This essay is written as part of the #52essays2017 challenge initiated by Vanessa Martir. Currently we are on week 11 and I am on my 8th essay because life happens. Enjoy! I cheated a bit on this entry because I was feeling nostalgic about a trip I took in March, 2015 to Ghana. I am so grateful to have taken that trip and for the gifts that Ghana gave me.
In March of 2015, I had the amazing experience of traveling to Ghana with my daughter and a group from her school. We went as part of an after school program called Africans in the Diaspora, a group created by her amazing English teacher Keedra Gibba. In a predominantly white institution, this group served as a space for students to learn about the African Diaspora in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t have learned in class. A form of resistance, I would say. Keedra had a gift of teaching the children and being with them in ways to help them identify their strengths and encouraged ways to resist dominant paradigms. It was a once in a life time opportunity I knew I had to be a part of when there was a call to invite parents on the trip. On this snowy day I reflect on what a transformative trip it was and thought I would share a blog post I wrote while I was there.
Originally posted on the Pan African Youth website on March 19th, 2015. I encourage you to go on the website and read other entries by students and parents.
A Complex Day for Me
TODAY WAS A COMPLEX DAY FOR ME. WE VISITED THE NZULEZU STILT VILLAGE. THE NZEMA PEOPLE HAVE BEEN LIVING THERE SINCE THE 15TH CENTURY. I WAS EXCITED – THE THOUGHT OF IT – THAT IS. WE HAD TO BE AT BREAKFAST BY 6:30 AS WE HAD A THREE HOUR BUS RIDE AHEAD. ON THE RIDE TO THE BUS I CHATTED WITH SOME OF THE OTHER PARENTS ON THE BUS- WE LAUGHED, WE TOLD FAMILY STORIES AND WE LAUGHED SOME MORE. I FELT SO BLESSED TO BE WITH SUCH A WONDERFUL GROUP OF PEOPLE. WE EACH HAVE DISTINCT PERSONALITIES BUT SHARE THE PASSION OF RAISING OUR CHILDREN AND WANTING THEM TO BE AWARE OF THE RICHNESS OF THEIR HERITAGE AND IDENTITY. ON THE WAY TO THE VILLAGE, MS. GIBBA HAD EACH CHILD PAIR UP WITH THEIR PARENT OR AN ADULT CHAPERONE TO DISCUSS YESTERDAY’S EXPERIENCE. WHEN NYILAH SAT NEXT TO ME I STARED AT HER BEAUTIFUL BROWN EYES. THERE WAS SO MUCH I WANTED TO TELL HER ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE. MS GIBBA ASKED THE CHILDREN TO SHARE WITH US SOMETHING ABOUT THE TRIP TO THE CAPE COAST SLAVE CASTLE. NYILAH STARED AT ME WITH HER EYES WIDE OPENED AND SAID QUIETLY “I DON’T KNOW.”
AS PARENTS, SOMETIMES OUR CHILDREN DON’T ANSWER QUESTIONS WE POSE IN THE WAY WE MIGHT WANT THEM TO. I THOUGHT SHE WOULD HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY AFTER SUCH A LONG DAY. WHILE THE WORDS SPOKEN, “I DON’T KNOW” SAID ONE THING, HER EYES SAID ANOTHER. HER EYES REVEALED MANY THOUGHTS – IT SPOKE OF DISBELIEF, ANGER, UNCERTAINTY AND CONNECTION. NYILAH’S “I DON’T KNOW”, IN RETROSPECT SAID MORE TO ME THAN SHE WILL EVER KNOW. THE TRUTH IS THAT I TOO, AM STILL HAVING DIFFICULTY FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS TO EXPRESS MYSELF REGARDING YESTERDAY’S EXPERIENCE.
“WHAT DO THE STUDENTS PLAN ON PRESENTING TO THEIR ADVISORY GROUPS?” ASKED MS. GIBBA. “I WANT THEM TO KNOW ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN THOSE SLAVE DUNGEONS.” WHEN I ASKED HER WHAT SHE OBSERVED IN BOTH DUNGEONS, SHE LOOKED AT ME AGAIN WITH THOSE EXPRESSIVE BROWN EYES AND SAID, “MOM, YOU SAW WHAT I SAW – YOU WERE THERE TOO.” INDEED I WAS AND FEEL GRATEFUL FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE THIS ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE WITH HER. I LOOK FORWARD TO MORE CONVERSATIONS IN THE FUTURE AS WE START TO UNPACK OUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ABOUT THIS SOJOURN.
AFTER SUCH A DEEP CONVERSATION SOME PARENTS AND CHILDREN SHARED THEIR EXPERIENCES AND WE ARRIVED AT OUR DESTINATION. EACH OF US PUT ON LIFE JACKETS TO BOARD OUR CANOES. THE BOAT I WAS IN WAS AT A DISADVANTAGE AS WE HAD BUT ONE OAR. HOWEVER WE HAD A HECK OF A GUIDE AND OUR SUNSEEKERS TOUR GUIDE LED THE BOAT. THE CANOE WAS FILLED WITH FOUR DYNAMIC WOMEN. WE TALKED ABOUT A RANGE OF TOPICS AND LAUGHED EVEN WHEN OUR CANOE FILLED WITH WATER. AT ONE POINT, WE HAD TO STOP, GET OUT OF OUR CANOES AND OUR GUIDE REMOVED THE WATER OUT OF THE CANOE. WE QUICKLY MADE IT BACK INTO THE CANOE AND PURSUED PERSISTENTLY. WITH ONE OAR AND GREAT ENERGY, WE MADE IT TO THE — STILT VILLAGE. WHEN WE GOT THERE I COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES. THERE WERE LONG STILTS AND WOODEN HOUSES BUILT ON TOP OF THEM. BEFORE WE DOCKED I SAW TWO SMALL CHILDREN THAT COULDN’T BE MORE THAN 7 YEARS OLD DOCK THEIR CANOES AND JUMP ONTO THE VILLAGE. I CLIMBED OUT OF THE CANOE AND COULDN’T HELP BUT FEEL A CERTAIN WAY. HERE WE WERE A GROUP OF STUDENTS AND FAMILIES FROM NEW YORK CITY VISITING THE STILT VILLAGE – WHAT A JUXTAPOSITION! IT FELT INTRUSIVE GOING INTO THIS COMMUNITY AND LOOKING AROUND, GAWKING AT PEOPLE WHILE THEY WERE GOING ABOUT THEIR DAILY LIVES. IT MADE ME FEEL LIKE WE WERE SOMEHOW INFRINGING ON THEIR RIGHTS. IT FELT SIMILAR TO WHEN I SEE TOURISTS ON THE BUS DRIVING THROUGH TO SEE HOW THE NATIVES OF NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC HOUSING LIVE THEIR LIVES. I DIDN’T FEEL RIGHT ABOUT IT ALTHOUGH I WAS INTRIGUED BY THE HUMBLENESS AND SIMPLICITY OF THE PEOPLE.
WE WALKED ALONG THE MAIN STREET PEERING INTO THE HOMES OF THE PEOPLE. THERE WERE BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN OF ALL AGES SITTING ON THE SIDE OF THE MAIN ROAD. SOME WAVED HELLO WHILE OTHERS STARED AT US. THERE WERE ADULTS COOKING ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE ON WHAT LOOKED LIKE STOVES MADE OUT OF WOOD AND COAL. ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE MAIN STREET WERE WHERE PEOPLE SLEPT AND RELAXED. WE OBSERVED SOME CHILDREN AND ADULTS SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR, BOTH INSIDE THE HOMES AND OFF OF THE MAIN STREET. ONE OF THE FASCINATING THINGS I SAW WERE THESE TWO BEAUTIFUL BABY GIRLS, WITH PIERCED EARRINGS THAT WERE SITTING UPRIGHT ON THE MAIN ROAD. I STEPPED AROUND THE BABIES AND ALMOST TRIPPED ON A PIECE OF WOOD IN THE FLOOR PANELING. THE FAMILIES LOOKED AFTER THEM FROM AFAR AND SOME OF US WERE WORRIED THAT THE BABIES WOULD TRY TO RUN TO THE EDGE WHERE THEY WOULD EASILY FALL INTO THE WATER. THE BABIES SAT IN ONE PLACE, LOOKED UP AT US AND SMILED. THEY WERE PROBABLY THE ONLY RESIDENTS THAT GAVE US WELCOMING SMILES AS EVERYONE ELSE WAS DISTANT AND LOOKED IRRITATED. SOME RESIDENTS MADE SMALL CANOES AND SOLD THEM FOR 5 CEDIS, AN EQUIVALENT OF ABOUT $1.50. WE SAW ONE OF THE ELDERS MAKING THE CANOE ON THE WAY IN.
SOME OF THE HOMES’ DOORS WERE OPEN AND I WAS ABLE TO OBSERVE DISHEVELED FURNITURE, STACKED SUITCASES AND TV SCREENS IN SOME HOMES. THE CHILDREN PLAYED AND TALKED ALONG THE MAIN ROAD AS WELL. SOME CHILDREN WERE CLOTHED. SOME WERE NOT. THE VILLAGE HAD MANY STAPLES THAT ANY OTHER PLACE WOULD HAVE – A BEAUTY PARLOR, CHURCHES, A BAR, A FEW MERCHANTS SELLING TREATS AND A SCHOOL. I DID MY BEST TO GREET THE RESIDENTS WITHOUT EXPOSING THEM TO THE MIXED FEELINGS I WAS EXPERIENCING. I WAS HAPPY FOR THE ADVENTURE OF TAKING A 90 MINUTE CANOE RIDE TO A VILLAGE ON A STILT BUT FELT AS IF WE WERE INTERRUPTING THEIR DAILY ROUTINES FOR OUR SATISFACTION. I LEARNED EARLIER THAT A DEAL WAS MADE WITH THE TOURING COMPANY AND THE VILLAGE WHERE THE VILLAGE RECEIVED MONEY AND IN KIND DONATIONS IN RETURN FOR ALLOWING VISITORS.
FINALLY WE WERE USHERED INTO A COMMON AREA WHERE THERE WERE BENCHES FOR US TO SIT. ONE OF THE GUIDES SHARED THE HISTORY OF HOW THIS COMMUNITY CAME TO BE. THEY WERE A PEOPLE WHO TRAVELED FROM MALI RUNNING FROM TRIBAL WAR AND SLAVERY AND EVENTUALLY SETTLED IN THE CURRENT LOCATION. MS. GIBBA CALLED THIS A METHOD OF RESISTANCE ON THE BUS. THERE WERE TWO RESIDENTS: A MALE AND FEMALE WHO REPRESENTED THE VILLAGE. THROUGH INTERPRETERS THEY ANSWERED QUESTIONS AND ENDED THE MEETING WITH A CALL TO ACTION FOR DONATIONS FOR A MEDICAL CLINIC AND TO INCREASE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEIR CHILDREN. SOME OF US MADE DONATIONS ON OUR WAY OUT THE DOOR. THE STRENGTH IN THEIR EYES AND THE LEADERSHIP IN THEIR VOICES REMINDED ME OF THE DETERMINATION AND SELF DETERMINATION WE HAVE AS A PEOPLE TO SUCCEED IN EVEN THE MOST DESTITUTE OF SITUATIONS.
ON THE WAY BACK TO THE BUS LOCATION, I HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE A MOTOR BOAT. WHILE THERE WAS LAUGHTER AND ENGAGING DIALOGUE AMONGST US, THERE WAS AN UNSPOKEN SERIOUSNESS THAT SHARED THE SPACE WITH US. WE GOT OFF THE BOAT, WALKED 10 MINUTES TO A RESTAURANT TO GET A COOL DRINK AND REFLECT ON WHAT WE HAD JUST EXPERIENCED.
IT’S ONLY DAY 5 IN GHANA AND ALREADY I FEEL LIKE I WILL BE LEAVING WITH SO MANY INTANGIBLE TREASURES. ONE OF THEM OF COURSE IS SHARING THIS EXPERIENCE WITH MY DAUGHTER AND AN AMAZING GROUP OF CHILDREN AND ADULTS!