I went back to see BraSibi again two days after our first visit, which also happened to be Christmas Day (a holiday I was confident BraSibi would not be observing). The night before, on Christmas Eve, I had gone to a local group’s drum and dance performance at Big Milly’s, the old guesthouse, and I had stayed out way, way too late afterwards because, well, as much as I had kept to myself during this writing retreat… it is impossible to not make friends in Ghana. (The show itself was pretty fabulous – I was especially impressed by the acrobatic and contortion portion, during which I witnessed a few young men doing very advanced yoga postures – but while also balancing atop another man’s head!) Now the physical exhaustion I felt from staying up ridiculously late was added to an emotional exhaustion that lingered in the wake of all the intense crying I had been doing after my first visit with BraSibi, and since it seemed he had been the key to unlocking my emotions here, I was steeling myself for another potent experience.
But in this second visit, it seemed our emotions had already been spent and settled, the shock of seeing each other having passed; and, having already communed over the past we both knew, we did not dwell on it now. I found myself able, now, to share with BraSibi all the things I had wanted to say upon first meeting with him – the assurances I had wanted to give him that I was ok, that my life was good – but that I had not been able to express due to the rising tide of emotion keeping me from speaking openly, for fear of being thrown by an enormous wave of tears. Now, dry-eyed, we agreed that “all is good,” and we smiled softly, easily, as we talked about what had been happening in our lives over the past eighteen years. And even after we finally did talk a bit about Koro and some of the less fortunate things that had happened back then, the summation of our experience was still that life is indeed good. “You can’t help it,” BraSibi sighed, remembering the way things ended; things are the way they are; and “we give it to God…”
BraSibi and I talked plenty, but after saying all I had originally wanted to say, it really didn’t matter what we talked about – it just felt good to be in his presence, to be in each other’s presence, to be standing there communing with the one person on this earth who maybe knew a little bit what it was like for me and Koro, the only person who ever really saw our life together out at the shack. BraSibi had loved us. And I still felt that love now.
As we talked, I watched the sun sinking behind the little mountain, as I had loved to do every day out at the shack. And by the time true darkness was approaching, it felt that there was nothing left to say, and that I could leave Kokrobite feeling complete. I could go now. I was satisfied. “All is good.” When BraSibi and I said our sweet goodbyes, they felt final, and I knew, finally, that, while one never knows what the future has in store, I did not feel a need to ever return to Kokrobite.
…To be perfectly honest, and perfectly blunt, by now my journal was becoming filled with profanities concerning how much I now hated this place – because of "ALL THE F***ING NOISE." This had been another topic of conversation between BraSibi and me – the changes that had come to the area and the fact that Kokrobite had become far too loud now – too many people and just TOO MUCH NOISE. The main issue was that the guesthouses on the beach and the bars on the road all pumped out the music so loud that it was beyond my understanding how it could possibly be enjoyable for anyone; and at the AirBnB, I was located right in the middle of it all, in a cacophony of sound, which even my best, freshest earplugs, shoved as deep as they could go into my ears, could not completely block, and which had been increasing in intensity as the days built up to Christmas. It was a pretty extreme situation – I was lucky if the blaring music (and never music I actually liked) would come to a close by midnight or one in the morning, and occasionally, on a weekend, it would go all throughout the entire night, until the birds began to sing their own songs to the sunrise, the thumping bass sometimes even interrupting that, bright and early in the morning. …For someone who loves peace and quiet, and who is also an extremely light sleeper (I tend to sleep with earplugs even in quite quiet environments, if there’s anything electrical going on in the vicinity), Kokrobite was not at all a good fit for me.
I still loved Ghana. I loved the way I could live there. I loved the way I could BE there. But as for Kokrobite… while a week before, on a blissfully relatively quiet day, I had been considering staying longer, by now I could not wait to get out; and while I was very thankful I had finally made it back, I did feel, quite definitively, that I wanted to leave it behind me, and to not come back again.
On my last day in Ghana, I took one more walk down to my old neighborhood. I walked through the property of the old, abandoned hotel, AAMA, where BraSibi had been a night watchman; and happily finding myself completely alone there, I wandered down to its private little beach. And there, by the ocean, where I always feel Koro so strongly, I said my goodbye. Loving my life, and loving Koro, always, I knew that it was time now, for me to move on more fully - always a bit more fully, it seems, as we continue along our way...
It took a full night as well as the following morning to drain the fountain of tears that had welled up inside of me upon seeing BraSibi. And all the while, as I cried and held myself, I wrote.
The following is some of that writing, which came through in the morning. I feel I should just give you this one raw, straight out of my journal – no rewrites, no cleaning it up, no additional thoughts – just the flow of emotion, in all its bare honesty, finally pouring out.
What can I say? I love honesty. And when people are 100% real. And 100% open. So… my turn – here we go…
* * *
Monday, 24 DEC 2018
Ok. Must get out of bed and try to get a lot of work done today. And 3rd Series before it is too too hot…
There’s still so much to do here, particularly with the writing work, but I am eager to get through my time here… And just go experience Guinea. And see what happens there. And then go home.
My life has moved on. Right? Are you starting to doubt that? Are you starting to doubt all you felt earlier, just last week? How much you have moved on?
It just all came back so hard-core upon seeing BraSibi.
I don’t know that I will ever “move on” completely. What does that even mean?
BraSibi reminded me how there’s no one like Koro, there has never been anyone like Koro around here, “so clever, so bright…” And it’s true, I have never met anyone who comes even close to being like Koro. And I loved him fully, and I lost him, and I can still feel the absolute vastness of that loss. And in order to keep living, and to keep finding joy and contentment in this life, I have to be okay with that. I have to simply be okay with that. And as BraSibi also reminded me (and as the people of Ghana assured me again and again last time I was here, when so many villagers approached me, knowing of my loss, knowing of Koro – people I had never met before, all consoling me, all telling me… that it is God’s way – “give it to God…”), I have to trust that this is “God’s way” – because what other way could it be? God is in All. Even in the hardship, the suffering – it is all the Divine unfolding, whether we can see it or not… whether we realize it or not…
Again it is the same as before – yes, there is the vastness – an eternity of oceans’ worth of vastness – of loss, and yes it is still there inside me, popping up from time to time – full force yesterday upon seeing BraSibi. But also it is the same as before in that I wake up every morning, and I am still alive.
It took a very long time to find contentment. I have never again experienced a love so deep and full and WHOLE as that I experienced with Koro, have never found anything that has come even close. I can see that so clearly in this moment because yesterday BraSibi brought it all back for me – just seeing him, talking with him, feeling also his vast and deep love for his friend Koro… it reminded me more than I have been reminded for a very long time of who Koro was, and how utterly vast was the love I experienced with him. …But while Koro lost his life and I lost my life with Koro, again… just as it was before, I still, unavoidably, have my life. So what can I do but do something with it? You wake each morning, you continue on each day. You do your practices, because they bring you joy. It is enough because it needs to be enough.
Oh yes, it’s all coming out now – the fountain of tears…
Geez louize, now I wish I brought more handkerchiefs…
I thought if anything, I would feel so much out at the land. But I was not expecting to see BraSibi. And the land was changed – the land has moved on – nothing is the same but the foundation of the shack, and that damn “fridge.” Everything else has grown and gone its own way. My friends the trees do not remember me – they have grown too high to see me, or to be able to feel me on them. The little paths we used to traverse through the site have been overgrown through lack of use, our tomato beds are gone, the papaya trees are gone, and to boot there is a big house now and a road crossing over where our path up to the shack used to be – in short, all – almost all – has changed.
But in BraSibi’s heart, nothing has changed. His love for his dear friend is as big as ever, it has remained unchanged, and seeing that, feeling that, brought back my awareness, full force, of the same inside of me.
My life has gone on – and now I have “a life,” where I had none before, but still, for me, deep inside, nothing has changed. Because Love, this Divine Force, LOVE – it is the one constant, the One, Unchanging, the Divine Element, the Divine Force, the Divine Creation, the Divine. The Divine was all that remained when I lost Koro, when everything changed for me – the Divine was the one thing that remained unchanged, a constant, still there for me. And that Divine Force, that Divine Element, that Power, is Love.
Today, Monday, the day of Christmas Eve, I will do my work. I will meditate and practice Third Series and pranayama; I will give my body some orange juice and most likely some fruit; I will work on some of the blogs I have open about my experience in Ghana, will try in particular to come close to completion with the first one, “Arrival in Ghana, Then and Now,” now that I am nearing the end of my stay here; and I will try to go back down to the beach outside Big Milly’s to thank the Rasta who brought me out to meet Ernest yesterday, whom I found myself too exhausted to visit and thank last night like I should have done. I will go to see BraSibi again probably tomorrow, not today, I will feel what I feel, I will write about it and will most likely shed more tears, and a couple days after that I will pack up my things, have a predictably sleepless night, and then leave for Accra at the crack of dawn to catch an early morning flight to Guinea. I will wait through my five-hour layover, and when, God-willing, I arrive at the airport in Conakry, I will be predictably so very happy to see Alisco. And then a new adventure, a whole new experience, will begin…
And God-willing I will also eventually go home to the warm embrace of my mother and her house, and then on to feel the love of my community in Santa Cruz, the members of which I know will be so happy to see me and to have me back in class with them. And though my fountain of tears is springing forth anew as I write these words, I know I will be so happy to see them all, to see Kris and Oumou and Rachel and Randee and Lilah and Kumiko and SARITA and Roman and Aaron and eventually Cici and Tomoko and Andrea and Paige and so many others that I will stop listing them now or else this will go on for ages… I will feel their love and maybe, just maybe, all those pieces, all those bits and pieces of love that come at me from so many sources, from so many loved ones… maybe it will add up to enough, to fill that vastness, to keep me afloat in the sea of my heart, riding the waves of love from one day to the next, finding the joy and the contentment to continue on in this life, in this same life, as I have done every day for these past 18 years…
* * *
…I know I said I wanted to give you this one raw – no rewrites, no additional thoughts, etc., but I do want to add just one more thing, one more thought/feeling that was put into words after this was written, which is that, by the last paragraph of that outpouring, I was feeling a deep ache that I could only interpret as a painful joy of moving on… It felt as if love, bright and fresh, was finding its way into that very vulnerable sore spot lying in the deepest, darkest depths of my heart, and that the contact it made produced a good pain, a healthy pain…
As we headed back to Kokrobite after leaving BraSibi, I sat quietly in the backseat of Ernest’s car. The tears that had been welling up inside of me during my visit with BraSibi weighed heavily on me – in me, actually, and now I was just waiting for my chance to be alone and let them loose. But when we stopped at the tiny store on the corner of the main road and the road on which I lived, very near my house, where Ernest got out to deliver the little boy who had been with us to his mother, I followed Jahfar’s lead and stayed in the car. And when, a minute later, we drove right past my home at the AirBnB, I did not mention this fact, as I made it a rule to never tell any Ghanaian man where I lived. And so I continued on with these two, down to Big Milly’s. The entire area down there was now so crowded that it was startling; the road was fully lined on both sides with parked cars, and there were people everywhere. And there was noise everywhere – music blaring from too many different places, each one crying for attention.
I was ready to go my own way, but after Ernest parked the car and we all three stepped out together, it seemed, as we looked a little questioningly at one another, that our time together was not yet over. I didn’t know if Ernest wanted to talk or what, and maybe he felt the same from me – none of us seemed to have any clear intention. For my part, after all the time both of these men had given me, and the kindness they had shown me, I certainly didn’t want to be rude. And so we all walked slowly together, as if unsure of each next step, into Big Milly’s yard, where we continued to take each step slowly as we looked around at the busy scene before us. One of them asked me if I wanted to sit, but besides not wanting to commit to so much more time here that a table would be involved, there was a band playing with far too loud a sound system. When I said no, that it was too loud for me, Jahfar happily led us out to the beach, where he clearly felt most comfortable. But the beach was overwhelming, too, now more crowded than I had ever seen it, so bustling with people and little pop-up shops and… stuff that it now looked entirely different from the beach I had known in the past. As the amount of foreigners visiting the village increased as we neared the Christmas holiday, so did the number of local artisans flocking to the beach to sell their goods, and the whole scene outside of Big Milly’s by now felt quite a bit consumer-oriented.
Ernest asked me if I wanted something to drink, and I saw a man selling coconuts near us and was very happy to take one. (I had never seen coconuts being sold here before, and now I realized that a consumer-oriented scene certainly had its up-sides.) The two men followed suit, and we each drank our coconut water, looking about us a bit bewildered by it all. When we each finished, the coconut guy hacked the coconuts open with his machete and chopped a little piece off each young green shell, with which to spoon out the meat. I generally don’t do well with heavy or fatty foods and so usually never bother with the coconut meat, but something told me to try it now, and with the first bite, in that moment it felt like the most nourishing thing on the planet.
Once we had finished with our coconuts, it felt very apparent that the three of us were acquainted but not actually friends, and after a few moments of standing awkwardly together, Jahfar, friendly and polite and helpful as ever, took his leave to return to his shop. After another few moments, Ernest suggested that I take his phone number. I had made so many excuses for not giving out my number while I had been here, but now I not only took his number (which I never used) but also offered him mine (which he also never used). Then I wondered what was the properly polite amount of time for me to stay before excusing myself to finally return to my room and my solitude and my journal and all the feelings that were now safely buried just deep enough inside of me to allow me to function in this social environment… We leaned on an open table behind us, watching all the people – women walking through the crowd carrying baskets of fruit for sale atop their heads, artists selling their wares in their makeshift kiosks, a profusion of men passing this way and that as they conversed with one another, Westerners in bathing suits getting in and out of the ocean or walking to and from the entrance to Big Milly’s… We chatted for a while about all the changes in Kokrobite, about the noise. Ernest told me that now he mostly stayed out on the land, where it was so much more peaceful, and that he was planning to eventually leave and start a farm up in the Ashanti region.
Ernest was well-known here, and he introduced me to a few of the men who were greeting him as they passed by, whom he thought I might remember from before. I did not remember any of them, but eventually I realized this was a good opportunity to ask after some other people I had known in the past. And so I went through my short list of four people – only four people that I knew well enough to think of and ask about – besides BraSibi, and besides one half-brother of Koro’s whom I had adored, but whom Ernest would not know. Only four people – two very close friends of Koro’s from Accra (who had originally connected him with Ernest and the land in Kokrobite) and two quasi-neighbors, and of those four, two, Ernest informed me, were now deceased. Azimba, the quiet, sweet, crazy Cameroonian guitarist who had been in Koro’s band in Accra, who, Koro loved to tell me, had played with Koro’s hero, Fela Kuti, had always been… well… “off in another world” – ever since, as a child, he was taken by the mmoatia (“dwarves” – in some ways like the equivalent of English faeries) in the forest; and Ernest and I now took a moment to reflect on what an extremely special being he had been. And Mawuli, the one person with whom I had kept in touch fairly regularly for a handful of years post-Koro, was the other one who had passed – right around the time we lost touch, according to when Ernest thought that it had happened. An older Rasta who used to come to Kokrobite to sell his craftwork, Mawuli had wanted to start an eco-tourism project in his home in the forests near Kakum, and I had been helping to support the project, which I had hoped, for a while, would eventually provide me with another future in Ghana…
I had never hung out with Ernest before today, and we were not now all that talkative with one another. And I still had that ocean of emotion to let loose and move out of my body… Finally I felt that enough time had passed, and I told Ernest I was going to head home. And when he then asked where I was staying, I gave him the same vague answer I gave anyone (always men) who asked – “Just up the road a bit.” They all then guessed where I was staying, listing off some of the smaller guesthouses, and Ernest was no different. I replied in the same way I always did, with, “No, just in someone’s house.” This was my cue to smile and be on my way; I was not interested in having visitors. I appreciated what Ernest had done for me this day, and I appreciated his kindness, but I did not see him again.
Finally alone back in my room at the AirBnB, I settled in for what I knew would be hours of writing and crying – releasing…
Ernest’s big red jeep was parked just in front of his house, and after saying goodbye to the young man who had been sitting with Jahfar while I had toured the site with Ernest, we all piled in – me, Ernest, Jahfar, and the small child who, Ernest now explained, loved to be with him. “He has been with me all day – I need to return him to his mother,” he said with a chuckle. Climbing into the backseat of the jeep, I reminded Ernest about one other time I had gotten into a similar red jeep with him, when he and a German friend of his had driven BraSibi and me to a mortuary in Accra early one morning. “Ah yes,” he said, remembering the incident well, “it was my friend Andrea who drove us.” I had known that, like me, Ernest had had no desire to go to the mortuary or spend any time with the family from whom Koro had been entirely estranged, who had arrived from the North the day before to retrieve Koro’s body for burial. The only reason I was going was to recover some of the belongings they had taken from the shack, before I had had a chance to go up there – as I, too, had only just arrived. BraSibi, ever of assistance, was accompanying me, and it was he who had insisted that Ernest go with us, though I had never really understood why.
I rode in the backseat of two privately-owned vehicles that day, both SUVs of some sort, one taking me to the mortuary and then one taking me to the home of some supposed relative of Koro’s, and inside both I felt like a child; with my feet barely reaching the floor in those big backseats, it was as if I was nine years old again, getting in the backseat of my father’s fancy car, to go on a ride to some destination I had no desire to visit – just fulfilling an obligation that someone else thought I should have. These SUVs felt fancy simply because they were not public transport – I had perhaps only once or twice before ridden in a privately-owned vehicle in Ghana, and I had felt so bizarrely, awkwardly privileged getting into them. It felt nearly as awkward to be getting into this one now – shouldn’t we be walking? This was the first time I had gotten into a vehicle since the ride from the airport to Kokrobite, and it had been wonderful to have a break from these noisy machines. Now I had the sensation of being back inside the belly of the beast, swallowed up. I remember feeling the same thing on that unpleasant day so many years ago, when I left the mortuary in that second huge SUV, with people I had never met before – again feeling like a child just doing what I was told. But at least I had had BraSibi sitting faithfully at my side, shepherding me through that trying day.
Now, as we started down the road, Ernest spoke to Jahfar, who sat up front holding the little boy, in a local language, and by Jahfar’s reaction, I could guess that Ernest was explaining some bit about the story of our losing Koro. We drove back down to the main road, turned left towards Kokrobite, passed the next road – the middle road across from AAMA, which Ernest now pointed out was the one that Koro and I used to take out to the shack, and then turned up the next road over. At BraSibi’s house, one of his daughters told Ernest where we could find him – he had been staying at another house nearby, which he was caretaking while its owner was in England.
Getting back into the car, Ernest sighed and said that, as to Koro’s untimely passing, “Still I question, ‘Eh, why? How?’ …And then I say, ‘No, this is not God’s doing.’ Eh, it is too much,” he said, shaking his head. “No, this I can never understand.” Ernest’s way of thinking about Koro’s death was clearly very different from my own; I had never felt the need to question the workings of the Universe, or the unfolding Path I traversed through my life, and somehow this had especially been the case when I lost Koro – I could never bring myself to question why. I stayed quiet in the backseat, just listening and observing, taking it all in...
We stopped at another house not too far from the first, and Ernest and I got out of the car, Jahfar staying behind with the child who had now fallen asleep in his lap. Ernest knocked on the metal door in the tall cement wall bordering the large compound, and after a short wait, he was walking inside, with me following behind. …And then there was BraSibi – an older, greyer, perhaps slightly shrunken BraSibi, quiet as he always was, moving slowly and looking quite taken aback.
As was I.
The entire time I had been at the site with Ernest, I had been fine – “calm, cool, and collected.” But as soon as I was greeting BraSibi, I was struggling to keep the tears inside and to be able to speak without bawling at the same time. Dear, sweet, ever-helpful Bra Assibi. He loved Koro so very much.
The last time I had arrived in Ghana – shortly after Koro’s passing, at the end of a very long and multifaceted journey from Maine (involving multiple planes, trains, and automobiles), in a shambles, and wearing the old black mourning shirt that had become my uniform, I had gone straight to BraSibi at AAMA. And when I stepped out of the taxi and BraSibi was waiting there for me, just outside AAMA’s gate, wearing the royal blue coveralls that were his uniform when on duty as night watchman, I had wondered how to greet him – a hug, a handshake? Back then he had stepped right up and hugged me. But now we were all formality and awkwardness, or perhaps we were both just too full of emotion to make any movement – using all of our physical capacities to try and hold it together – that’s how I felt, at least. Ernest told BraSibi who I was, but BraSibi knew; he said that he had been watching the road from the window and as soon as he saw me in the car, he had said to himself, “It is Susan.”
Wow, it really was so hard to speak without crying. I couldn’t manage much at all until, after quite a long while, Ernest left us alone and I felt a bit more freedom to express myself.
“There has never been another like Koro around these parts,” BraSibi was eventually saying, all of our shared thoughts on the past, on Koro, “no one as clever and bright as Koro.”
“No, I have never met another person like Koro,” I struggled to say. Eh, it was impossible to speak to BraSibi without letting out some of my tears – just impossible, and I was very thankful that Jahfar had stayed in the car and that Ernest had now left us to ourselves. When BraSibi told me about how often he thinks of Koro, I struggled to tell him that, every day, Koro is still with me, that I think of him every day, but that I know he is gone and at peace, and that my life has indeed gone on without him – again, struggled to say all that without bawling. That was really hard to do – all the emotions that for the most part during this trip had seemed in the past were now completely taking hold of me, and just like the last time I had arrived and had gone straight to BraSibi, back in 2000, all I wanted to do now was cry a fountain of tears.
I never thought I would find BraSibi, never imagined myself having this conversation.
BraSibi was so clearly and so deeply hurt when Koro died…
As we communed over the memory of our dearest of friends, BraSibi and I spoke slowly and tenderly, careful with our so suddenly raw, exposed hearts. And after what seemed a long while, eventually I felt not only the pressure that had been building within me – from all the tears pressing on me, desperate to be let loose, but also a pressure from without – of Ernest and Jahfar, these men I barely knew, waiting for me. Finally BraSibi and I agreed that I would come back for another visit before I left, and then all too quickly I was climbing back into the jeep.
I knew I needed to be alone, ASAP, to let out the fountain of tears that was pressing hard on me, ready to burst through the dam that had been holding them back for too long already. Why was I even getting back into this car? What was I doing with these people? If I were to walk home, alone, I thought, maybe I would feel I had enough privacy to cry along the way… I was so used to having my freedom, to going it alone. But here I found myself, tied up in social etiquette, and again there was that feeling of the child just doing what she was told.
I pushed my emotion and my tears further down inside, tucked them safely further away from the gateways – eyes, nose, throat – through which they would find their freedom. And then I settled in for the unnecessary ride back to the village. Well, I reasoned with myself, I suppose I don’t mind a ride back, and getting home a bit sooner – getting back to my journal a bit sooner…
But this was not how it worked out…
The day after Reggae Night, just past 4 pm – cool enough now for me to feel comfortable taking a long walk under the equatorial sun, Jahfar and I headed from his shop on the beach to the main road out of Kokrobite. As he led me through the more local part of the village, he informed me that Ernest had actually shown up at the beach outside Big Milly’s the night before, after I had left, and that he had told Ernest about our intention to pay him a visit today. This seemed like excellent news, as I figured it would greatly increase our chances of finding him at home.
Jahfar was not at all bad company, and we had a pleasant walk out towards AAMA (the now defunct hotel/drum and dance school that Koro and I had lived near). Jahfar greeted at least half the people we passed along our way up the main road, all of whom were excited to see him, all eager to talk with him. I got the impression not only that he was a good guy, but also that he didn’t get out – meaning away from his little shop and the beach scene – often enough.
I felt a tinge of disappointment when eventually we passed the middle road across from AAMA, the one I was fairly certain had been the road leading out to the path to the shack. When we turned up the next road, the last one across from AAMA – the paved road of which I had absolutely no memory, which, when exploring the area, I had been certain was not our road, Jahfar turned to me with a confident smile, searching my face for recognition. “Maybe this seems familiar…?” he prompted me. I smiled weakly and could only offer an accommodating, “Umm…,” as I meanwhile thought that Ernest must be living somewhere else now, that he must have wound up buying a different piece of land.
We walked a while up this paved road, pausing at one point to break a couple twigs off one of the many young Neem trees lining the road, to use for cleaning our teeth – this was the traditional Ghanaian substitute for a toothbrush. The strong, bitter taste of the Neem, my herbal line of defense against malaria, always brought back bad memories – of more critical malarial times, but I enjoyed using it anyway, knowing that it was good for me. As we walked on, both of us engaged with our twigs, Jahfar occasionally made suggestions of things I might like to do – with himself as my guide, of course. Perhaps I would like to go for a swim in the pool at the hotel we now passed (looking much misplaced) on our left? Or climb up the little mountain stretching above it, to get a view of all of Kokrobite and its surrounding area? …Poor Jahfar. I had very little interest in doing much of anything outside of my simple agenda for this trip – revisiting the places I knew before, feeling what I felt, and writing. I also didn’t want to get too involved with him because I knew he had to have some sort of motive behind wanting to spend more time with me, and it was becoming clear that that motive (refreshingly at least not a pseudo-romantic one) was to do business; he wanted to help me do whatever kind of business might interest me, and I knew that in this regard he was dealing with the wrong person. He was also keen to help me with anything else with which I might possibly need help, and I was far too independent here to take interest in any of that. But Jahfar graciously accepted all of my obliging but noncommittal smiles, as well as my direct rejections of his numerous offers. And now, finally, he motioned to a two-story house placed just beside the road, with a big red jeep of some sort parked directly in front of it.
I had never spent much time with Ernest, and I didn’t have much of a memory as to what he had looked like, other than the fact that he was tall. When Jahfar presented me to the man standing on the porch of the house, I did not recognize that this was Ernest, at all, and he did not recognize me; and as we stood before each other, both smiling and unsure, I began to wonder if perhaps this was a whole different Ernest and nothing would come of this trip. But when it was clear to all that no recognition was coming (Jahfar now looking as if he was beginning to wonder what the heck was going on), I tentatively asked, “Did you used to have a friend named Koro?”
Now Ernest’s mouth dropped, and he seemed to drop, and suddenly, wow – realization dawned. Yes, this was the same Ernest all right.
After astonishment and greetings and the laughter of relief that Jahfar had indeed connected the right people, I eventually asked, “But this isn’t the same land I lived on, is it?”
“Yes, yes, it is the same land!” Ernest assured me, in an excited but soft-spoken manner; and immediately he led me along the wraparound porch and out back to the land. Jahfar stayed behind with another young man who was there, who had greeted us with such an enormous and confident smile, and such overflowing friendliness, that I had wondered if he was someone I was supposed to have known as well.
Ernest was nothing but kind to me. He seemed… softer now than how I remembered him, and also just so much older. He took his time showing me all around the land, stayed with me as I slowly, piece by piece, took it all in. There were so many more trees now, and he told me about several of them – what had been planted when, etc. The ones I recognized from before – my good friends the Neem, whose leaves had kept me malaria-free for so long, and the beautiful Flamboyant, my favorite climbing tree – were huge, especially the Neem, its lowest branches now way above my head. “I used to hang my laundry on this tree,” I told Ernest; “back then it was all within reach.” I barely recognized the Flamboyant, now overshadowed by Ernest’s big house, which was built just beside it, throwing off my perspective. Once Ernest had confirmed that this tree had been here before and I could see that it was indeed the same tree I had known and loved, I tried to imagine how I had so easily gotten into it, back when all of its limbs were so much lower to the ground. This Flamboyant had not only been my favorite climbing tree, but its uppermost limbs had also been my favorite place for doing my eye exercises. Perched amongst the highest branches, even back then I could see the ocean.
I looked up at our little mountain-hill, the sun now approaching it, as I had seen it do so many times, just around the time I would be preparing our dinner. The sun was my timepiece when I lived here, and its position relative to that giant hill (which we always thought of as a mountain) was what I checked on the most, right around this point in the day, as it would tell me how much daylight I had left within which to complete whatever tasks I had going on, before we would be plunged into darkness, with only a candle to perhaps eat or read by. Halfway up the little mountain stood the white edifice that had been under construction when I was here, from which Koro had gathered scraps of wood that he and BraSibi and one other friend used to completely reconstruct the shack in a more waterproof manner before the rainy season began. I had been looking at these reference points – the little “mountain” and that huge white structure astride it – while making my last exploration of the area, trying to place the shack in relation to them; and looking at all of it now, from this perspective, right here, it all finally just looked so perfectly placed.
Yes, this was indeed where I had lived. In a way it was all changed, and in another way, it – the site – was just as I remembered it.
When I told Ernest about trying to find the site a few days before, and not at all thinking it was off of this road, he told me it wasn’t this road, because this road did not exist back then! “We put this road in when we built the house,” he explained, and now I could see why his house was placed just beside the road, not at all set back – when it was built, it was probably the only house out here, this new road like one long private driveway. “Koro used to enter from the next road over,” Ernest said; “there was a path.” Yes, part of the reason why the site looked so different now was due to the elimination of that long path – which had led to the shack from the current middle road across from AAMA, as I had thought.
All that remained of the shack was the foundation, a small rectangular perimeter of cement – that and the square hole in the ground inside of it, which Koro had called “the fridge.” The “fridge” was a space underground into which you could lower a basket of food tied to a rope, to keep it cool – though I think perhaps there was supposed to be some other element to it, like that the bottom was supposed to be filled with sand and ocean water(?), which, of course, never happened. Koro had considered this a great technology, but to me it never made much sense – as, in reality, it seemed to just be a place for insects and rodents to settle. It was funny to now see this as one of the only traces of the shack’s existence. There had been a cement floor, but that was now completely gone. What was amazing, though, was to see how very small the shack had been – so much smaller than I remembered it. Yes, in my memory it was small, but... bigger than that! It looked so tiny now.
It was nice to be there, but, of course, I really just wanted to be alone – with the land, the trees, the site, my memories… And I wasn’t – Ernest stayed with me, and we chatted off and on, quietly, slowly. We took our time, looking at everything, walking all around, and as I took it all in, I remembered to take some pictures, in my mind hearing countless friends telling me to. I kept harboring a faint hope that Ernest would leave me alone out there for a while, so I could just BE, ALONE, THERE, as I so often was before; but he did not, and for whatever reason – perhaps just not wanting to seem impolite within this culture of extreme hospitality, I did not feel comfortable asking him for some time alone. I wasn’t about to hurry through my visit either, though, and Ernest did not seem to mind the long stretches of silence. I don’t think I had ever had a single conversation alone with Ernest before, just the two of us, and I had little to say to him.
Having traversed the property, once again we stood near the back of the big house that he and his Swiss wife had built, a beautiful structure, standing apart from all the cement houses around the area through its incorporation of wood and stone. After he had told me about it in the same steady, quiet way in which he had told me about the land – offering a few details about its construction, the type of roof it had, the solar panels on the roof, etc., I finally thought to ask Ernest about BraSibi. “Yes, Assibi is still living around here, too,” he said, to my surprise. And after a little more time had gone by – a little more looking and quiet intermittent chatting and trying to stretch out these precious moments touring my old home, I asked how I could find him. “Ok, let’s go then,” Ernest said with a soft smile, and he began to walk leisurely towards the stairs leading to the porch. I followed behind as slowly as I reasonably could, trying to gather myself, or ready myself, my emotional body meanwhile bouncing around as if looking for another option besides following him – BraSibi??? Now??? Here and now – BraSibi?!?! And not only that, but also suddenly back to this other character Jahfar – whom I had actually told nothing concerning how I knew Ernest or why I wanted to visit him, and, too, here was that other young man who now, again, was greeting me with the utmost hospitality, and also the toddler who had been here when we arrived, who was now on Jahfar’s lap… all of these people… all just a slightly overwhelming shift in energy to suddenly have to interact again… and back to movement… already leaving the land… and really?!?! I was about to see BraSibi?!?!
BraSibi, Koro’s closest friend around Kokrobite, was the one who had been the night watchman at AAMA. He was the witness at our City Hall wedding, and he was the one who had cared for me when I fell sick, with my third round of malaria, during my last, post-Koro trip. BraSibi was the one person who had been there for us, to help with every possible thing with which we ever needed help. He was the only person I had thought I might look for during this trip – but then had no way to since AAMA had shut down, the only person from my life before that I really cared to see. …I had hoped to see the site during this long-awaited trip to Ghana, but I never expected to see BraSibi…
I planned to make my next visit out to AAMA and near the old site on Sunday, four days after my thorough exploration of the area. The night before, Saturday night, was Reggae Night at Big Milly’s, the old guesthouse; and for once I decided to go out at night, both to check it out and to hopefully ask after Ernest, who had owned the land on which Koro and I had lived.
Setting out from the house, I prepared myself to pass through a street full of men whose unwanted attentions were generally amplified at night, made all the worse by the cover of darkness and the increased presence of alcohol; and as I started determinedly down the dirt road, I put out an extra-strength version of my usual “not interested” vibe. (Sometimes the vibe worked, sometimes it didn’t…) Thankfully, the only person who called out to me now, as I neared the guesthouse, was the young ringleader of the group of boys, maybe around ten or eleven years old, for whom I often bought fruit when I made a stop at the fruit stand that was down this way. By now they knew my usual patterns, and so the whole gang looked at me in confusion as I passed by, a few of them turning their hands up as if to say, “What are you doing? Out so late? And no fruit???” I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head and continued on to the gate to Big Milly’s property, where I had to pay a small fee before being let inside.
Finding a nice spot to stop and survey my surroundings, I took in the scene. The DJ on the stage was playing music that did not interest me, and no one was dancing yet. (I had known when I left the house around 9 that it was probably still too early for the “party,” but I had waited as long as I could – before losing any desire to go out.) The first thing I had noticed upon walking in were a few pool tables set up near the gate, and this was a bit of an interest – it had been years since I had played. But looking at all the men currently playing, I let go of the idea when I didn’t see anyone I felt I wanted to join. A lot of people were gathered at the bar – never my place. And as the restaurant fairly full of diners also did not draw me… before I knew it, having found Reggae Night itself predictably boring for me, I felt myself heading straight for the beach.
But stepping through the gate opposite the one through which I had entered the yard, this suddenly seemed a bad idea, as I was now right in the midst of dozens of men out there on the beach. I had been reluctant to go to Reggae Night at all because I was dreading dealing with all the men who had been trying to talk to me on the street earlier that day – all telling me they would see me at Reggae Night… Well, what I had found time and again in Ghana was that, without an escort, the only way to keep men from trying to talk to you is to talk to one of them; and in this regard, I lucked out. The first Ras who called me over, I soon found, was not at all a bad sort.
Sitting on a bench beside him and a couple of his friends, talking about this and that, having learned that he was from the Ashanti region (and typically very proud of his Ashanti heritage), was a couple years younger than myself, had been here in Kokrobite a handful of years, had a small shop here on the beach and was all about doing business – ever since he first went out on the streets of his hometown selling small items as a kid (any cross-cultural business idea I might have, he said, he was eager to help me get started)… and having shared with him that I had lived around here eighteen years before… I eventually asked whether he knew Ernest – “an older Rasta,” I said, “who’s been around here for a very long time.”
I didn’t expect the first person with whom I spoke to know him, but still I was a little disappointed when he said he did not – thinking that this meant I would have to find someone else to ask. But after a minute or two, he asked if Ernest was tall or short, and when I said he was quite tall, it came to him – “Ah, yes! Ernest – he is living with a woman from Europe…” And then he told me, smiling, not only that he did indeed know who Ernest was, but also that… he had been to his house! Meaning that he could lead me to him! “He lives way down the road out of Kokrobite, maybe a twenty-minute walk,” he said.
“Out by AAMA, the old run-down hotel?” I ventured.
“Yes, very near there. We can go there,” he offered excitedly, “ – whenever you like.”
Eureka. “Can we go tomorrow?”
After making our plan for the following day, I surprised myself and stayed out longer, enjoying the view of the full moon and the ocean, while talking about nothing in particular with my new acquaintance, Jahfar. And when finally I stood up and said that I was going to leave, I was exceedingly pleased that Jahfar neither protested nor asked me for my phone number nor tried to walk me home. I had him show me where his shop was, told him I’d come by around 4 pm (by which time the weather would have cooled), and that was that. In this setting… this truly felt like a small miracle.
Though by now the party was going a bit stronger, as I passed back through the yard around 11 pm, with a live band now on stage (playing some rather uninspired reggae covers) and some (uninspiring) dancing going on, the scene inside Big Milly’s still held no interest for me, and after a moment of taking it in, I continued on through the street-side gate opposite the beach. Delighted to find myself on a blissfully empty road – such a rarity, I walked back to my home at the AirBnB feeling really good. Really… in the flow. With it – with the Divine Flow. Conscious of it.
He will take me to Ernest tomorrow… And I only had to talk to one guy! The Universe had brought me directly to the right person…
Back at the AirBnB, after a quick shower, I got back to my journal as I went through my night-time stretching routine on the floor. Do I even want to see Ernest? I now asked myself. Ernest and I had never been friends, by any means, and I reminded myself now how I had felt about him – while I had not known him at all well, I had always gotten the impression that there was something a bit shady about him, something a bit untrustworthy. …But he knew Koro, I told myself. And it could be our site he’s living on. And that is what I want to see…
The night after my thorough exploration of my old “neighborhood,” as I was lying in my little one-person tent (easy mosquito netting) on the floor, unable to sleep for the thumping bass blasting through my earplugs, I found myself suddenly saying aloud, “Koro, I’m here. Where are you?” I had always had this sense, though much more strongly early on in the first few years after he passed, that Koro wanted me to come back to Africa, to somewhere in Africa. But now that I was finally here… it was striking how I really had not been feeling Koro here. And now that this question had been aired – not even as words on the page or a thought in my head but audibly – the sound of my voice coming as a shock, the immediate response that surfaced in my mind was… Koro has moved on.
Well, as there was no sleep in sight (and by now this was really becoming an irritating issue for me – all the late-night, loud recorded music preventing me from being able to sleep), I switched on my handy solar reading lamp, returned the pen beside it to my hand, and, as I so often did, I took my journal from its night-time spot right above my head and set it back to use…
Koro has moved on. Yes, now that I was back, now that I had answered his call to return, I could feel how… freed he was. But also… he was me, and I was him – we were One. Koro had always been a reflection of myself – and at the best of times, my Self – that much was always clear. We were there together, first and foremost, to allow the other to come to know the Divine more – more “up close and personal,” to come closer to the Divine One than either of us had ever been before, or become closer with the Divine One; and serving as a reflection for each other had been one piece of our magic puzzle, one aspect of this revelation of the One that was unfolding in so many ways. …I had long been aware that the idea, the feeling, of him calling me back to Africa – that was the Divine calling me back, my Inner Voice calling – guiding me along my own, divinely-inspired Path. It was Koro, it was the Divine, and it was me – all the same. ...And feeling now how Koro has moved on, how freed he was… I felt how freed I was.
Koro has moved on. I put it down on the page, where all things solidified for me. And now it is officially time for me to move on as well, I continued.
Koro is satisfied. I am satisfied. And that divine element that is both beyond our individual selves as well as living within us as our true Self… that One is satisfied, too.
…Africa is a big place, I went on. And there is so much to explore. Ghana felt like just the beginning, “the tip of ice,” as Koro would put it – and not only because I was on my way to Guinea, but also because lately I had so strongly been feeling Mali coming in my distant future (very distant future), and I was beginning to have an interest in exploring some other parts of Africa where opportunities were arising as well – Egypt, Morocco, etc. Go deeper, my hand was now scrawling on the page…
I hustled up the main road out of Kokrobite, headed straight for those three roads across from AAMA, the Academy of African Music and Arts. (AAMA was the old hotel that I had already found in ruins on my first brief trip to the area where I used to live.) It was the day after my visit to Big Milly’s, the guesthouse that we used to call Wendy's Place, where I had learned that Ernest, the man who had owned the land on which Koro and I had lived, was still living somewhere in this area. One of those three roads across from AAMA had led to that land, to my home at the shack; and I was ready to go deeper into my old “neighborhood.”
Although I was pretty sure ours had been the middle road, I turned up the closest road first, across from the near end of AAMA’s property – both because I wanted to explore all possibilities and also because I wanted to avoid being stopped again by that same young Rasta with the shop or home or whatever it was at the start of the middle road. I soon felt quite certain that this first road was indeed not the correct road, but I continued up it anyway, not only just to make sure, but simply because it now felt so pleasant to walk along a thin dirt road with no traffic. With so many cars and motorcycles going by on the main road now, there was so much dust and exhaust that, for me, it really felt disgusting out there.
This much quieter road was lined on either side by house after house, mostly big cement structures, some extremely nice, many only half-built, and most looking empty, at least at the moment. Perhaps they’re weekend homes? I wondered. Getaways from Accra? It was shocking to see how very many houses there were now, and even after I had gotten well past where the shack could have possibly been, I continued up this road just to see where it would end; I thought I must surely eventually hit the bush that used to be all that was there. But I never did. Finally I hit more roads that intersected with this one, and still there was just house after house. I passed by several people out on the road, too, mostly young adults and kids. Of course, it never used to be like that! Basically, the area has become populated; it’s a real neighborhood now – no longer a swath of bush with a handful of small structures inside it. The only patches of bush I saw now were hemmed in by cement walls – as if they were someone’s property, but the owners had left them to become totally overgrown.
I found just one footpath, heading in the correct direction through one of these few plots of bush, that looked somewhat like the path that had led out to our site; so on my way back down this first road, I took it. But I came across nothing except the next road over – the middle road, the one that I was pretty sure used to be the overgrown road that had led to my home. Now an actual, usable road, though, it no longer looked the same – it was no longer the two tracks with grass growing high through the center that back then we just called a road. But, of course… nothing looked the same. As I walked up this road, and then up and down a couple of times, again it was house after house, mainly big houses (not a single shack), at least half of which looked either empty or only half-built. Some were indeed occupied, though, and again I came across young people out on the road. The other thing I came across was a great deal of burning trash. There was one particular cloud of smoke that smelled so intensely toxic that I guessed it must have been mainly all plastic that was burning, and it was painful to be near it; for a minute, as I passed by, I really felt like my brain was frying – which is a terrible feeling! And still, plenty of trash, almost all of which was plastic, was lining the road, everywhere. It’s not as if it had been pristine before, but the trash had at least been confined to the areas surrounding the few other homes out there besides ours. (Out at our site, the best option I could come up with was to dig a hole in which to bury the bit of trash we produced.)
Again I found just one spot that seemed like it could possibly be the entrance to where the shack used to be. There was a little footpath heading off in the right direction – towards the third and furthest road, and the plants at the start of the path actually looked familiar. This whole time, there had been absolutely nothing along the road to orient me, nothing that I could recognize from before; but looking at these plants, I thought… maybe. Maybe these really were the same bushes that met me every time I reached the path to our site. I had a somewhat strong mental image of the plants at the entrance to the path because, during my last trip, post-Koro, when everyone convinced me not to sleep alone out at the shack (where I did spend most of the day), I used to stop and gaze longingly up the path – potentially at this very spot – just before sundown, on my way back from a dance lesson or a visit with someone in the village. The sinking sun behind them had a way of lighting these bushes that made them look so rich, so verdant, and I would stand there taking in the image for as long as the sun lasted, before continuing on to my tent outside a neighbor’s half-built house further down the road, much closer to AAMA.
Now I carefully began to step my way along what I could of the little path – thinking about snakes. But I couldn’t make it more than probably half a dozen steps before it was completely overgrown with bush, grasses as tall as I was, and there was no seeing beyond them. …Is our site in there? The only way I would be able to know, I thought, is if I can find Ernest, and if he could show me where it was – that’s the only way.
But I don’t even really care, I thought as I passed back down the middle road, heading now for the main road from Kokrobite in order to continue on and check out the third and final road across from AAMA. What am I going to do out there? Have some ritual? Cut off my dreads? (I had been itching to do this for a while but needed, as always, to find the right setting for it; our old site seemed especially perfect because I had felt that I should do this there eighteen years before, in the wake of losing Koro, but I had been too attached to that first set of locks and never did.) No, it’s either completely overgrown, I told myself, or else it’s someone else’s property now, with a new big house on it. Yes, I would really like to find Ernest, but if I don’t, that’s totally fine, too. I didn’t need to come here to do anything in particular, or find anything in particular. I needed to come to just be here and feel what I feel.
I had felt nothing, trying to make my way into that footpath that felt closest to our site – no emotion came up for me. I had felt nothing this entire time that I had been walking and exploring my old “neighborhood;” I simply felt like I was out for a pleasant walk. I walked for over two hours straight, up and down the first road, the middle road, and finally the third road – a paved road that for sure was not our road, and all the while, I felt absolutely no emotion. And I knew there was nothing there for me.
Already the sun was going down. But about halfway through my two-week stay now, I was no longer rushing to get back to the AirBnB before dark, confident now in knowing my way around, and also getting used to the fact that I could somewhat easily be out at night here, aided by my strong glasses. When I had lived here before, I had been working on the natural improvement of my vision – through eye exercises and through going without any glasses the entire time I was here – which made for quite a different experience, as I am severely near-sighted. I was able to do this in Ghana, back then, because I wasn’t driving or using computers or doing anything else that really required sharp vision. I could see well enough to get by in the daylight, especially here, so close to the equator, where the strong sunlight shed so much illumination. But going out at night, which I did not do often, had always entailed a bit of a challenge for me. Now I had to remind myself that I was wearing glasses – the pair with my strongest prescription in them, even, and that I would be okay walking back in the dark.
But I found that walking back in the dark was a very easy thing to do now, anyway – with lights from the shops lining the road, the occasional overhead streetlight, plenty of light from the headlights of passing traffic, and with the moon getting towards full – all of this but the moon was different from before. There were plenty of people on the road now, too, and I walked slowly amongst them, feeling a bit weary. I was thinking about the nostalgia we can get for places we’ve lived in the past, how much a particular place can be wrapped up with a certain period of time, a certain experience we’ve had. But we can never entirely go back and revisit, I felt – we can never really see it how it was. As soon as we move on, leaving it behind, the place moves on as well, adjusting to its new humans or evolving in its own way, and it will no longer be the same. When I had been allowed by new owners to walk through my two childhood homes, I was only looking at someone else’s home – and maybe, at most, a ghost of what used to be my home, or a shell of it. How much did any place really hold my memories?
Ok, maybe I don’t need more than the two weeks here, I thought as I neared the AirBnB – I had been wondering before I had set out whether it was time to make some arrangements in order to stay longer. Now it seemed that maybe just one more visit to the area, one more walk through AAMA and up the middle road, would be enough for me.
By a couple days after my first visit to my old neighborhood, I was absolutely loving being back in Ghana, loving feeling so independent here, and, most of all, LOVING being fully immersed within a writing retreat. There was so much to say – both to myself, to help me understand and move on, and to everyone else, because I had very clearly been feeling the need to share myself lately. It was because I was so loving the uninterrupted time alone to work with all the writing that I began to wonder if two weeks in Ghana would be long enough.
This was a Tuesday, a particularly quiet day. The weekend had been so terribly loud, and now, after so many people had cleared out on Monday, the village felt blissfully relatively empty and quiet. In retrospect, it was the quiet that allowed me to even consider staying longer, to think that perhaps two weeks might not be long enough for me to spend here – only because there was so very much writing work to be done, and this was the perfect opportunity for it, and meanwhile I might also still need a few more exploratory missions to my old site.
These thoughts emerged after my daily exploration had taken me to Big Milly’s, the old guesthouse – the only guesthouse that was here in the village before, where I had spent my first two or three nights upon my arrival in 1999, before finding a bungalow to rent further down the road towards AAMA. Back then it had been the main (or perhaps only) place to go to socialize, and now it seemed to be known for its “Reggae Night,” held every weekend, so I had been assuming that the place gets fairly packed on weekends. This quiet day had seemed like the perfect time to check it out.
In all my explorations thus far, in all I had seen of Kokrobite, so far this, the original guesthouse, Big Milly’s, also known back then as Wendy's Place, was the one thing that I found to look somewhat the same, to have remained at least somewhat unchanged. Yes, it was more crowded with structures now – a surf school, a shop, etc.; but the guest-room structures looked the same; the bar, though looking very updated, was at least in the same place it used to be; and the restaurant… the restaurant looked exactly as I remembered it – it was the same open-air structure, up a short flight of steps, it had the same big thatched roof, the same sandy floor, same long wooden tables and benches. This was where I met Koro, where we had our first, exceedingly long conversation, where he showed up and sat down at the table with me and my travel buddy after we had eaten dinner, on our second night there, and began to talk and talk and talk and talk. And then he talked some more. And then he continued to talk extremely late into the night, long after the travel buddy had excused himself to go to sleep. There we sat – right over there. And here I was now, sitting at one of the tables, with a view out to the ocean – and it was all the same. And I did not feel any sadness.
After making a very specific and simple special-order food request from the kitchen, I ended up having a long talk about diet with a woman working there, who surprised me with the fact that she had tried out vegetarianism, veganism, and even raw foods and juicing – that she had learned about all these things there in Ghana. Vegetarianism was somewhat common amongst the Rastas, but not the mainstream Ghanaian population (and sure enough, she explained that while she had felt great, she had found all of these diets too difficult to stick to while surrounded by family and friends always eating the usual very heavy and meat-oriented Ghanaian diet); but it was really her interest in raw foods and juicing and the health aspect of it all that surprised and inspired me. Maybe some positive, conscious changes had taken place on the health front while I had been away… Eventually I told her about being here eighteen years ago; and when I asked if Wendy, an older English woman, who had been very kind to me before, was still the owner of this place, she said, "Oh yes, she is sitting and eating just outside there – let me take you to her..."
Wendy, of course, did not remember me, or even Koro, but she invited me to sit down and join her and we had a nice talk. When I told her that I had originally come here to study dance, she informed me that the local group with whom I used to study is still going strong. And when I mentioned my particular teacher by name, she informed me that she thinks Yaa has been living in America for a long time now. Then I stopped to consider whom else she might know. And this is how I found out that… Ernest is still around.
Ernest, a musician who had been a friend of Koro’s closest friends in Accra, had been the owner of the land on which Koro and I had lived, and I thought perhaps Wendy might know him because he had frequented this place so often. Yes, she did remember Ernest, and she said he was living somewhere around these parts, with a Swiss woman.
…I would love to find Ernest, I thought. Does he perhaps still own that land? He had never lived there, back in the day, because it was too undeveloped – there was no water, and he didn’t want to carry water as we did. I had figured for sure he would have sold it by now and the shack would have been torn down to make way for some big house, like all the others that have popped up everywhere around here. …But wow… now… for one night, at least, before going to explore more the following day, I would hold onto this glimmer of a possibility that he actually kept that land, that it was still out there, somewhat undeveloped...
By two days into my stay in Ghana, I was loving being back there. I still simply loved Ghana – or maybe it was just Africa in general, but either way, there was just so much to love about being there. It felt amazing to return to the slower pace of African life – no hustle, no busy-ness or rush – this is simply not the way it is there. Coming from America, or from the Western world in general, to me life feels generally relaxed in Ghana, and less complicated. There is a certain EASE to life there, which seems very much wrapped up with the mentality of the people, the cultural mindset. This was all so much of what I had loved about living there and what had made me want to live there, and now it was so easy to sink right back into it, and it felt so refreshing to do so. Not to mention the fact that it was warm, and there was moisture in the air, and it felt so much easier (especially coming from the cold of Munich) for a body to be in this environment.
As for Ghana in particular, as compared to most other countries in West Africa, it was so easy for me there because of the language, as most people speak English, or at least some. (Though it’s been on my to-do list for years, ever since becoming interested in traveling more widely within West Africa, I unfortunately have yet to learn French.) Of course, one needs to be able to communicate in order to tap into the cultural mindset, or to be able to interact enough to feel that you exist within the culture rather than just alongside it. But what I appreciated most about the lack of a language barrier in those first few days back was that it also meant independence. This was important to me – that I could function on my own here, was not dependent on a host or a guide. If I needed something, I could go ask the women at the “market” along the road, and they, or more often their kids, would help me find whatever it was I was looking for. I also loved that this could easily turn into a small adventure – you ask one woman if she knows where you can find something and then get led to four different places by four different people before finally you get it – plus many nice interactions along the way!
My independence played a big part in the way I was feeling – so free, so activated. And I knew, too, that my past there was also playing a role in the way I felt now – in some way, I did still know Ghana, and that made me feel very comfortable there. All in all… I just felt so very happy inside. I realized that it wasn’t even necessarily the fact of being in the environment of Ghana that was doing it, that it might have had just as much or even more to do with something inside of myself – something that had clicked into place now – now that I finally made it back, as I had just known for so many years I needed to do. But whatever it was… so very happy inside…
* * *
By three days in, I was ready to take my first walk down towards the area where I used to live. It’s about a twenty minute leisurely walk down the road from Kokrobite, and as I ventured along, I continued to be amazed at the changes in the area – now at all the huge structures that have gone up. One massive, modern, multi-story edifice had big signs on the side reading, “APARTMENTS & HOMES, SHORT & LONG TERM LEASE, AVAILABLE NOW, STUDIO – 3 BEDROOMS” – and this just looked so bizarre to me! This kind of thing simply did not exist here, in any form, eighteen years back; my travel buddy and I had been lucky to find a little bungalow to rent by word of mouth. For the most part, though, all of these giant structures, so many that I passed along the main road, which all looked quite new, also looked completely empty. It was as if the village was trying to move in a certain direction, but it wasn’t quite there yet.
What had stayed the same, and now felt comforting in its sameness, was the land itself, the beautiful red-brown of the earth here. And there were still the ever-present chickens and goats wandering about pecking and nibbling at it, finding scraps of food amongst all the trash. …Ah yes, the trash. The plethora of trash, predominantly plastic, was another thing that had not changed; always a part of the landscape here, it still lined every road or path, and was scattered just about everywhere as well. Nor had there been any change in the standard method of trash removal – burning it, plastics and all. I had had a long talk the day before with an Italian man who has had a restaurant in Kokrobite since before my last stay there, and in the midst of talking about all the changes that have taken place in Ghana, he and his wife were saying that, after trying all these years, they just can’t get the people to understand about not burning the trash… I saw several piles of trash burning now, as I passed through patches of smoky air, and I wondered whether the haze in the sky was from some climatic source or from the sum of so many small fires burning throughout every village in the area…
Moving at a slow pace further and further down the road towards AAMA - the Academy of African Music and Arts, feeling my surroundings, taking this all in, I began to feel sudden waves of emotion rising up within me, lifting my stomach towards my throat for a second or two, just long enough to let me know they were there, to make me feel my heart beating suddenly a bit harder, and to make me wonder. This undefined raw emotion was tinged with a sense of “whoa, what-am-I-doing” – the same wary sensation that had occasionally fallen over me on the day that I traveled from Munich to Accra; and spontaneous tears now began to pop up just as they had done a few times that day as well.
AAMA was the one big structure – or compound of structures, really, all whitewashed and grand – that had been here before. It had been a hotel/drum and dance school, and it was what had originally led me to Kokrobite. I had not wound up studying music or dance there, as their lessons were pricey, but I had found that the members of the group that both taught and performed there also taught at a much more reasonable price at another space they had in Kokrobite (where I had also found more reasonably-priced accommodations). AAMA had been pricey in general, and there never seemed to be very many people staying there, but the free drum and dance performances they had offered on the weekends in their little outdoor theatre had always drawn a small crowd.
After I had married Koro, I sometimes went there to sit and do writing or editing work at a sheltered table that overlooked the beach – a quiet spot where I found I was never disturbed. This was before Koro and two others completely rebuilt the shack in a more waterproof manner before the start of the rainy season, and then used the excess scrap wood to build me a table and a stool; and though I had never minded, or even really noticed, our lack of furniture, I surely did relish the occasional outing to sit at this table – walking down the path with my bag full of notebooks, it felt like the equivalent of going to work at a library or a coffeeshop back in the States. I had discovered this spot when Koro had taken me to AAMA’s relatively private, unfrequented beach shortly after I had moved in with him, telling me that if I wanted to go to a beach, this was where I should come. He felt that I would be safe and undisturbed within AAMA because we had a special connection there – one of the night watchmen, Assibi (or Bra Assibi --> BraSibi), was his closest friend around these parts – and it seemed that to Koro this meant we were a part of AAMA’s extended family, and therefore had rights to be there.
“We can never forget BraSibi,” Koro would often say, as BraSibi was the one person who helped us with every single minute detail with which we could possibly need help in our lives out in the bush. He was also there for the bigger events – he came with us to Accra’s City Hall to be the witness at our legal wedding, he was the one who had to inform me of Koro’s passing, and it was his home in which I stayed during my first few nights back in Ghana after losing Koro. (If I haven’t mentioned this before, I was in the States, in Maine, when Koro passed.) BraSibi also cared for me when I eventually got sick (malaria Round Three) during that post-Koro trip. And he was the one person in Kokrobite whom I had thought, before embarking on this current trip, that I would like to somehow find. But the only place I had ever known in which to find BraSibi was AAMA, where he had lived with his wife and children in the workers’ quarters, and I knew from researching Kokrobite on the internet when planning my trip that AAMA was no longer up and running.
Now it was shocking to see the crumbling state of ruin in which I found it. Yes, AAMA, which used to seem so relatively grandiose out here, is now in ruins. I ventured inside the property and walked a bit through the paths that remain – while the land around them was completely overgrown, many of the paths through the site were still clear. But it felt a bit… eerie. I saw some clothes hanging out on a line near one of the run-down and empty-looking buildings – so it seemed there must be some squatters at least somewhat living in there. And I did come across a few other people passing down the paths on their way towards the beach. It was a Sunday, though, a weekend, when the area in general becomes more populated with visitors from Accra and other areas, and these folks did not look very local.
Eventually the eeriness got to me and I meandered my way back out. Koro and I had lived out in the bush directly across from AAMA – on the other side of the main road from Kokrobite; there had been an overgrown road (back then two tracks with grass growing high through the center) leading out into the bush in which just a handful of us were residing. Before I moved in that direction, though, I walked a bit further up the main road, only because the pavement had stopped at AAMA and it now felt so heavenly to walk on the wide, red dirt road, with much less traffic, in the peace and quiet, watching the big orange sun about to set directly in front of me – this was how it used to feel to walk along the road from Kokrobite. Now there was no peace and quiet along most of the length of the road up to this point, with most of the noise coming from traffic and from the occasional bar pumping out recorded music at a deafening pitch – and with all the dust and exhaust from the passing traffic as well, I found it difficult to entirely enjoy walking along Kokrobite’s “new and improved” paved road.
But time was running short – the sun would very soon perform its descent’s swift finale, and I wanted to make it back to Kokrobite before dark. So I hurried back to have a look down the road across from AAMA, the road that used to lead to the path that then led to our site. …But now there were three roads turning off from the main road, heading out across from AAMA – one at each end of AAMA’s sprawling property and one across from its middle. I was pretty sure our road had been the middle road, but I wasn’t positive. Hurrying because of the limited daylight, I made it just a short way up the middle road before I was stopped by a young, lounging Rasta brother, sitting in a little structure with a couple of friends, who (typical) wanted nothing more at this moment than to chat my ear off and get my phone number. After finally freeing myself – without being too impolite, I went just a touch further, looking at the big cement houses on either side of me, and at the cement walls dividing up the land that used to just be uninterrupted bush – only dotted here and there with a few other small structures besides ours.
The sun was falling, nearly gone now. I stopped and gazed up the road a while, wondering. …And then I decided that I wasn’t ready for this, and that time was too short, and that I would come back again, and that this was definitely enough for today.
* * *
Writing in my journal that evening, in the midst of reflecting on how, while it had been so heavenly to be down there where it was quiet, and closer to home, this was not my home anymore, and how I had stayed long enough the last time to feel, by the time I left, that a Kokrobite without Koro was no place for me… I thought about how a lot of what I had been feeling was how I have moved on, and how my life is no longer here. Maybe my heart – or part of my heart – was left here, I wrote, recalling that feeling of reunion that I had had at the beach at the end of my first day back, and maybe I just needed to come pick it up, but beyond that… I feel so… done.
Later that night, when I couldn’t sleep, I found myself writing to Koro…
Koro, I want to put this all behind me, I wrote. Of course YOU will always be with me – I know that will never change; I still feel your love, as always… But this – Kokrobite, Ghana, the pull on my heart to be here, the draw here… it’s time to lay it to rest…
My whole desire to be in Ghana, that persisted for years after you passed… that is what I want to lay to rest. The desire to create a future for myself here has passed – has probably long since passed, but I must have needed to come to really experience the fact that it truly has. Yes, I am always open to new possibilities, to exploring whatever direction the Divine provides, but right now… I feel like the direction is out of here.
…I am so thankful I have finally come. I needed to come, and I’m not done yet – I know I need a bit more time out near – or very hopefully at – our old site. And yes, it feels wonderful, in many ways, to be back in Ghana, back in Africa, and that is something for which to be thankful. But what I feel even more thankful for, in this moment, is the feeling that I can lay my life here, my past here, to rest.
And I can’t even describe to you what that means. I just know that I feel it.
Aharona Shackman has used writing as her primary practice for connecting with the Self pretty much since she learned to write. With the commencement of this blog, she is now beginning to practice the sharing of some of her writing...