Nana Kwaku and I stayed at a number of wonderful places on our recent trip to Ghana and Tanzania. Three in particular stand out as highlight of our trip. Each are owned by US born Afrikans. Each is more than just a place to sleep, they are destinations in and of themselves and create a home away from home experience. They all are a bit rustic due to the plumbing issues that are common in many areas of Afrika, but they make up for it in many other ways.
One Africa is in Elmina, Ghana. Once you walk in through the gates you will know you are somewhere special. It is lush and green with coconut and other trees. It sits on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. The sound of the waves on the rocks lulls you.
Guests stay in individual thatched roof guest huts. There are no TVs, no telephones, and no hot water (although the water does warm naturally through the heat of the sun) but these hardly seem necessary or are minor inconveniences. They have a wonderful restaurant which is often frequented by local expatriates in the Elmina and Cape Coast area. They provide massage and other spa services.
One Africa frequently hosts healing and cultural retreats. It is conveniently located near both of the Slave Dungeons which are something worth visiting to remember and pay homage to our ancestors and the history of how many of us ended up living in the diaspora.
Seestah IMAHKUS created One Africa along with her late husband, Nana Okofo Iture I Ababio. She and her son now are the proprietors. If she is there when you stay be sure to take time chat with her. She has written a book on the expatriate experience called ABABIO - He/She Who Has Returned which is available on their website.
We found the food to be fabulous and this was one of the places we felt comfortable eating salads, fresh juices and other raw foods. The sound of the waves, the music that plays in the common areas and the inviting hammocks made it difficult to leave when our time there was done.
United African Alliance Community Center
Another highlight was United African Alliance Community Center in Arusha area of northern Tanzania. UAACC is located in the small village of Imbaseni. It is owned and operated by former Kansas City Black Panthers, Pete and Charlotte O'Neal. They have been living in exile in Afrika for 40 years. (For more on their story watch A Panther In Africa on YouTube and Urban Warrior in the African Bush.) This is not a "resort type" place, but a place to meet real people doing real work and to experience the wonder of Afrika.
In keeping with the tradition and mission of the Black Panthers for serving the community, UAACC offers programs for the local community members. Besides the guest houses the center provides an education program for area youth, and The Leaders of Tomorrow children's home that houses 21 children from the area. They also dug a well and built a water tap where villagers come to collect their water, thanks to the donations of Geronimo Pratt.
The site is largely run by volunteers who are committed to the work that the O'Neals are doing. While you are there ask about how you can volunteer your skills. They are funded in large part by donations. Please consider supporting the important work that Mzee ("elder man" in Swahili) Pete, Mama Charlotte and UAACC does for the people of Imbaseni.
The lush tropical grounds are full of fruit bearing trees, and many birds. Old Bullet, an ancient horse who seems to be house broken, wanders freely around the compound along with the three dogs. The guest rooms are set up for study abroad groups and are basic but sufficient as we found we spent very little time in the room. The Red Onion, the outdoor dining room and lounge is where everyone congregates. Mzee Pete and Mama Charlotte are a delight and we enjoyed getting to know them. Mama Charlotte is vegan (look for my interview with her soon) so once again we ate well. Mzee Pete and Mama Charlotte will also help arrange transportation and excursions for you if needed.
We were fortunate that there were two other guests who know the area well, as well as an expat volunteer who is teaching at the center who welcomed us as family and let us tag along on their trips into Arusha and walks in the village. They were wonderful translators (although most folks do speak english), and stewards. We also met other expatriates who are living nearby. It was here that we really felt that we got to know Africa in a more personal way. I felt like I had been welcomed into a family and family life rather than visiting the area as a tourist.
The area is very beautiful and sits between Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Afrika and Mt Meru which is the fifth largest. The larger town of Arusha is very nice and acts as a hub for northern Tanzania Safaris to various game parks and reserves nearby. You can find great shopping and other activities there. Not to be missed is the Cultural Heritage Center which is part museum, part gallery, part store. They have an outstanding collection of Afrikan art from all over the continent. The building itself is an art piece.
Bwejuu Village Guest House
Finally, we stayed at this bed and breakfast in Bwejuu village on the east coast of Zanzibar. It was the off season so we had the whole guest house to ourselves. Zakia, the manager was very helpful in telling us about the area, and assisting us in making travel and tour arrangement. There are several restaurants in either direction down the beach. It was at one of these that we had bungo juice.
The white sand beach is gorgeous and at low tide you can collect cowry and other shells, watch the crabs scuttling and the local people gathering snails, seaweed etc. It is a long way from the busy Stone Town but if you want a real getaway like we did it's perfect.
Unfortunately their website is not functioning. The phone number is 255-24-2240139.
Making the most of your visit.
When making plans to travel to Afrika there are some things to keep in mind.
If you go expecting find all the comforts and conveniences of US style hotels you will be disappointed. You must be willing to adjust and to adapt to your surroundings. Plumbing, electricity, and road conditions may be much different than you might be used to.
You can of course stay in expensive high end hotels and stick to the more tourist and westernized areas to avoid some of the inconveniences of typical plumbing and road conditions. You will however miss much of the true beauty of the region and the community.
So those were our favorites spots. I miss Mama Afrika already. I have been touched and changed in ways I am still trying to understand.
Have you been to the continent? I'd love to hear about it. Leave us a comment below, or for more lengthy conversation go to the members only forum section.