Memoirs of Ghana and its People

Written by Youssef Abdelwahab


Although it was my 8th visit to the African continent, it was my first to Ghana in West Africa. Originally from Egypt, I only had experience in North East Africa prior to this trip. It's no secret that Africa is abundantly rich in resources, cultures, and languages. However, experiencing this for myself on the ground gave me new insight that I couldn't have possibly conceived of beforehand. These memoirs will shed light on some of these insights which have had a profound impact on both my understanding as well as my personal connection to Africa and its incredible inhabitants. 

First of all, this life-changing trip would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Essence Full Circle and all of its wonderful organizers. Indeed, it was through the efforts of brilliant individuals like Rich Dennis, Latraviette Smith-Wilson, Emmet Dennis, Patrick, and Boris Kojo as well as many others that materialized this vision into a reality. Not only did they impact the lives of those who embarked on this journey, but also their communities back home. As such, before I dive into how I personally benefited from this trip, it's only right that our leaders are recognized for the excellent work they do. Both in order to support them, as well as to encourage other leaders to follow in their footsteps.

That's why it makes me very proud to say that my wife Muhga is one of these leaders. She has empowered Black women to feel proud of their natural beauty just as Madam C. J. Walker did not too many years ago. Muhga was determined to bring her products to Ghana where her company hosted the Naturall Fest grand opening. You will get to read more details about this awesome festival shortly.

Before disembarking the plane in Accra, I could already smell a familiar yet peculiar aroma. They say smell is the most powerful sense. Well, I think there may be some truth to this. The aroma triggered nostalgic and familiar thoughts of Cairo, Egypt. Perhaps because I just touched base in the Motherland. Yet there was an additional unfamiliar flavor, a refreshing and curious one. I approached the door of the plane and looked up into the vast horizon. Although this was my first time in Ghana, it strangely felt like I was already connected somehow. I took a deep breath of the Ghanaian air, and as I exhaled I thought to myself, “I have returned atlas!”

This trip consisted of many awesome events, expeditions, and adventures. In fact, too many to adequately describe here. I will not cover each of these experiences (that would require a book in itself!). In my opinion as a cultural anthropologist and world language teacher, when travel is devoid of the local people and culture, it is deprived of its essence and purpose. Therefore, from my perspective and approach, the heart of these experiences lay in the personal connections and interactions with local Ghanaians themselves. I am grateful to have met so many extraordinary and influential individuals both from the States and around the world during this trip. These memoirs, however, focus on my experiences and interactions with Ghanaians. 

Reconnecting with an Old Friend

The first re-connection that was made occurred between myself and a Ghanaian friend I made back in college years ago. I worked as a Resident Assistant at the University of Pittsburgh to save money for college study abroad trips and Kwaiku was one of the residents. Fortunately, he happened to be in Accra visiting his family during our trip. It had been a full decade since we last saw each other due to our living circumstances, each of us finding work in distant cities. 

Kwaiku had already arrived in Accra a month before our trip began. He had thus reconnected with his family, people and culture awhile before we met. Visiting him gave me a great opportunity to experience Ghanaian local life outside the Movenpick hotel. Although it was their first time meeting me, his entire family welcomed me with open arms and a warm embrace. This was my first taste of Ghanaian hospitality. Having been apart for so long, It was truly a reunion like no other as I got to spend time with Kwakui, his family and friends within the context of his home culture. 

Also, rather than experiencing Ghanaian life and culture from a touristic lense, being immersed in this way provided me with a culturally authentic experience I had sought from the outset of this journey.  In a way, it set the stage for the rest of my trip, seeking to forge more positive relationships with Ghanaians in meaningful social and cultural contexts.

Naturall Fest, Big Ben, and the African Stars

A couple of days later, I attended the Naturall Fest to support my wife and her company, Naturall Club. The Fest took place in East Legon, located in Greater Accra. The atmosphere was filled with good people and vibes. It was there where I met Ben Bledjumah. We kicked it off in no time! He was hired as security for the event. From his role of security alone, no one would ever know how interesting and friendly of a person he was. We began to effortlessly converse, as we enjoyed the jollof rice and musical performances, sometimes forgetting that he was still on the job! He has a two-year-old daughter and a whole slur of interesting hobbies and talents, including his passion for bodybuilding and working as a trainer as a side gig. This is why I called him Big Ben. In short, Big Ben joined my growing coalition of Ghanain friends that I would remain in contact with after my return to the States. 

In addition to delicious jollof rice, we had an unlimited supply of sobolo, a Ghanaian beverage that contains hibiscus and concoction of other herbs like cinnamon. If you are familiar with Caribbean cuisine, you may know it as saril. I have tried the Egyptian, Mexican, Sudanese, and Jamacian versions but the Ghanaian one is by far the best! As we drank sobolo, we watched the amazing performances of many African stars including King Promise, Mr. Easy, Tulenkey, Wanlov, Joey B and several more. We were lucky to get the chance to talk to many of these artists and get to know them better backstage. It was refreshing to experience how down to earth they were despite their fame and success. As the Fest came to a closure, we said goodbye to the African stars and headed back to the hotel. Big Ben, as well as Kwaiku, would later join me in the best new years eve celebration ever experienced! 

The Cape Coast Slave Castle Dungeon, Location Accra, and Kofi

Unfortunately, my wife and I missed out on the group trip to the Slave Castle Dungeon as it was scheduled the same day as the Naturall Fest. However, we got in touch with Location Accra, which had organized a similar trip the next day. We set out for the Slave Castle Dungeon early the next morning, a must-see and obligatory part of anyone's first trip to Ghana. This Slave Castle Dungeon was originally built by the Portugues but eventually fell into British hands after back and forth competition amongst Europeans to get a foothold in the slave trade. It is one of 46 slave castle dungeons in Ghana. This means that a staggering 70% of the total number of European slave forts are located in Ghana. 

  Honestly, in addition to being immersed with Ghanaians and their culture, this expedition was on the top of my priorities. All of my life I have been outraged by the devastating reality of slavery, and the systematic oppression of one of the most advanced peoples and civilizations in the world. It is my duty as a global citizen to visit and learn more about one of the sites where humanity’s greatest tragedy took place. Scholars estimate that as many as 30% of the Africans brought to the Americas were Muslims. In addition to being a global citizen, I feel connected to the struggle my African Muslim brothers and sisters faced for centuries against the cruelest aspects of humanity. 

As I walked through the dungeons where people from various parts of Africa were brutally held hostage against their will, I could feel the vibrations and hear the echoes of pain and suffering from within dungeon walls stained with centuries of blood, sweat, and tears. Nothing can prepare yourself for this moment, nor accurately describe your thoughts and feelings. I couldn't help but think about the immense resilience, bravery, and strength a people must have to physically, mentally, and spiritually endure these conditions. Indeed it is mind-boggling to think about how Africans and African-Americans were able to survive and overcome this great travesty. Their survival is a manifestation of their immense fortitude, courage, and humanity. 

After we went through the doors of no return, the official departure point from Africa to the Americas, our tour guide told us a chilling fact that will haunt me forever. He said that to this day, when ships set out from this port, they are followed by sharks and big fish as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. During the transatlantic slave trade that lasted more than four centuries, European captains of ships that sailed out from this post regularly forced large numbers of enslaved Africans overboard. This heinous practice went on continually, to the extent of affecting marine life patterns in the Atlantic ocean. These patterns in marine ecosystems are a living testimony to the crimes that haunt humanity to this day. 

As I pondered the above reflections, I could not help but feel angered by the inaction of people in neighboring regions that connect to my cultural heritage, namely North-East African and Arabic regions. History testifies to countless accomplishments achieved by African and Arab unified civilizations. These include flourishing Islamic and polarized civilizations that led up to Andalucia Spain, where Africans and Arabs hand in hand created the most advanced, progressive and influential cities this world has ever seen.

 For example, in Spain itself, the African/Arab Islamic civilization is responsible for creating more libraries and books than all of the countries in the history of Europe combined! This same civilization is responsible for founding the World’s first modern universities, hospitals, advanced medical technology, public bathrooms, complex sewage systems, algebra, astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, Arabic numerals, soap, cameras, discovering the Americas, and countless more advances! In fact, the European Renaissance itself, which, to this day enjoys all the credit of modern western knowledge, was a mere product of this thriving African-Arab civilization! 

Slavery in the Americas took place several hundreds of years later when European colonization was at an all-time high throughout the world while the once advanced civilizations south of Europe were in decline. The plague of colonization is that it divides and conquers and uses tribalism as their fiercest weapon. The once thriving African/Arab civilizations which put progress, unity, and spiritual enlightenment at the forefront, gradually adopted the western priorities of materialism and predatory capitalism. At the peak of their advanced civilizations, the crime of slavery couldn’t have successfully been perpetrated because their commitment to unity and morals was unbreakable. As these civilizations lost touch of what made them successful to begin with, they fell victim to the crippling colonial mentality of materialism and economic exploitation, putting them in a much weaker position to fight off slavery, the most extreme version of capitalism there is. 

At the slave dungeon, I thought to myself, how could we have let this happen to our brothers and sisters right next door? We had succumbed to an all-time low, blinded by the amoral colonial mentality to the extent of completely losing touch with what guided and protected us for centuries. Modern-day slavery and predatory capitalism continue to oppress our communities around the world. We need to remember what our true values are just like our ancestors once did. We must stand up for justice everywhere and not let inaction get the best of us ever again! 

During this expedition, I made friends with the Location Accra staff, particularly the lead organizer Kufi. Kufi is a Ghanaian but moved to the UK to attend college. He lives there now with his wife. This was not his first time leading a group of tourists on a trip to Africa. Given both our experiences leading groups on educational trips overseas (I led three trips of students to three different countries), we discussed ways in which we could keep the year of return momentum alive after this year, perhaps planning another educational trip to a different African country, namely Kenya. We were both interested in promoting travel to Africa, breaking down the barriers that prevent people from considering Africa as a tourist destination. If people only knew how much fun they could have they wouldn't hesitate to visit Africa and encourage their friends and family to do so as well. I look forward to collaborating with Kufi in the near future along these key points. 

The Economic Forum

A couple of days later, an economic forum was held at the Movenpick hotel. This forum hosted The President of Ghana Mr. Nana Akufo-Addo and members of his office, as well as some of our own renowned speakers including Rich Dennis and Boris Kodjo that spoke to the importance of stimulating and maintaining African economies in sustainable ways. I loved listening to the speakers, as well as being in a space where Africans and African Americans worked together to harness our own resources and talent without outside influences and agendas. It was a great way to discuss important issues facing Africans and the African Diaspora at large. 

The African continent and people have enough talent and resources to truly revolutionize the economic situation if we find ways to support each other and make it harder for outside parties to intervene, manipulate, and exploit our people and resources. I had the pleasure of speaking with many like-minded individuals, including Ebro Darden, an American media executive and hostess of New York's urban radio station the Hot 97. We all want to actively take part in this process of making Africa more economically independent and stronger. 

A Short History Lesson

I couldn't help but remember the interesting fact I learned at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park & Mausoleum we went to about Ghana’s revolutionary hero and former president Kwame Nkrumah’s marriage. He married Fathima, the niece of the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel - Nasser. Kwame and Gamal Abdel-Nasser were both interested in unifying Africa. They both saw the huge benefit in uniting the African continent as a whole, politically and economically. The immense political and economic pressure of self-serving Western influences was not going away any time soon. It only made sense to be a stronger Africa, putting themselves in a position to make important decisions by themselves and for themselves, not Americans and Europeans. 

This was a very symbolic marriage that established their firm stance and interest in promoting Pan-Africanism. It left no room for doubt to Egyptians, Ghanaians, and to Africans as a whole, that East, West, South, and North Africa must unite as one and would no longer be defined by European colonial borders! As an Egyptian, I was personally touched and moved by this historical piece of gold. I already felt connected to Ghana and its people, but in light of this new information, we were practically cousins!

An Encounter with the President of Ghana

In 2019, President Nana Akufo-Addo launched a campaign that promotes the very same message of Pan-Africanism that his founding father Kwame had done years ago. He rekindled the legacy of Kwame by leading the Year of Return campaign, promoting the unity of the African diaspora worldwide! Yes we acknowledge our differences and take pride in our cultural uniquenesses, but our common bond as African descendants is much stronger and more significant. That's why returning back to your roots is a powerful act of consciousness that impacts not just yourself but also the greater community at large.

Fortunately, I had the great pleasure to meet President Nana Akufo Addo. First at the First Lady’s brunch, then at the economic forum. I expressed my utmost respect, enthusiasm, and gratitude for his 2019 Year of Return campaign, and his outstanding initiative to unite and host the global African family in his home country. In fact, in honor of his campaign, I presented him The Year of Return A-rag, a velvet hand-made gift embellished with the Ghanaian colors I crafted myself (du-rag). I named this product specifically after his campaign to highlight its remarkable impact on uniting African descendants worldwide and reconnecting us to our roots. He then smiled ear to ear and held it up with both hands. We exchanged a few more words and shook hands - dap and hug style before security took him away.   


So far I had the privilege of meeting so many extraordinary people, but something was missing. As a world language teacher, I have taken advantage of a myriad of summer teaching abroad opportunities that cover living and travel costs to lead programs in many different countries. In this capacity, I have worked with youth in all of these countries, engaging them in experiential education. Hence, interacting with youth in an educational setting would be like icing on the cake to this trip of a lifetime. That is why I was thrilled when I heard about our trip to DUNK (Developing Unity, Nurturing Knowledge) in Jamestown a day before our departure. 

DUNK is an organization that works with children from underprivileged communities in Accra ages 8-19, providing them with extracurricular activities, after-school support, life-skills, and vocational training. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were warmly greeted by young DUNK organizers Eric, Habiib Khalid, and Simone Buame. They walked us to their facility where we were immediately greeted by a huge crowd of youngsters that were incredibly enthusiastic to host us. Eric, Habib Khalid and one of the older DUNK participants, Abdelwahab Hussein, delivered a beautiful PowerPoint presentation on the history of the organization and all of the resources they offer. Just a young high school student, I was very impressed by Abdelwahab’s eloquence, professionalism, and maturity. We then took part in a variety of interactive activities including an art and crafts project, basketball drills, and dancing! Overall we had a blast, and the majority of those that decided to participate in this service day activity agreed that it was their favorite experience of the entire trip, especially the students from Tina’s Angels and Richard’s Warriors. It was wonderful to see them interact with Ghanaians their age! 

The lead organizers and I clicked instantly. The more we talked the more we were amazed by how much we had in common. This also included the young DUNK student leader Abdelwahab (whose first name is my last name!). It was extremely difficult to part ways after only having spent an afternoon in their company. Before leaving, Habiib complimented me on the A-rag I had on at the time, asking where I got something like that from. I just so happen to have one more Year of Return A-rag in my bag. I happily handed it to him as a souvenir. Without hesitation, he tied it on and asked to take a picture with me with both our A-rags. Before parting ways we agreed to exchange contact information. To this day I am in contact with Simone, Habiib, and Abdelwahab, chatting on WhatsApp on a regular basis!

God willing in the near future when COVID 19 virus subsides, I will launch my AragApparel business. I promise to donate profits from each Year of the Return A-rag purchased to DUNK. I am particularly interested and appreciate the invaluable work they do with underprivileged youth, especially as a public school teacher who has taught in one of the most under-served public schools in the States. With first-hand experience working as a teacher, mentor, and coach in impoverished communities, I truly value and understand the critical role organizations like DUNK play in providing adolescents with the tools they need to succeed. This is why it is crucial that we do our best to support DUNK and similar organizations that uplift at-risk youth. 

Birthday with the Deputy & Her Sons

As this trip of a lifetime was coming to close, my birthday happened to fall on the very last day. Being in Ghana in itself was far more than I could ever ask for. Nevertheless, I was in for a treat with Abdul Karim and Musa, sons of the Deputy Director for Diaspora Affairs, Madam Nadia Musah. Madam Nadia,  Abdul Karim, Musa, and I were out on the balcony of our hotel, enjoying great conversation and the beautiful view, not realizing how much time had passed. We got along so well, there were moments when it felt as if I was part of the family, like an older brother to Abdul Karim and Musa. Before the night was over, they took me and my wife out into town for a great time on my Birthday night, which coincided with the last night in Ghana. 

Our flight back to Philadelphia was late in the afternoon the next day. This gave me enough time to fulfill one last mission before leaving this beautiful country. That morning I felt very excited. Not because it was my birthday, but it was also Friday, which for Muslims is the day of Jummah. On Jummah, Muslims congregate at the mosque for a sermon, prayer, and a chance to socialize with brothers and sisters. It would be my first time visiting a mosque and attending jummah prayer with my brothers and sisters in West Africa. 

Abdul Karim and I met up at Masjid Umar Al Mukhtar. This was his local mosque growing up as a kid. A short walking distance from home, this is where Abdul Karim and his family would attend jummah prayers, study the Quran, and pray Taraweeh during Ramadan. The Imam delivered an enlightening sermon in Akan, Hausa, and English about the importance of good manners and being polite in Islam. Foot to foot, shoulder to shoulder, Abdul Karim and I lined up for prayer with the rest of his community. Nothing compares to the transcending feeling of brotherhood with a people whom you have never previously known. The genuine brotherly love of the congregation filled my heart. After prayer, Abdul Karim introduced me to several community members, including the Imam himself, Sheikh Mukhtar Tjani. I felt very inspired, honored, and grateful to have met these valued members of the community. This experience really brought everything full circle to me. Alhamdulillah (All praises and thanks to God), I couldn't have asked for a better birthday and last day in Ghana.


This Year of Return trip of a lifetime inspired me to keep the momentum alive. These memoirs are a start. I would love to read reflections of experiences of anyone else that would be interested in sharing. Everyone takes away something different based on their unique perspectives and we can all collectively learn a lot from each other by reading different insights.

Fortunately, technology makes communication very easy with people all over the world. There is no reason why we can't maintain and build relationships with the great people we encountered if we make the intention. It has been really awesome keeping in touch with all of my Ghanain friends from various sectors of society, and I intend to continue building our friendships and collaborate on constructive projects.  

Thank you so much for reading my reflections and experiences. I hope you enjoyed them and maybe even learned something new. More importantly, I hope they inspired you to travel to Ghana and meet some of the nicest, down to earth, and intelligent people in the world. I will end with the words of our revolutionary hero and champion of Pan-Africanism Kwame Nkrumah: Forward ever backward never!

Donate to DUNK and get the Year of Return A-rag

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