Akwaaba Means Welcome!
I met my grandfather for the first time in over fifteen years at the Accra National Airport yesterday. He was a very short, slight man and I don’t believe I would have ever been able to recognize him. I had never seen a picture of him, and my mother slyly told me before I left that her father was a “big man” whom everyone in our hometown called Company because of his jovial personality. I quickly learned that my mother had exaggerated about his physical size and managed to very much minimize his exuberance. My grandfather found me—wearing what I imaged was a very lost and somewhat frightened expression—and welcomed me with a huge hug and the widest grin. “Akwaaba! Welcome! That means welcome! My granddaughter, O! Welcome to Ghana!” he exclaimed.
Three other smiling men appeared out of nowhere besides him, and introduced themselves as my mother’s brothers. “You’ve grown so much, Nana”, they told me. “You look just like your father!” I stared at them all, overwhelmed at the easy familiarity with which they greeted me and the fact that before this moment, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize them as my uncles on the street.
It was very dark outside the airport, and I couldn’t see much beyond the array of blinking car headlights that sped past on the road. We crossed the street to the parking lot after my Grandpa draped a colorful cloth emblazoned with “Akwaaba” in gold embroidery over my shoulders. We stopped at a car that I now know was actually a taxi (many taxis in Ghana don’t have the characteristic yellow sign atop them and so I thought it belonged to one of my uncle’s) and my uncles loaded my suitcases into the trunk. I was ushered to the passenger’s seat, and said hello very exuberantly to the driver, assuming he was yet another uncle. I remember feeling a little deflated when he didn’t show the same excitement. Obviously, now I know he was not related to me at all, was just doing his job, and probably thought I was very strange. But at the time, I really had no clue what was going on or even where we were going. The only thing I really (thought) I knew was that I was with family I hadn’t seen since leaving Ghana as a very young child.
Just to emphasize that I hadn’t gone complexly off the deep end as far as totally trusting people who were at this still complete strangers at this point, my Uncle Old Man (he was named after my great-grandfather whose name no one could pronounce) made a point to call my parents at home in New Jersey so I could speak to him. Before this call, I was paranoid and suspicious of everyone, especially my friendly grandpa. My father reassured me that I was safe, and I only let my guard down after this.
We drove to a small, pink concrete house where I am now, where I will be staying for the next three days until my study abroad program at the University of Ghana at Legon begins on Monday. There, I’ll be taking three courses: Society, Government, and Politics in Ghana/Africa, African Storytelling, and Service Learning. I wanted to arrive in Ghana before the program started in order to spend some time with my family in Accra (most of them are on my mother’s side) before the summer semester started in earnest. After the program, I’ll be moving to Kumasi until mid-August to meet the remainder of my family (mostly on my father’s side). Kumasi is where I was born and where my parents want to retire. Tomorrow, I’ll write more about the small glimpses of Accra I saw during the taxi ride and what my first night at my grandfather’s house was like. Now, I am going to cocoon myself in my mosquito net and go to bed!