In December 2019, I travelled to Accra, Ghana, for the Year of Return. This was my first time visiting my mother’s native country. As someone who is of both Ghanaian and Bajan descent, I experienced this trip from the eyes of a child of a Ghanaian immigrant and a member of the diaspora. It was a surreal experience to go somewhere I’ve never been, yet feel like it is where I belonged. I left Ghana hoping to return the following year, but when COVID-19 robbed me of that opportunity, I had to sit back and watch as other young people returned home.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve wrestled with how I felt about this. I judged those who travelled and potentially put others at risk. But at the same time, I envied them for enjoying their life while I was stuck inside. I also lamented with my friends who were in lockdown with me. Some had no desire to leave, while others would jump at the opportunity if it were given to them. As we approached the one-year mark of the pandemic, I began to realize that no two experiences were the same. A fifteen-second Instagram story is not enough to get the complete picture. So I spoke to seven young adults about travelling to Africa and the Caribbean during the pandemic. Here’s what they had to say:
After being in Canada for the majority of the pandemic, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt so tired and detached from my everyday work. I needed a break from that environment and cycle. I felt as if the world was on my shoulders and needed to go on my own “eat, pray, love journey” to center myself. Would I travel there again during the pandemic? Probably not because the guilt was eating away at me. I felt selfish that many people were in the same situation as me, separated from their families, and decided not to travel. I realize what a privilege it is to take time off from work for two and a half months and have somewhere to escape to. Somewhere else to call home.
I travelled to Nigeria during the height of the second wave in December. Two of my Grandparents were terminally ill, and we wanted to be with them during that difficult time. My parents have lived far from home for many years. It meant the world to them to be there with their parents at the end as they both passed while we were in Nigeria. That being said, it was a very stressful trip. They say the number of coronavirus cases in Nigeria is low, but it’s not true. They’re just vastly underreported. The number of people we came in contact with who had either just had COVID or knew someone who did was astonishing. Everywhere we went, we took extra precautions for our health. The saddest part is that Nigeria is doing nothing to support its people. COVID tests are too expensive for the average Nigerian. Even if they’re feeling sick to their stomach, they are not going to get tested. They don’t have the money, and that’s the biggest issue.
Two of my closest friends and I travelled to St. Maarten because we wanted to have a good time. But we didn’t only go there for a vacation; we went to shoot music videos as we are up-and-coming artists. The pandemic had been going on for about a year, and we didn’t see things settling down anytime soon. When we booked the trip, the government had lifted the travelling restrictions somewhat, so we decided to go for it. Our trip was great. I enjoyed myself while staying safe, and we had a blast. We came home, tested negative, quarantined as we were instructed and were able to go back to our everyday lives shortly after. So damn right I would do it again. My time in St. Maarten was the best trip I’ve ever been on.
Tourism in Jamaica is a win-lose situation. I have so much pride in my country and want them to thrive, but at the same time, I see how such a big part of their economy can be detrimental to the local people during a pandemic. I do believe tourism is a big reason why the cases have skyrocketed out there. I feel like it’s a bit insensitive, but I also understand that people need a break period. It’s a tough conversation to have. My family and I travelled to Jamaica in December 2020 to visit a sick family member, but we wouldn’t have left Canada if they weren’t sick.
I live in America for school, but Ghana is my home. Ghana is regularly a hotspot for travel during December, so I thought it would be best to stay in America during the pandemic. Staying here was not the choice I wanted to make, but I felt it was best to be precautious when I weighed the options. It wasn’t fun watching my friends who live in Ghana and who travelled to Ghana enjoying themselves on Snapchat. Next year I will be in Ghana, regardless if coronavirus is still around. I feel a lot better knowing there is a vaccine and feel safe enough to travel whether or not I get the vaccine in time. I’m looking forward to being back home and seeing my friends and family again.
Once I realized I could do my 9-5 in Ghana, I decided to make the jump. I did optimal research on what coronavirus looked like in Ghana and also imposed my own lockdown. So, I’m not meeting up with people as much as I usually would. Growing up, I split my time between Ghana and London. Now, as an adult, I try to spend two to three weeks in Ghana in December. During this time, I attempt to see everybody. That means seeing my Grandpa in Kumasi, making time for my friends and meeting new people. Also, I’m at the stage of my life where I’m looking at what living in Ghana looks like long term. So when I’m out here, I’m looking into investments and figuring out what working full time looks like. It’s tough trying to fit all of that into such a short period. It doesn’t give you the chance to soak it all in. So it’s been nice to have the time to do that. Ghanaian life is not easy, but moving here for a few months in the pandemic has been one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. I feel at peace.
I didn’t travel back home to St. Lucia mainly because it wasn’t safe to go, and I would feel selfish if I did. Knowing I have less likelihood of being severely affected by the virus, putting others at risk is not something I would be comfortable with. Though this lockdown has made me think a lot about where I haven’t been yet. I’ve had the privilege to explore my Father’s home of St. Lucia, but not my mother’s home of Guyana. Being born and raised in Canada, my family’s culture is one big melting pot of all three countries. It wasn’t until I was in St. Lucia that I truly understood what it meant to be Lucian. I hope when the restrictions are lifted, and it’s safe to travel again, I can experience that same feeling in Guyana. Regularly returning home is a big part of my future goals in life. I learned so much about where people from St. Lucia originated before colonialism. Learning about my ancestors made me feel a deeper connection to myself, and it would kill me if I’m not able to share that connection with my future children.
As the world begins to transcend to a new kind of normal, many people in the western world feel as if it is safe enough to connect to our roots once again. However, the question of whether we should be travelling during a pandemic, which is not truly over, is on my mind. Although many of us are vaccinated and have a lower risk of contracting Covid-19, Black countries have much lower vaccination rates. Though at the same time, many of these countries depend on our tourism to survive. Ultimately, I am beginning to see that it is not a black or white issue. I believe several shades lie between the two opposing sides, and everyone is entitled to picking their own hue. But no matter your choice, it is critical to keep in mind there will always be an outcome. It may be something that follows simply as a result, but it can also be a consequence of your actions. So, I encourage you to be intentional, put a plan in place to minimize risk, but if your travel is essential to you, I encourage you to step forward and select your hue.