I AM ME?

[A TRIP TO THE EASTERN REGION]

The road snaked up and around the mountains. I had taken that route too many times as part of my work with the International Programs Office of my university, yet that very journey felt brand new. I was wide awake, taking in the awesomeness of nature that spread ahead in a wide expanse. An unusual wave of sadness flooded my heart and a sob threatened to escape from the base of my tight throat. I held it back just in time.
I was on a bus full of white and African-American students my age. My presence felt loud and pronounced. I kept my eyes out the window, observing life whisk past me as we drove on. I knew I was going on a heavy journey. I felt it in my soul.

I looked back into the bus, allowed my gaze to fall on each blond, brunette, black, auburn head and smiled slightly. They are good people, all of them, I thought, and looked back out the window just in time to see them wave at us; a group of middle-aged men waved frantically at us. I wanted to shrink away, or turn invisible. Why did they wave? a voice in me asked and my heartbeat turned uncomfortably irregular. I closed my eyes. Why did they wave? the voice got louder and the lump in my even tighter throat began to swell. I closed my eyes and imagined myself anywhere but there. It all started coming to me then, not an answer, but more questions. They had always been out there – children, the young men and women, even the elderly. They had always been out there, waiting to see another of ‘heaven’s chariots’ pass, with the light it carried, so they could stand up and wave. It was as if that would bring them luck for the rest of the year or change their entire destinies. Why? The voice came back.

Stepping into the cocoa farm we had visited was a refreshing change from the air-conditioned bus we had stepped out from. The air was laced with earth, fallen leaves, trees and other fresh plants. It tasted like freedom on my lips.

“Ghana’s cocoa is the best ever, in terms of quality,”

the tour guide said, and a warm envelope of subtle pride settled over me. The sweetness of the pulp around the seeds I sucked on reminded me of French-kissing. An immediate eruption of bile filled my mouth and I spat out the seeds. I felt angry and guilty.
I averted my eyes from the heap of pods and away from the pale, tanned, bronze, milk-chocolate bodies.

I walked off back to the entrance of the farm and allowed the air to vacuum-clean my mind. I wanted to forget all those times I borrowed what was not mine.

Who are you, anyway? The voice asked again as the bus backed out from the entrance of the farm and I shuddered. I looked back sharply, wanting to scream out to the bus driver to stop so I go fetch myself back from the heart of the cocoa pods we split. I kept my mouth shut and looked ahead. It was too painful to look back. Besides, they were out there still, all of them, waving at heaven pass by. I was in heaven too. I definitely wasn’t me.

What would have happened if ships had never been invented? Africa would have been a different story, don’t you think?
We had got to the botanical gardens and the air had brought the questions back.
Well, they would have invented the airplane eventually, another part of me responded. It was meant to happen. I kicked at the leaves and sighed. Was it? I didn’t want to believe it. I tried to imagine another Africa. I struggled to think up a different story and I failed. I began to tremble visibly. It wasn’t from the hunger I felt. I needed more air. I needed to sit. A sob finally escaped and the trembling ceased. What would our story have been if the ships had not arrived on our shores? My colonized existence had no answer. I felt like an ‘Uncle Tom’.

Who are you, anyway? I was still hungry, but I had no appetite. Lunch was ready and plates were being emptied into stomachs around me. I had lost appetite somewhere in the middle of trying to figure out who I actually was. It was a desperate search that burned in my eyes, making them water.

Three women held up the whole continent, Africa – it was a beautiful carving. We were in the wood-carving village. I stood still, watching a young man, carve series of lines into red wood with precise hand movements. Who are they doing all this for? It was so much work making those beautiful carvings to portray Africa, but they all stood there in wait of the passing ‘mini-heavens’. The angels were the market. I passed my hand over the divisions in Africa and tried to imagine one big village without the boundaries. In my village, a long time ago, there were no boundaries. One child belonged to the entire village and so it was not uncommon to find that child being spanked by any elder at all in the village. Child discipline was everyone’s responsibility. There were no boundaries.
The divisions carved intricately into the outline of the continent felt alien. I wanted to cry again.
“How much is this?”

I asked the owner of the goods and regretted immediately that I hadn’t asked him in Twi. He responded in an accent that I couldn’t place. A weird almost-American accent. It sounded forced and it made my skin crawl. I feared my heart will stop. I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked back towards the bus, all the way knowing, that they were wondering in their heads whether I was one of them or not. Stepping back into ‘heaven’ made it all clear to them. She must be one of the lucky ones, I could sense them think.

You know if another of those slave ships docks at Tema Harbor right now, people will kill each other just to get on? They will give themselves up willingly. I wanted to scream at the voice in my head but I knew it would be baseless. They’d pack themselves tighter than sardines. It sounded like it was taunting me but what it said was true. It hit me hard and I lay back in my seat. One American Negro Spiritual came to mind.
Swing low, Sweet Chariot
Coming for to carry me home…

I looked over Jordan and what did I see…
Coming for to carry me home
A band of angels coming after me…
Coming for to carry me home

Swing low…
The melody soothed me as the bus snaked back down the mountains, and again, they waved. They waved at us – at me and at them. Their eyes said they wished they were in my place. My eyes held nothing. I didn’t know if I wanted to be in there in heaven with them or not. All I knew was that they waved. And it made me realize, as my throat slowly closed up completely and choked me into darkness, that I am me…and I am them.

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One thought on “I AM ME?

  1. I’ve got a smile on my face.

    “Who are you, anyway?” Ha! It must’be hurt! Badly.

    “She must be one of the lucky ones.”

    I’ve thought about this before: what would have happened if Africa wasn’t colonized? What would have been different?
    Or was it “bound” to happen?

    For some months now I’ve tried to collect my thoughts in a “container” of a title I “got” some few months back whiles thinking about why Africa can’t seem to get it right, to get things going well for us by ourselves mainly.

    Good read.

    Like

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