My name is Stephanie Afrifa. I’m 26, and a Ghanaian and Surinamese girl born and raised in Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. Though I studied Fashion & Branding at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, Fashion Masters at ArTEZ and Comparative Arts and Cultural Studies, I’m currently working as an independent curator and community organizer. I also work as a (plus size) model and am in the running to become the first Miss Black Hair NL.
What interests you most about traveling?
I don’t belong in the country I live in. The food, weather, mentality of it's people, and rhythm of life are things that my body, mind and spirit can’t cope with. By traveling, I’m able to explore other parts of the world: explore foods and herbs that make my body work how I feel it’s supposed to work, and explore ways of living and mindsets that make me feel whole. By traveling, I become exposed to the insights of other people’s lives and thought patterns, which inspires and enriches my perspective on life.
What brought you to Ghana?
Family. My Dad was planning a trip back home after being away for four years. He is also currently building a house in his hometown Konongo and needed to be present during the process. He asked my sister and I to join him, but I wasn’t sure if I was able to afford a ticket because I’d recently quit my job. From the day my Dad and sister booked their ticket until a few weeks prior to their departure, I was determined to do whatever I could to buy a ticket and join them. I sent that intention into the Universe and did everything I needed to do to make it happen. I hustled hard, doing the shittiest of jobs and beating a lot of cravings. Someone told me tickets are at their cheapest about 54 days prior to departure so I marked that date on my calendar, checked for a ticket that exact date and got my ticket for about 200 euros less than my Dad and sister!
How did you plan/prepare for your trip?
I didn’t plan at all, mainly because I didn’t know whether I’d be able to go until 54 days prior to the flight. I also knew I wouldn’t need much money because I would be staying with family. I did however prepare to have several outfits locally tailored and made from local wax fabrics.
What were some of your experiences?
Before this trip, I never really understood what people meant when they said they were tuned into their authentic voice. Throughout my stay, my mind was at ease and not distracted by the overload of images and information I am generally bombarded with in the West. I spent a lot of time writing and my vision got clearer. I felt rooted. I traveled between Accra and Kumasi, but felt most at home in Konongo where my Dad grew up. Because it is a small town, everyone seems to know each other and nobody is treated like a stranger. It felt like everyone was family.
The biggest difference I noticed between Kumasi and Accra was that the latter is extremely crowded and the pace of life is a little faster than in Kumasi. Because Accra is the capital city, there are several big companies located there. You can also feel it in the way people treat you. Most see you as a tourist and a source of income, so people can be quite aggressive and borderline rude in Accra. There is absolutely no way I could walk around the streets in Accra and feel like the people were my family.
What would you like people to know about Ghana that is rarely represented in media?
This goes for all countries in Africa: poverty is not all there is! Also - giraffes, lions and elephants don’t casually and randomly roam the streets.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers?
This was my second time in Ghana so I didn’t go the tourist route like visiting Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle, National Museum, or Kakum National Park. Mainly because once you’ve seen it, it will be the same forever. I strongly recommend that visitors don’t plan rigidly and avoid doing too much in a limited amount of time. Just go with the flow of Ghanaian life. Hop in a cab, tell the driver to take you for a ride somewhere they are familiar with, then sit back and just observe. Enjoy the warm breeze on your face and just see, hear and feel. Buy some fresh plantain chips from the sellers on the road. Ask a local you can trust to recommend a good chop bar where you can go eat some fufu, plantain with red red, light soup, fresh fish, or kebab. For a more authentic experience, try to avoid Osu, which is the central business district where all the fast food restaurants you can think of and the biggest Americanized supermarkets are located (they even sell Nando’s sauces and Aunt Jemima’s syrup). The street merchants in this area will also rip you off!
What surprised you most about your experience?
The biggest surprise was that I finally felt like I was home. I had a nostalgic feeling of being one with the people and my surroundings; especially in comparison to my last trip to Ghana in 2010. During that trip I didn’t quite feel accepted. People saw me as a foreigner, a “rich” person from the West, not as one of their equals. And it didn’t feel like they looked up to us, but down instead. All they saw was money. Someone even warned me against wearing flashy necklaces because I could be seen as a potential target for robbery. I took that comment personally because Ghanaian culture is the only culture that fully resonates with me, and it ultimately made me question my identity. If I don’t really feel Dutch in The Netherlands because people won’t see me as such due to my skin color and Ghanaians won’t accept me as one of them because I grew up in the West, then what and who am I? Is it possible to transcend the conventional idea of origin? Anyway, it really surprised me that I had a total different experience the second time around, feeling closer to my people and myself than before.
What’s next for you?
I have a trip to visit Paris coming up in November, with my next big trip to South America.
Images Courtesy of Stephanie Afrifa