I fondly think of travelling as a significant rite of personal learning. Whether I am travelling for fun, work, visitation, or adventure, I always have my teachable hat on. It’s a habit I picked from my textual analysis classes as a Literature major. One common trope in literary analyses is the “Journey Motif” – where moving from one place to another is seen as coming-of-age, representing personal growth, self-discovery, or transformation. That’s why I was excited and invested in every little detail of our travel and what I could learn when I joined members of our team on a 2-Day WomenRise regional workshop in West Africa that was held at the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation Research at the University of Ghana on August 8-9, 2023.
So, when I had the opportunity to give feedback about our trip at our monthly stakeholder meeting to our Nigerian and Canadian teams, I talked about five things I had taken away from our journey to Ghana:
a) I was inspired by Our Lead Postdoctoral Fellow’s presentations: Conferences are widely perceived to be a parade of the best of minds discussing ideas, innovations and initiatives targeted towards making the world a better place. Yet, it is not just the ideas shared but the way that they are delivered that could make a mark and leave one inspired. I loved Iyeyinka’s presentations for the team on both days. Iyeyinka Kusi-Mensah is the Lead Postdoctoral Fellow on our project. She was brilliant, articulate and very measured in her presentations. I returned home with a newfound determination to enhance my speaking skills. With other members of the team, I combed through enlightening TEDTalks, gathering valuable insights on what one can do to improve their speaking skills, such as practising effective body language, refining vocal tone and modulation, and crafting compelling stories and talking points to engage as well as captivate the audience.
b) The shared similarity between the host university and my alma mater: Our host institution, the University of Ghana reminded me so much of the University of Ibadan. The vast landmass of both campuses is adorned with stately buildings of architectural grandeur; lush greenery, serene gardens and tree-canopied pathways. Walking in the University of Ghana felt like I was in the same spectacle of academic tradition and excellence as my alma mater. Across borders and cultures, both institutions shared a common commitment to cultivating an environment that nurtured intellectual growth and appreciation for aesthetics.
c) Travelling with the team was a team bonding exercise: Our journey served as an opportunity to forge deeper connections with my fellow team members, beyond the formalities of office interactions. On our first night in Accra, the team went in search of dinner together as we had arrived very late in the evening and the restaurant at the hotel where we were lodging had closed. Walking along the dimly-lit streets under the shy moon as it was nearing midnight is an experience seared in my memory. Another memorable experience was a friendly walk I shared with the Programme Coordinator, Timothy Ibe, during which we engaged in an evening chat about personal matters and our aspirations for our beloved country, Nigeria. On the last day of the event, our exploratory curiosity extended to the heart of Accra, where we wanted to feel the pulse of the city’s vibrant atmosphere. During those moments, we found ourselves musing about the unique aspects of Ghana. When we were returning to our hotel, our Ghanaian driver played Afrobeat songs from famed Nigerian artists throughout the journey. It wasn’t to cater to our tastes because the songs were on even before we entered the car. I thought briefly of how Nigerian songs, like other cultural products, have become our greatest exports in recent times. It seems Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy might be thriving better and farther than its public diplomacy has taken us in recent years.
d) We made a statement: Our conspicuous presence was unmistakable as we donned matching uniforms on both days of the training. Our dressing caught the attention of the other conference participants and someone remarked: “Everywhere Nigerians are, they always put up a show.” We also had a diverse and inclusive team represent the project, which included the Principal Investigator, Lead Postdoctoral Fellow, Programme Coordinator, and the Communications and Research Uptake Manager. We also had a Policy Maker and a Self-employed Woman Consultant, symbolizing the essential involvement of key stakeholders in our project.
e) The Principal Investigator is definitely an African mother: From the moment we left Ibadan, I knew the shadow of an assured presence was hovering over us. As soon as we arrived at the Muritala Muhammed airport in Lagos, her maternal instincts kicked in, and it meant the world to us. She went above and beyond, ensuring that our boarding process was seamless and that all questions regarding the travelling team at the airport checkpoint were promptly answered. But it didn’t stop there. She shared cookies, drinks, and food with us. Her unwavering concern for our welfare and well-being was evident. During the workshop, she remained a constant presence, watching over us like a mother hen, ensuring that we were comfortable, well looked after, and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. She possessed the finesse and charisma of an African mother who seemed to proudly say: “My children are here, and I am responsible for the happiness of every single one of them.”
As it turned out, we were able to capture different moments from our Ghana trip here and the team had the good luck of speaking to Tara Fela-Durotoye, a self-employed woman who is the founder of House of Tara International, a leading cosmetics company in Nigeria, about our project. I had unknowingly sat beside her on the flight from Accra back to Lagos.
This was definitely a brilliant trip I would love to experience one more time – with the team of course!
Communications and Research Uptake Manager