|The Door of No Return|
So I went, as much to piece together my mother's journey as to gain a different understanding of the journey of our ancestors. We are the seeds of the diaspora, the ones who traveled through the door of no return and survived the middle passage to become Americans. I think about this a lot, the Russian Roulette of what ifs and what could have been, who I might have been, what my life might be like had history took a different turn.The following is 500 words I wrote to capture a day of my trip:
Accra stretches out before me, flat and green, a byzantine lattice of red earth roads, colorful corrugated metal roofs and lush palm trees. The ancient blue minivan winds through traffic down streets flanked by markets stalls and houses with concrete patios. Vendors crowd in on all sides. Women carrying stacks of batik dyed fabrics or bundles of handmade crafts balanced on the tops of their heads, pass dangerously close to moving vehicles, walking tall and straight, natural models in every hue of flawless black and brown skin. The aroma of grilled kebabs fills the air. The driver buys a bag of fried plantain chips, but I’m too nervous to eat during the three hour drive to Cape Coast. Every few hundred yards we pass billboards of Barack and Michelle Obama left over from their visit last month, each heralding the royal Akwaaba (Welcome). And I have felt so welcome here, so invited, but Accra is easy, comfortable. I know instinctively Cape Coast will be different.
As the city recedes the ride gets bumpy. The sky expands and the roadside is littered with trees, shoeless children, and open air shops interspersed with large country compounds, and makeshift shacks constructed from cheap wood and tin. I wonder how many busses make this trip daily, ferrying countless other African Americans who, like me, have come to catch a glimpse of who they might have been had history not had other plans.
It is the week after Panafest, the annual celebration where members of the African Diaspora return to be blessed and make peace in the city that was the point of no return for thousands sold into slavery. We park just past the market, the same market where people were once sold. The van is surrounded by calls of “American sister, please come to my store.” “My kente is the best quality.” And I feel slightly ill, overwhelmed by the feeling that even now, everything is for sale. The sea is as gray as the sky, but the walls of the castle are so white, so freshly painted. I fight my way through the crowd to the entrance of Elmina Castle. Once through the entrance, the sounds disappear, the entourage falls away, unable to follow me inside the walls.
Have you ever been somewhere haunted? The salt air is laced with melancholy. The wind echoes through the open courtyard, the sounds of ocean filling the empty shell of the fortress. White walls, gray stones, black iron cannons anchored on ledges, and below the wrought iron bars of prison cells. Elmina Castle was built in 1482 by the Portuguese, then captured first by the Dutch, then by the British who relinquished their claim on it the year I was born, 1979, when UNESCO turned it into a World Heritage site. Despite its years as a museum, the stench of human feces and misery clings to the walls. There is no new paint inside the dungeons, no lights, just the ghosts of an irrevocable tragedy.
|Taken at Cape Coast after Panafest|
|View from the bus|
|Cape Coast Castle|
|Me and Mom in front of the Kwame Nkruma Memorial|