Monday, November 06, 2006

Tror Na Foe (troh-nah-fway) A phrase in Ewe, the language spoken by our father's ancestors, who lived in southeastern Ghana, which means, roughly, "to return and find again."

"It's Like A Miracle,"
... exclaims cousin Madam Desewu (center) at a meeting of the Tovie (toh-vee-uh) clan on Saturday, November 4, in the ancestral village at Tegbi. With her are Gideon Agbemabiese and her daughter, Agnes Ablayo Agbemabiese.

The American Cousin
Before heading out to the airport with my son, Amahl, I had the usual pre-trip butterflies I always seem to get before I leave for somewhere. It's about anticipating whatever lies ahead; it's about fretting over what I might have forgotten or left undone in the last minute rushing around. Organization is not my strong suit, so there's always last minute rushing around, no matter how carefully I try to plan. But these butterflies were of a whole other order. I was about to fulfill a dream I'd harbored since I was a kid - the dream of finding and meeting our long-missing kinfolk in Africa.

The older and riper a dream becomes, the higher are the stakes if the reality can never quite live up to all the hope and emotion you've invested in it. How would I be received? How should they receive someone whose ancestor went missing from their fold between two hundred ten and two hundred forty years ago? That's a very long time. And much, much water, as they say, has gone over the dam since then... on my side of the Atlantic, as well as theirs. So given that, how are they supposed to feel about me? And for my part, I've always harbored a big romance about how I would feel if I ever found them. But in a few hours time, there we'd be, face to face for the first time, for real. Would the gulf created by time and culture turn out to be too wide and too deep to breach? Or would that sense of connection I have so deeply desired rise up and become a tangible thing? Would I feel, in their presence, like I was home?

The trip to Amsterdam, my stopover destination, was not an auspicious beginning. It wasn't a disaster... just kind of drag, like a long flight can be when there's not much conversation to be had, despite all of us back there in coach jammed together like sardines. A sourness hung in all that dead coach cabin air that was so oppressive, I couldn't wait to get off that plane.

But once in line for the flight to Ghana, things got much better. Ghanaians happy to be going home were talking animatedly, and allowed me to float in and out of a half-dozen different conversations as the line slowly snaked its way through security. I talked to ex-pat African Americans on their way home, missionaries; African Americans, like me, on their first trip to Africa. Once on the plane the lively hub-bub of the airport gate became more like a party. Tired of the usual airline swill, I'd ordered the "Hindu Vegetarian" meal this time, and it was great.

Two and a half hours out of Amsterdam, our plane cleared the coast of southern France, and all of a sudden, the butterflies returned. I knew that the next major land mass I'd see below would be Africa.

But as we approached the African coast, our arrival was anti-climatic. Algeria was covered in dense clouds... and the moon was rising; dusk already rolling in. Then, just in time to enjoy the view for a while before darkness fell, the clouds parted and, from 35,000 feet we could finally gape at the almost unimaginable vastness of the Sahara. That first clear view was the only moment of silence during the entire trip. A Ghanaian stretching himself in the aisle leaned over to look out the window just ahead of mine. "Mama Africa," he said with a smile. I smiled too, grateful that this most pleasant flight had given me what I felt must be a little taste of being in Ghana already... like the experience of dangling your feet in the pool for a beat before slipping fully into the water.

Shortly after the plane landed to the sound of loud applause from the passengers in coach, that pool analogy turned out to be profoundly apt. Because within just a few hours, I'd find myself feeling like a kid tossed into the deep end of a pool - the deep, deep end of a very deep pool.
Come back and visit me at this blog in a few days and I promise, I'll explain.

1 comment:

Clark Patrick said...

Wonderful. I bet your whole life has in some way changed now that you have experienced another layer of who you are? Everyone should be able to experience that shift at least once in their life. Stay the course, I imagine your discoveries will inpsire many more people to seek to find a deeper level of their being as well.