Did you ever think it was possible to travel from Germany to Ghana by road? That is exactly what Suse Beck and Andrea Hope have done. When Suse floated the idea of traveling from Berlin to Ghana by road, in the twenty-year old Volkswagen Golf she inherited from her grandfather, many would blink in disbelief. Well, the Golf is not known for taking part in the Dakar Rally. But what Suse and Andrea achieved with their twenty-year old Golf was amazing. So what actually inspired them? In three words: adventure, friendship and sustainability.
To be sure, such an adventure is laden with uncertainties, risks and fears. The route from Berlin to Accra travels through plains, deserts, and forests. It spanned no less than eleven countries, each of which presented unique challenges. There are jagged and rugged roads. So it must require a substantial mental forte to venture into this adventure. So why did Suse and Andrea risk it?
Suse explained: “Actually there were many reasons to be here. First I have an NGO here with my friends together”. What exactly was that NGO about? “My passion is permaculture. I’m very interested in sustainable development”, she says. And Suse has an NGO in Ghana completely dedicated to permaculture. “We have a farm project going now, a permaculture project. We want to do more sustainable development and agriculture because it’s very important that we plant sustainably.”
Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living. It is a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere. As Suse explains, her passion is developing an agricultural system that uses natural resources for nourishment as opposed to external sources such as chemicals. “You see Europe has a problem now with contaminated soil. Europe has a big problem because we’re using too many chemicals and others.” Suse sees permaculture as the solution and she thinks Africa must learn from Europe’s situation.
That is why Suse joined this special NGO dedicated to permaculture. Already they have a farm project in Koforidua. She sees this project as a major stepping stone for a broader awareness campaign against chemical contamination of the soil. This was Suse’s heartbeat, a major reason why she longed to see Africa once more.
But Suse and Beck could have chosen another route to Africa. They would probably have chosen a safe and short flight. So why the gruelling road trip? Well, Suse’s heart beats for friendship, and this includes friendship for her grandfather’s twenty-year old Volkswagen Golf!
“I love Golf!”, Suse says. “My grandfather obviously always bought golf, so for my grandfather, it’s like this was the only car for him.” And Suse loves to drive. Touring the vast expanse of Africa in her grandfather’s twenty-year old Golf was therefore a surreal adventure for her. And she had her friend, Andrea, for good company.
Suse’s confidence in the Volkswagen Golf wasn’t just based on friendship and emotional attachment however. “It’s a good strong car and I love this car too much. This is why I choose it, because this car would never leave me alone,” she says. And Suse’s faith did not go unrewarded. The Golf indeed took them on the long road from Germany to Ghana: a Dakar Rally in its own right, a wonderful achievement.
Suse and Andrea are free-lancing photographers who first met at a photo training in Berlin years ago. Since then, their friendship has blossomed and now they feel as though they are sisters, Suse recalls with a lot of laughs. They were a perfect match for this adventure of friendship. As Suse recollects, their journey by land allowed them to connect with many friends in different countries in Africa too.
“We have friends in Morocco; we actually met friends in Mauritania; we met so many friends on our roads and also my friends I have not seen many years. We visited Senegal; we went to Gambia. I have family in Gambia, you know it’s like I call them family because they’re more than friends”. Suse and Andrea had a good adventure visiting all these important friends in several countries to learn of their experiences and the projects they were working on.
For Suse, there was a special connection to Africa. She had lived in Africa five years, and she was eager to find out what had changed since she left. “I wanted to find out how Africa changed because I haven’t been here for six years now.” And she did not trust the Western media’s reportage of Africa. A first-hand experience was what she sought.
So Suse and Andrea started their adventure from Germany. After driving through France and Spain, they took a ferry from Spain to Morocco via the Strait of Gibraltar. They crossed from Morocco into Western Sahara, and from there to Mauritania. From there, they went through Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and finally Ghana. And Suse and Beck have a basketful of memories from this trip, some testing, others hilarious. But each of these helped enriched their perspectives on life.
Suse recalls one particular incident on the border between Guinea and Ivory Coast. Suse and Andrea had run into trouble with border authorities over visa issues and they had to put a call through to clarify the issue. Well, it was a remote border post and there was no network connection or internet nearby. In her quest to make that important phone call, Suse had to leave Andrea and the Golf on the border and head for the next village. There, to Suse’s amazement, she had to join a queue to use to use an old school phone powered by a car battery.
But rather than being perplexed, Suse saw the brighter side of it. “It was weird because I also had to put myself in the line and wait to make a phone call”, she said with a lot of laughs. “But it also shows how creative people could be in solving problems”, she continued. “There was no solution for them because they cannot use phones, no nothing, you know. But some guy would just find something and make it possible for people to make a phone call. That was also incredible for me.”
There were many takeaways for Suse and Andrea from this trip. For Suse, it shows that racial prejudices and stereotypes could be overcome when we rely on our own experiences rather than on hearsay from the media or friends. “Well, if there’s any single important lesson I’ve learnt from this adventure, then it’s that, I would not listen to anybody again in my life. I would always listen to myself”, she notes.
“I know now, that it’s very important we should not look and get advice from outside. Sometimes it’s better to get advice from yourself, from your inside. And this is what I found out on this trip because I know we got a lot of wrong information through internet about what is going on in some countries. Some people wrote a lot of bad things about some African people which is also not correct because we don’t see it this way.”
She continues, “In every country you have bad and good people. This is normal, you know. There are a lot of bad people in Germany too, you know. So now from our own experience, we found beautiful people, lovely people, helpful people, you know. So I know I don’t have to listen to anybody anymore. Everyone one only has to listen to themselves.” So Suse says the adventurous trip has served to broaden their horizons to appreciate and embrace human diversity, more than before.
And it inspired them and others to challenge and overcome their fears, and Suse and Andrea clearly relished the results of their trip. “Many people called us to say, our adventure has inspired them to overcome their own fears.”
And it inspired everyone at Volkswagen Ghana too, when Suse and Andreas paid a courtesy call to the company’s premises. As Mr Kevin Ackerberg, General Manager of After Sales at Volkswagen Ghana aptly put it, “The Volkswagen Golf has come home.”
And indeed it has. Suse, Andreas and their twenty-year old Volkswagen Golf have indeed scripted a beautiful story of friendship and adventure. They can all be proud of themselves.