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…
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...