WI Bridge

From Roots to Glory

Members of Tour Group Reflect on Coronavirus Pandemic

As of March 22. the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has infected more than 300.000 people globally and claimed the lives of more than 13.000. Numerous countries, particularly those on the African continent, have since closed their borders and ceased international travel.

For some people, like Ada Anagho Brown of Roots to Glory Tours, the recent turn of events have called into question whether her company would continue to host seasonal trips to the Motherland for Afro-descendants seeking answers about their heritage.

Anticipated destinations for the spring and fall included Ghana. Benin. and Cameroon. all of which have reported at least one coronavirus case.

As Brown, who had just returned from a heritage tour, recalled to the WI Bridge. her most recent trip proved to be a huge undertaking — one she said she didn’t anticipate when reports of COVID-19 first came out of Wuhan. China in January. However, earlier this month, just days after Egypt became the first African country to report a coronavirus case. Brown saw the signs of what was to come when her tour group enjoyed ethnic cuisine at a restaurant in Senegal where servers wore masks and gloves.

When the Glory to Roots tour group crossed the Senegal-Gambia border, officials took tour group members’ temperatures. Even so, Brown’s continental excursion would continue to go without any hiccups — that was until participants watching the news heard President Donald J. Trump (R) banning travel to the United States from Europe. where the tour group had to make their connecting flight home.

Until they learned that only European nationals would be affected by Trump’s order, members of Brown’s entourage grew uncertain about whether they would make it home.

Eventually, they would return to the states unscathed, but not without seeing localized responses to the pandemic. “As we made our way to the airport heading home, it was that panicked feeling. Senegal’s president declared that he would close the airport, but Air France brought in airplanes. When we got to France, the airport was a ghost town,” Brown told WI Bridge.

“The only people there were Americans. We didn’t know what to expect landing in Dulles,” Brown continued, explaining what she described as key differences between how African nations and the U.S.government handled the pandemic.

“It was a hodgepodge of screenings. Officials asked us to fill out a form. We got another form then they asked us a few questions about where we had been, but no one took our temperature. We didn’t know how they decided. We felt there was more emphasis on this in Senegal. and that the Sengalese had been more adamant [about these procedures].”

Recent coronavirus cases in Africa have raised concerns about how countries with weak health care systems and patients reeling from HIV. tuberculosis and other chronic illnesses could handle further strain.

Long before African coronavirus cases surpassed 1,000, several nations have acted in quelling the spread of what has touched 34 African nations and claimed more than a dozen lives. For instance. Nigeria.the continent’s most populous country, announced it would shut down all incoming international flights for a month. This followed the cancellation of flights by Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways. Rwandan authorities relegated people to their homes, except in cases where they need to shop or seek health care. Angola also closed its land. air, and sea borders earlier in the month.

These developments follow a multimillion-dollar travel season during which people of African descent — particularly those of the millennial generation — visited African countries and established relationships with their counterparts on the continent.

Though Ghana’s Year of Return, a 400-year commemoration of the slave trade, spawned similar ideas for Diasporic excursions. Brown, via Roots to Glory Tours, had been on the cusp of this movement for nearly a decade.

In addition to Senegal, Gambia. Ghana, Benin, and Cameroon, countries on the Roots to Glory itinerary include Ethiopia, Côte-d’iVoire, Mali. Nigeria. Sierra Leone, and the Gullah Geechee regions of South Carolina and Florida. All of that, however, would more than likely come to a standstill in the midst of what has been declared a public health state of emergency.

Even so. Brown contends that current events haven’t stopped this ever-developing renaissance.

As a member of the most recent Roots to Glory tour group, Giovanni Sayles said he learned much about his ancestral connection to the Fulani. Balanta. and Mandingo people of modern-day Senegal. particularly as it relates to his lifelong love for the xylophone. a cultural export of the West African nation.

In the years since he started traveling to the African continent. Sayles. a nonprofit manager who lives in Seattle. has developed an appreciation for the Motherland. so much so that he aspires to visit all 54 nations.

For him, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on his future plans hasn’t been much of a concern because of Africans’ vast experiences in dealing with these public health matters.

“Americans can learn to take things a little more seriously,” Sayles said. “With Black people especially, we have to be more cautious because of our lack of healthcare, and not being taken seriously in clinics.

“We have to go to the extreme to take care of ourselves,” he said. “Also. if we paid more attention to what other countries are doing, we would be a lot better off.”

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