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SeeingHappy In Africa


a blog by Lulu Carter

In 2003, my husband Adam and I explored West Africa, traversing the diverse landscapes of Ghana as part of our travel business dedicated to managing educational programs for American universities worldwide. One remarkable day, we found ourselves in the enchanting village of Torgome by the Volta River, a surprise orchestrated by my husband who understood my deep appreciation for meeting locals and immersing ourselves in their cultures.

This village was a true gem, reminiscent of a National Geographic story. With around 200 vibrant inhabitants adorned in colorful garments, they eagerly welcomed us. I was profoundly moved as I witnessed their humble homes and schools constructed from straws, mud, and wood atop clay floors. Departing from Torgome, I carried with me a sense of transformation that would last a lifetime.

Three months later, a call from a longstanding client, Semester at Sea, presented a unique opportunity. Unable to navigate the Suez Canal, they sought a new destination. Without hesitation, I suggested Ghana, with Torgome as one of their programs. Eager to welcome the ship, I flew to Ghana and stood on the Tema Port sidewalk, awaiting the arrival of the vessel carrying college students. The sight brought me immense joy, a profound sense of purpose, and accomplishment.

In 2012, I found myself unexpectedly offered the title of Queen Mother by one of the organizers, Daniel. The role of a queen mother in a village is very special and important since queen mothers are the ones to help in major decisions for the village, like education, health and wealth of their community sharing responsibilities with the chiefs.

Puzzled and surprised, I questioned my eligibility as a white woman from Brazil. However, they chose me based on my commitment to their village, transcending the color of my skin. The ceremony, witnessed by my son Mateus, marked a special moment where I became a mother of a village in Africa. I felt I was marrying the village.

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019 disrupted lives globally, canceling university programs and restricting travel. I couldn’t go anywhere, and I missed my African village so much! We were not communicating at all, only the pictures photographed at the village united us. The passing of their chief added to the collective grief, and positive psychology became my anchor during these challenging times. 

Fast forward to 2023, after more than 8 months of global travel, I revisited Torgome. This occurred amidst the conflict and war in the Middle East, a stark contrast to the warmth and joy I experienced in the village. Surrounded by beautiful women in colorful dresses, I felt the positive energy of life. The embrace of my village people, the songs, the dances, and the connection with the land made me feel alive and at home. The children calling me ‘Mama Lulu’ was a tremendous honor.

Sitting with the chiefs, immersed in the beat of their drums, I felt a profound sense of place. The love for the Volta region, its clay floors, birds, and river, echoed the sentiments of my motherland, Brazil. Falling in love with the world again, the healing power of the village people became evident. As we prayed together for peace and a better future, I envisioned a world where judgment based on skin color, religion, or politics was replaced by unity and happiness. The village became a sanctuary, a place where humanity could unite in peace and celebrate our shared existence.

When I visited Torgome, I felt immediately connected to their people– When in your life have you felt that immediate connection? And why? Who in your life makes you happy? (could be a pet, people, other).

Lulu Carter

Born in São Paulo, Maria Luisa ‘Lulu’ Carter began her professional career in education, the arts, and community service in Rio de Janeiro, before moving first to Europe and then to the United States 26 years ago. With degrees from Brazil in speech therapy, art and psychodrama, and a Master’s Degree in science and education from Southern Connecticut State University, Lulu views the world through an eclectic and multicultural prism. Lulu has initiated projects that combine education, community service, and the arts throughout the world – including the Amazon, Haiti, Ghana and Bhutan. Lulu is the co-founder of Destination Partners, a travel management company that works with American universities, nonprofits and institutions focused on the science of happiness.

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