Reconnecting with Friends

by phil on February 22, 2011

Solo travel makes it easy to meet people. You seek company. Company seeks you. You are spontaneous, present, open to possibilities. Perhaps it is because of these mental wavelengths that serendipitous meetings happen in the first place.

I do not have a bucket list. When I travel, my goals are simple: make friends and learn new things. If music and camel drawing can be added to the mix, perfection.

On my last trip, I met many people who I now consider good friends. When I returned home, I didn’t know when I would see them again. The people pictured below are not the only reason I am returning to West Africa, but they are a big part of it.

Joseph, my good friend in Ghana, and his daughter, Olivia. Joseph invited me into his home and served me kenkey before I had been in Ghana a full 24 hours.

The Banku Crushing Crew of Newtown, Accra, Ghana. Many afternoons with this gang.

Blessing and Anne-marie, my two favorite five-year-olds in Ghana. They are typically operating in full out insanity mode. See the rest of this photo series here.

Faty, David, and Bles. My beloved couchsurfing hosts, and now, good friends. I stayed with them for close to a month in Abidjan. I have been talking to Faty regularly about the crisis in Cote D’Ivoire. The situation is increasingly grim as Gbagbo hangs onto power and the Ivorian economy grinds to a halt. Right now, they are all safe and this is something to be thankful for.

Not sure I can consider Vieux Farka Toure a friend, but here’s to hoping he becomes one. I had the honor of spending time at his house and getting to know him a bit before he left on an American tour.

Jenny, my friend and former roommate in DC, asked me to connect with her study abroad host family while I was in Mali. She wanted to know how they were doing and to pass along her greetings. Ladji, pictured above, was her host brother and he ended up becoming a friend of mine while I was in Bamako. There were some memorable afternoons at their house, including Tanti’s wedding (Jenny shared a room with Tanti when she was living there).

Michel was a security guard at my Bamako hostel, the wonderful Sleeping Camel. From “good afternoon’s” to daily bambara lessons to two hours chatting and drinking tea – it all started with a greeting and mutual respect.

Bintou, pictured on the right, is 6558 miles away from me as I write this. There is a part of my brain that tells me a relationship marked by cultural differences and extreme distance, is foolish. But right now, that part of my brain is silent. Here’s to spending time with Bintou in mediums other than static-filled phone lines.

They may not be pictured, but there are many other people who are important to me in Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, and Mali. I look forward to seeing them too.

After my trip, I plan on reconnecting with friends outside of West Africa – friends I haven’t seen despite the fact that they have been geographically close to me for years. Fair warning: If you were in my life at one point or another, I’m coming for you, and it’s not just to sleep on your couch, although I may ask you to put me up for a night depending on the status of my bank account.

Till next time…

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen Brady Johnson February 22, 2011 at 10:05 am

These are beautiful portraits, Phil! As I read I can feel the sadness, a thing that is difficult to do using electronic mediums :)
Hoping you can give us a call when you come back to Ohio and talk to Sean’s class.
Maureen

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phil February 23, 2011 at 11:44 am

Thanks Mrs. J! I will be calling you soon!

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Christy @ Technosyncratic February 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm

These are great pictures, and those two girls (Blessing and Anne-Marie) look like a wicked amount of fun. ;)

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phil February 23, 2011 at 11:47 am

Christy, thanks for the comment. Those two are my favorites :)

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Ayngelina February 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm

This post made me smile, what a great tribute to friends – and soon to be friends.

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phil February 23, 2011 at 11:47 am

Thanks Ayngelina!

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Earl February 23, 2011 at 9:22 am

I enjoyed this post Phil. During my travels, it has always been the people I’ve met along the way who have made all of the wandering worthwhile. Whether it’s building a friendship with someone in Ghana or drinking tea with that security guard, such cross-cultural interactions are remarkably powerful and seem to always leave a more lasting impression than any sight we may come across during our adventures.

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phil February 23, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Earl, I remember a similar post you made about people you met in 2010, and we are definitely on the same page, I think, with our approach to travel. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures February 23, 2011 at 10:35 am

What a fabulous tribute to your friends that you met along the road. It’s the best part of traveling in my opinion!!!

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phil February 23, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Andi, thank you! And I totally agree! Thanks for the comment :)

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Ekua February 23, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I’m beginning to think you’re more West African than me despite your gingerness ;) I’ve always hated kenkey and have probably offended my fellow Ghanaians more than once by refusing to eat it. And even if I did eat it, I would not “clean” my hands with a bowl of tap water and eat it with my fingers, I’d just ask for a fork and would therefore be more likely to avoid writing posts that conclude with a bit of TMI :P

But anyway, back to this post- it’s seriously awesome that you made some lasting connections there. While West Africa may not have a ton of well known attractions, it certainly makes up for it with heaps of hospitality and culture. Enjoy the reunions!

Are you planning on going back to Ivory Coast? Do you speak French?

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phil February 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Ekua,
Hahaha, I don’t know about that. I actually don’t like Kenkey much myself. When it comes to starchy doughy staples, I prefer fufu :) I always feel bad turning down food though and have thus eaten a lot of kenkey.

That’s just it with W. Africa – not a lot of attractions, but so much hospitality and culture.

I am planning on going to CI depending on what the situation is there. I speak conversational french. I am very worried right now, though. Media attention is on the mid east/north africa and Gbagbo is taking advantage. There has been so much violence in abidjan and western Cote D’Ivoire in the past week alone. Very sad situation.

Be well,
Phil

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Jennifer Barry February 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm

HI Phil, I love your picture of the hardened street gang. J/k, the kids are very cute. Like you, I always remember the interesting people I met long after my memories of museums and views have faded. That’s cool you will see Bintou again soon. :)

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phil February 24, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Thanks for the comment Jennifer :) I am definitely looking forward to seeing Bintou and you are right, it’s the people you remember more than anything else.
B well,
Phil

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