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What You Need To Plan Your 2020 'Beyond The Return' To Ghana

These tips will ensure you avoid mishaps and enjoy an Accra trip for the books.

Travel

This past December, like many other descendants of the African diaspora hoping to end 2019 with a bang, I went to Accra, Ghana for what the country deemed---in arguably the most successful tourism marketing plan to date---the "Year of the Return". Anchored by the Afrochella festival as well as newcomer, Afronation, the return to Ghana was anticipated to be an opportunity to connect with our roots, party, unwind, and enjoy great food and culture. After securing my *whispers* very affordable flight in November, I was ready. Or so I thought.

Unlike most trips, coordinating all the moving parts in Ghana took a bit more advanced planning, patience, and research than I was used to. But after getting everything in place, I was so excited!

This was being heralded as the place to be for the holidays, where everybody and they mama (or Beyonce's mama) were expected. And Accra delivered! During my three weeks in Ghana, I partied in the jungle in Aburi, crossed the seven bridges in Kukum, visited the Elmina and Cape Coast slave dungeons, ate a traditional Fulani mat dinner, saw the dopest fire-breather performance at Polo Beach Club, ate at the famous Buka restaurant, danced the night away at Bloom Bar, and connected with amazing friends both old and new.

I also encountered a lot of things that, if avoided, would have enhanced my trip that much more. Here are 10 things to keep in mind to optimize your experience if attending "Beyond the Return" this December:

Courtesy of Amanda Gayle

Follow All Medical Precautions, Both Required And Recommended

One of the consequences of my late travel arrangements were the limited remaining options in finding a yellow fever provider within my budget. After finally settling on an office, I paid my whopping $265, and received my yellow fever card and malaria prescription. But to my dismay, when I landed in Ghana, border control could care less about my little yellow fever card and didn't even open it. I must have been so disappointed that I actually lost it and haven't seen it since. Welp. Funny enough though, during my departure, border control insisted on seeing it. But for the gift of gab, I'd likely still be there trying to convince them why I didn't need to receive another shot just to fly home. But I digress.

While experiences varied, most opted to receive the yellow fever shot in the States, despite its availability at the airport for the affordable price of *drumroll* $20.

Did I know that? No. But now you do. You're welcome. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide where you're most comfortable getting the shot, but once you do, keep your card handy.

After filling your recommended malaria prescription, do yourself a favor and actually take them. I avoided them initially after hearing horror stories of people having nightmares and stomach pain, but, take them. You don't want to end up like me in a pharmacy on your way to a friend's fashion show feenin' for malaria pills like Halle Berry in Jungle Fever because a mosquito bit you in Kukum and the "cold" you thought you had sounds more like malaria, according to WebMD. Luckily, the pharmacists in Ghana are fantastic and wonderfully patient. They promptly tested me for it and luckily, it turned out I didn't have malaria---just a bad cold. But I could have had it. Take your pills.

Don't Nickel-And-Dime Your Accommodations

The Kempinski Hotel, a great option for a stay in Ghana.

Image via kempinski.com

As Americans when we think of budget hotels, we think of a no-frills, no-fuss Holiday Inn which at the very least are clean and at best are quite nice. (The Holiday Inn in New Orleans even has a rooftop pool). Even budget or boutique hotels in Europe deliver quality with the occasional luxury surprise. During my layover in Portugal, for example, I stayed at the most amazing boutique hotel for $52 and was wonderfully surprised by how nice it was.

But in Ghana, budget hotels, aka those under $75 a night, take on a different meaning. For brevity's sake I'll spare you the stressful details. Let's just say some of my very worst days were spent making special requests for running water, dealing with hotel managers who didn't understand that it isn't OK for the electricity to disconnect every hour, or canceling confirmed reservations.

Save yourself the hassle. Spring for the nice hotel.

Listen, I get it, traveling can be expensive, especially if you're staying somewhere for an extended period of time. If you can't quite afford the Kempinski, Alisa Hotel is a great affordable choice, but don't nickel-and-dime your experience. It'll cost you more in the end.

Courtesy of Amanda Gayle

Pack Your Patience

As a born-and-bred New Yorker, most would assume that I'm used to a fast-paced, hustle-and-bustle lifestyle, and they're right. New Yorkers tend to move at lightning speed, always running for the train or to work and keeping up with our busy lives. As a New Yorker who also drives, I'm equally accustomed to insane traffic, but Ghana was on a whole other level. I can't count how many times I had to just get out of my Uber and walk the remainder of the way. Not a patient person?

I strongly suggest staying very close to where most of your events and activities will take place to avoid getting stuck.

Courtesy of Amanda Gayle

Consider A Tour Company

As you're planning your trip, you'll quickly see that there are literally hundreds of tour companies ready to take you on every excursion and curate your trip for you.

Usually I would caution visitors against booking tour companies to save a few coins, but in Ghana, a trusted tour company may actually enhance your trip.

Some of my favorite experiences were planned by a tour guide. My friend had used him several times before and not only was he well informed about the estimated travel time and where to go to get the best/safest food on the route, he even knew the manager of the Cape Coast castle who let us in at closing because we were stuck in traffic.

I also really enjoyed some local events planned by TasteMakers including the most beautiful Fulani Christmas dinner hosted at Olma Colonial Suites. The food was delicious, we learned about the Fulani culture and the vibes were perfect. I enjoyed it so much, I ventured to my second Tastemakers event later that week, the Cookout. After being there for an hour I lovingly renamed it Grits in Ghana (Don't try me. My trademark is pending) and deservedly so. The DJ executed dope NYE vibes, the drinks were strong and free, and the space was perfect. In the future, I'd confidently attend any other events they plan. But do your research. Read reviews. Find a company that you trust, think about where you want to go and consider whether a company would enhance your experience.

Choose Your Concert Wisely

So part of the draw to visit Ghana during the holiday season is the festival experience, specifically Afrochella. Known for the opportunity for the flyest and most daring to show up and show out in their best African garb, people come from everywhere to perch up as royalty and be among the lit. However, as a budding festival, Afrochella may need some more time to find their footing, as the actual concert experience was lacking.

Most of the night, in lieu of actual performances, there were DJ sets and well into the early morning hours, a sprinkle of performances from virtually unknown artists. I was really disappointed, after declining friends' invitations to attend Afronation, which by most accounts turned out to be the better concert, bringing out Burna Boy and other fan favorites. I also heard good things about the Detty Rave concert, but unfortunately missed it because of my cold.

Ultimately, even though Afrochella is the original event and may still be worth a visit for vibes, consider your other options.

Prepare For Long Commutes

One of the biggest surprises for me when I got to Ghana was how far away most of the special sites were. Not only was Cape Coast a three-hour ride away, most of the nice beaches (aside from Labadi Beach) including Bojo Beach were at least 90 minutes away from the City Center. The same was true for Aburi Gardens and Aqua Safari, which are definitely must-see destinations. Some places are so far, I highly suggest preparing for a full day trip to each destination and possibly even staying overnight to avoid the traffic. If you opt out of staying overnight, pack on your patience because although traffic in the A.M is bearable, you may not be so chill about it after a day's worth of activity.

Carry Cash

Courtesy of Amanda Gayle

While credit cards are accepted, cash rules everything out in Ghana. From bargaining for souvenirs to getting into parties or a certain Members Only Club (I see you, Front & Back), having Ghana cedis on hand, will definitely yield better results.

Indulge In Local Cuisine But Be Careful

So, in my veiled non-medical medical advice above, I may have left out one of the reasons I got sick during the trip. When I first arrived, I was so excited I opened my mouth while brushing my teeth and ingested some water a la Charlotte in Sex and the City 2. Now, that may not have been the only reason I experienced "the runaways" but many cautioned me against ice in my drinks and indulging in sauces. I didn't listen. You do better.

Decide Between Uber Vs. Private Drivers

Contrary to what most people have heard about Africa---Ghana specifically---it is a well-developed country and they do have Uber. However, be prepared for smaller cars and cash payments. In order for your Uber app to even work in Ghana, you'll need to update your settings to cash payments and use a local Sim card. Bolt is another option which usually offers an introductory promotion for reduced rides.

You can choose to hire a private driver if you need a larger vehicle or if you just want to have someone at your beck and call. Just be sure to estimate the price of rides in advance and get some referrals from friends in travel groups who have gone to Ghana.

Know Your Intentions For Visiting

Courtesy of Amanda Gayle

Most important when traveling to Ghana is knowing why you're going. Most people visit during the holidays to mix and mingle with celebrities, attend the flyest parties, and meet their African prince and princess. If that's you, do you. Live it up. However, if you're visiting to truly immerse yourself in the culture, opt for more of those experiences and be intentional in seeking them out. One of my intentions in visiting Ghana was to volunteer and impact the youth, so I was so excited to volunteer for Afrochella Reads, an opportunity to visit and spend time with Ghanaian orphans during their school day. It was truly one of the top highlights of my trip.

Volunteering not your thing? Take a cooking class and learn how to compete in the jollof wars. Visit the Shea Butter Museum and discover the source of the ultimate ash warrior, the gift of shea butter. Whatever your interests are, Ghana has so much to offer. The opportunities for enriching experiences are numerous. Once you strip away the glitzy appeal, the rooftops, and the mystique about Ghana, remember that there is a rich culture and local experiences that are way more valuable than rubbing elbows with Boris and Nicole. Focus on being present and make the most of your return.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured Image via Amanda Gayle

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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