement even generated a small entry into a Newsweek article on Baby Boomers at fifty. My fifteen minutes of fame!

My husband and friends really supported me in my journey. When I asked for contributions of used clothes to bring with me to give to the people of the village of Kopeyia, I received so many clothes, I brought two huge bags.

My descent into Africa started on my flight from London to Accra, I sat next to a very nice young man from Liberia who had been living away from Liberia for the past ten years. He spent four years in Ghana and the last six in London with his studies. I knew about the coup and the changes in Liberia, but found that I was really naive about the tolls of war. I asked if he would ever go back to Liberia. The young man, John turned to me and said my entire family was killed in one day, I have no reason to go back. My heart sank and I realized how different my life as an American is from that of an African where coups and economic winds are more extreme and that one's life stability is more vulnerable.

There were many ways to travel in Ghana. Since I was a woman traveling alone, I decided to hire a driver/guide through Aba tours. Rodney emailed me a number of times before the trip, so I felt almost familiar and very welcomed by him as he meet me at the airport. Taking about two days to finally get to Accra, it was dark at 8 PM when I arrived.

The ride from the airport gave me a sense of the teaming energy of Ghana. People were on the roadside selling everything you could imagine. Small shopkeepers with no electricity or very little were open and illuminated their stalls with candlelight. The roadside seemed warm, mysterious from the candlelight and full of energy. I thought this is going to be different and I was open to it all!

We found our way to the Beachcomber in what I would later find out was Teshe-Nungua. I really had no idea where we were. We took a long ride from the airport along this busy road, turned off on to it seemed six dirt roads and arrived at this sweet little guest house with five small, hatched roof, white round huts or cabins. I must say I felt very safe in Ghana. The way was mysterious but not threatening. I really felt welcomed when I got to meet Aba/Ellie that night. I had talked and emailed her so much in my compulsive manner of wanting to be prepared, I felt like I knew her. We went to a little shop and had drink and talked. Aba, Ellie's Ghanian name (Ghanaians are named for the day of the week one was born on) and I immediately connected and began to feel like soul sisters. Later I discovered Ghanians thought we looked like sisters. Aba had been a redhead in her youth.

I am glad I had one day in Accra to get to know the city. It was a whirlwind day with Aba and Rodney, meeting artists and art collectors like Baba, Bobbo, Asante, seeing incredible carvings, kente cloth, fabric and markets. I had a short visit with Mercy Roberson, the stepmother of my friend Ken Roberson. Mercy seemed to have adopted me and thanked Aba and Rodney for all they were doing for me. I would spend time with Mercy and her family at the end of my trip when I returned to Accra. I was so moved by the Kwame Nkramah memorial, having a taste of his vision for Ghana and Africa after reading his autobiography.

I rode shotgun through Makola Market, saw women from the December 31st movement at the National Theatre and ended the day at the "Next Door" a multi-layered out door restaurant with live music and dancing.

The next day we were off to Kopeyia and I really had no idea what passage and surrender this experience would be for me. I would spend nine days at Kopeyia and it would become my best experience in Ghana, with dance, with the drum and with shifting my perspective from my Western viewpoint to a Ghanian. The first few days were very intense with all the changes. I thought I was doing fine until my third day. We did not have electricity, we used well water, had out houses, no mirrors, no towels (I later got one), had wonderful Ghanian home cooked food and INDIVIDUAL DANCE INSTRUCTION.

I started out with a great welcoming libation from the ancestors and then started my dance instruction in the Gahu, an Ewe traditional dance that came from Nigeria and Togo and was modified in Ghana into a much faster version. There I was with four African men, three drummers and one dance instructor partner. I had thought I knew a little about West African dance. I was humbled, not by the African men but by western perspective. I really had not relationship with drum and Africans dance totally with the drum leading. Kojo and Emmanuel would say listen to the drum. I was so confused. I was not clearly hearing the change in rhythms. I loved the movements of the dance and could see how fluid Kojo and Emmanuel were and how spastic I felt. On the third day, I had a personal mini melt down I think I was trying so hard and was shifting on so many levels that this was clearing and letting go. I really felt something shift. I asked if in some classes I could dance with others. The Gahu is danced in a group. It is a community dance. Emmanuel whom I grew to respect and really like, said " No problem, we will have the children of the village dance with you".

The children dressed in the traditional garments for this dance and gave me one performance so I could video tape it. Then I joined in and the energy of the children and community sense of the dance helped me feel the dance from inside and I then really enjoyed the experience and learned the dance. Gabriel, Godwin's brother, late one night did a libation to the drum. After that, I felt I started to understand the voice of the drum and started to dance with it. On my last day, Aba's group arrived during my afternoon instruction. Kojo would not let me stop the class. I continued to dance and the two Ghanian drivers with Aba joined in the dance. I received my biggest compliment from Gerry, one of the group members. You have proven that white people can dance. The next day we had a class for the group and I could feel that I had the dance in body and could see how much I had learned. I am not perfect, will never instruct people, but feel more freedom in my movements, have a budding relationship with the drum and DANCED IN West Africa!

On the fourth day after my surrender to the drum, I woke up at sunrise as I usually did and realized that there was a wonderful morning ritual that woke me up. In the grays and blues of the sunrise, I would hear distant drumming and chanting, the crow of the rooster and sounds of women sweeping. At that moment, I realized how much I loved this experience. I would never have this back home and that I would miss it. At that moment, I relished each morning as I slowly felt the ascent of the day and sound and hues of the morning. There is a Native American artist I really love, Helen Hardin. She has a painting called "Morning Brings the Abundant Gift of Life" In Kopeyia at sunrise, I had a much deeper sense of the abundance of the morning and the gift I was given here.

There were so many experiences in Kopeyia. My favorite one was the funeral. Everyone said that when in Ghana the best ritual is the funeral. So they found me a funeral. Kojo, James and I walked on many paths in the fields of Kopeyia for forty-five minutes. I had no idea where I was but knew they did. We came upon this small village with no less than five hundred people in attendance at this funeral. It was fantastic, people were dancing, drumming, and paying respect to the person whose body was sitting there with us. I danced and enjoyed every moment. I felt truly transported into another way of being with grief. I was so enraptured by the moment. When I saw Mamator from Kopeyia and she recognized me and embraced me, I was so moved. I found Joe and James again and told them how surprised I was that she recognized me. They looked at each other and started laughing. At that moment, I realized what I had said. They were laughing because I was the only white person at the funeral and of course she would recognize me! I think I had forgotten the color of my skin in that transcendent moment.