on the Women’s Voices for Change Blog
Janet studied & traveled in West Africa for almost a year in 1973. Her research took her to Ghana for 3 months & then to Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Benin, Nigeria, & across the Sahara to Algiers.
My first journey in West Africa remains a pivotal experience of my life and is still a source of inspiration and resonance for me. In Africa I was relieved to find, as I had suspected, that there are many ways to organize life.
What was I doing in West Africa in 1973, at the age of 20? You could say that I had nothing better to do. Really, I went on a whim. Dissatisfied with the limitations of academia, I was looking for a faraway place to study weaving. A woman from the Experiment in International Living told me on the phone that she could send me to Italy, Greece, Ireland, or Ghana for weaving. Although I had never been to any of those countries, I decided on the spot that Ghana was the place. I’m the kind of person who orders the unknown item on a menu. I knew that I could always get to Europe. I had been there once, in 1970, when I first found weaving in Denmark. But Africa had never occurred to me. I got off the phone excited and walked across the campus of Antioch College to the library to look up where this place was.
I was in Ghana for three months. The Experiment in International Living provided an excellent introduction to looking beyond my American cultural assumptions and entering another culture where most of what I had been raised to take for granted didn’t apply and was replaced with a new set of operating assumptions. In each system, some things seemed useful and others didn’t.
I stayed in Accra, getting my bearings and collecting visas for the journey ahead. Finally I got up my nerve and my visas and left Ghana for Lome, the capital of Togo. I traveled slowly north through Togo, meeting Togolese people from many different social strata, as well as French people. I bounced back and forth between European and African culture, eating fabulous French meals and then simple African meals of rice and sauce, staying in the homes of Europeans and then renting a room in the back of a Togolese bar. I traveled by getting rides or by taxis or trucks. Often my rides led to being invited to stay in someone’s home. I wandered around markets looking for new kinds of cloth and baskets and food that I had never seen before