Since the infamous Girl’s Trip movie, groups of women have pulled their crews together to create an equally epic and memorable experience. Who says you can’t “turn up” on The Continent?
How do you know who we are if you don’t know where you came from? This was the question asked by Dr. Alixis Rhodes and JoAnna Gordon, friends and founders of Reclaiming Our Roots. Their girl’s trip would take them on an adventure and journey of self-discovery through thirteen African countries.
Since the infamous Girl’s Trip movie, groups of women have pulled their crews together to create an equally epic and memorable experience. Who says you can’t “turn up” on the Continent? Though this trip wasn’t about partying for Alixis and JoAnna, with one year and a goal to save $10,000 each, this wasn’t just any trip. They planned a three-month journey that would coincide with what many would consider being a benchmark of our human existence – turning 30 years old.
“We could have just taken a DNA test and placed our lineage, but Africa is composed of so many countries and each region has its own thing that makes them special. We wanted to experience the cultures of each of the various regions” said JoAnna. So, they set off on what they referred to as an “Afro-Trip” (a riff on the phrase Euro-Trip, used to describe country-hopping across Europe). As their birthdays are exactly one month apart, Alixis in December and JoAnna in January, they planned their adventure from December through March 2019, visiting the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, and South Africa. Staying in each country for at least five days they were able to get a taste of the culture, food, and traditions. Thankfully, they shared with Griots Republic some of their highlights.
JoAnna recalls her experience in Nigeria. Arriving there by land, being warmly welcomed by the locals and volunteering at a health fair. Alixis, whose birthday fell on this leg of the trip, spent her day taking in the Ivory Coast, lavishing on the beach, and then breaking bread at Bushman Cafe with well-known artists from Senegal and the Ivory Coast.
Egypt had a significant impact on both women. They spent their time traveling to the southern part of the country and engaging people from the Nubian village. Though they heard the phrase “Welcome Home” several times while on their journey, they were most surprised to hear from Egyptians in Cairo. “I enjoyed encountering people who looked like me in areas where people tell you they don’t,” said JoAnna. Referring to the way Egyptians are portrayed in the media and the way the country is viewed by some other travelers, Alixis added: “People think Egypt is not in Africa, but it is and Black Egyptians do exist.”
While traveling throughout Ethiopia, what touched Alixis most was the happiness that emanated through the tribes. “People assume that everyone wants to live the way we do in America, but you can see and feel their happiness, and watch how they interact with their families.”
Alixis also recalls being taken aback by the beauty of the beaches in Zanzibar, Tanzania. JoAnna chimed in that by this point in their trip, after encountering so much hospitality and natural beauty, she just had to laugh out loud at how others still view Africa. “Where are the dirt roads some warned her about? In rural areas, there are people happily living organically off the land. Meanwhile, in America, we are scrambling to live more holistically and eat clean,” she says.
Tanzania was also the region where locals they interacted with insisted, based on their features, that they had found where their ancestors came from. These locals often inquired why they didn’t speak the language while assigning them to tribes they might be a part of.
Then, of course, there was Senegal – a utopia of sorts for artists, and foodies. It was a place that JoAnna was particularly drawn to. While in Namibia, Alixis stood where the desert meets the ocean and thought:
“God created this.”
On this journey, the pair ultimately want to help change the narrative about the continent of Africa by sharing their personal experiences. They want to show that there is joy, there is poverty, but there is also wealth. In order to accomplish this, they are partnering with organizations from Africa and the diaspora to form a greater connection and take away the misconceptions and myths from both sides. Unfortunately, some of the Africans they encountered still asked why they don’t meet as many African Americans eager to travel to the continent. Sadly, many African Americans still have various reasons, tied to myths and lack of research or exposure, about why they don’t visit the continent. “If we came together we could be greater,” JoAnna believes.
Alixis is now planning to move to Ghana this year. When they were in Ethiopia it was clear that many of the younger generations were interested in their mental health and were willing to seek services they needed; however, there were only a little over 40 mental health professionals in the entire country. With her work as a mental health professional, she would like to take away some of the stigma connected to mental health by educating and connecting people to the proper services.
For JoAnna, visiting 13 out of 54 countries in Africa was just the beginning. She plans to eventually experience it all as a tourist. She would also like to use her experience as a woman in business to encourage others to open businesses in Africa.
While planning the next steps in each of their journeys, they are happy to know that they’ve had an immediate impact on those closest to them. Sharing their experience on social media allowed their families and friends, some of whom may have been skeptical before their visit, to see the continent in a new way. Dr. Alixis, who is currently a high school teacher, is also exposing her students to the truth about the modernization on the continent. Her mother is also ready to hop on a plane and see it for herself.
In the end, both Alixis and JoAnna agree that the original purpose of their trip, “finding a piece of us that was missing as black women in the diaspora,” was accomplished.
To see more highlights from their trip and keep up with Dr. Alixis and JoAnna on Instagram at @ReclaimingOurRoots.