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.
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...