We met Annika from Duara Travels in Helsinki about a year ago. It was a pleasant, casual yet super exciting meeting in a park surrounded by thousands of happy people visiting yearly World Village festival. What brought us together back then was the idea of expanding Duara's travel concept to Ghana. At that time Duara Travels was already organizing travel activities in Tanzania, Kenya, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. And not just any regular kind of tourism but authentic, down-to-earth, day to day life experiences with local families in selected villages around the world!
In Duara's destinations one get's a unique chance to e.g. prepare local food over open fire, lodge in local family's home, join locals at work, feed farm animals, wash laundry by hand, visit hidden sights and much more! Travel activities vary depending on the target country, host family, weekday, even weather; the idea is to jump into a new world and experience different people's ordinary life. And of course to get to know yourself better while facing new, peculiar situations. Wonderful!
Say yes to new adventures!
A few months after our meeting I found myself sitting in a trotro (small, usually crappy short distance bus) traveling from Ghana's capital city, Accra to Duara's first destination-to-be, Senya Beraku. Sitting next to me was Daniel, my local trustee from years ago, Go Beyond Ghana's travel agent and Duara's future "contact"! We got off the bus at Akoti Junction and walked a few meters to the taxi station. We got into a “shared taxi” to Senya Beraku. On the way we saw beautiful scenery varying from farm lands to simple little villages.
After some 15 minutes we got to the final stop. We hopped off the taxi and continued the journey by foot. At first glance, Senya Beraku is a timeless and typical Ghanaian town. A group of women in gorgeous local church clothes walked by. It was a Sunday afternoon and the people were just returning from church back to their homes.
Adventures begin at the end of the roads you know.
Our mission for the visit was to get to know Daniel's pre-selected host family candidates, who had earlier expressed their interest towards becoming a host family for Duara. As we were walking, Daniel told me with laughter how finding host families had been such a challenge because of the old beliefs in the town: some families thought that Daniel, a stranger from Accra, was planning on bringing bad spirits to their homes!
Soon, we turned from the main road to a small way leading us through a field. Built around a huge tree close by, there was a shady platform made out of bamboo, with a group of young boys taking a rest on it. Some smaller boys were playing football on the field. As we passed by the boys they greeted us happily and with great curiosity. In front of us was a cute pink painted house with a young mango tree growing on the neat yard with fishing nets hanged on its branches.
In the shade of the tree, on a low wooden bench sat a middle-aged woman wearing a long colorful dress and a scarf wrapped around her head. She was cleaning out fresh sea crabs for dinner. Daniel greeted her in the local language and introduced us to each other. Vivianna had a wide smile on her face and a shy look in her eyes her eyes. She greeted me in the local language as well – Vivianna doesn't speak English. She got up and led me and Daniel indoors, into a neat but modest room and offered plastic chairs for us to sit on. She sat on the sofa in front of us.
Daniel again explained to her what it was all about (Daniel had previously visited her to explain the basics). I, knowing a little of the local language tried my best to understand and follow the conversation, adding things to be translated and explained as we went on. Vivianna nodded understandingly, smiled, wondered, and asked questions. We discussed about the day to day life of her family, work, chores, the village in general, and about the expectations, wishes and needs the travelers might have, not forgetting Duara's travel concept: what kind of responsibilities and duties host families would have and on the other hand how would the family and community gain from the program.
The dialogue was at the same time confusing, inspiring and even amusing: “You mean they WANT TO sleep here in our home? Why? Wouldn't they want to live in a hotel?”, “Will they know how to eat our food?” I understand well, that for Vivianna, the thought of traveler's wanting to live modestly - and even pay for it - seems kind of odd. When I finally asked if we were ready she nodded, laughed and said: “They are welcome!” Me and Daniel thought that we would all understand everything much better once plans actually turned into a reality.
It takes a lot of courage and hospitality from anyone to open one's doors to strangers and to one's life, let alone people whose standard of living is at the other end of the meter. Again, facing differences and diversity is somewhat scary for all of us, yet very mind opening at it's best! Duara Travels offers an unique opportunity for a new adventure for each traveler and host family!
The real voyage of discovery consists not
in seeing new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.
Just when we were about to close our meeting, we heard some strange clinking and rattling outside. We went all outside where we saw a middle-aged man riding a rusty blue bike. He parked the bike in front of us. He smiled with his eyes twinkling happily and came to greet me with his huge, rough hand and deep voice. The head of the family! We all went back into the room and went through the whole set again, this time with a mix of English and the local language. A member of another host family candidate was supposed to show up in the meeting too but some kids playing around the yard told us she had left to her farm right after church. It didn't matter at all, we had had a good start already! In Ghana, things never work out right away, and never as planned!
I asked Daniel to take me around the city. Vivianna escorted us for a bit and then stayed behind to take care of her sales stand her daughter had kept an eye on during our meeting. This “stand” was a chair and a blanket laid on the ground with symmetrical piles of onions, gingers and cassavas on it. I and Daniel kept on walking along the street all the way to the beach. There were goats, chickens and children running around the street and some old men sitting on a long bench studying us quietly. A woman asked loudly: “Hello obroni, how are you?” (Obroni means a white person in the local language)
Our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.
I don't think many tourists have been to Senya Beraku. We entered an alley that led us into an open space that allowed us to feel the refreshing sea breeze blowing on us. It was a very hot day. We could also smell a strong scent of fish and no wonder as we realized that we were surrounded by a dozen fish smoking ovens made of red clay! What we realized next was a loud noise coming from the beach down the hill.
What was waiting for us on the beach, you'll find out in the next blog post! Additionally, I will write about my second visit to the town, as the very first customer of Duara's first host family in Ghana!
Traveling. It leaves you speechless,
then turns you into a storyteller.