Thursday, June 05, 2008

Photo, Amahl Grant: The ancient mosque at Larabanga, Ghana

Tror Na Foe (troh-nah-fway), a phrase in Ewe, the language of my father's forbears in eastern Ghana and Togo, meaning, roughly to return and find again.

If you are new to this site, I invite you to scroll all the way back to the very beginning and follow along with the journey that began when, through DNA-based genealogical research, we found and connected with members of the family from whom my father's line was separated by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

If you're a returning reader, akpe nowo (thank you very much) and welcome back! Sorry I haven't posted for a while... but your patience is about to be rewarded! You may remember that I said at the outset I intend to write a book about this adventure. Well, I've been busy doing exactly that, and it's my intention now to share major portions of that book with you as it comes along.

Here's the first half of the "prequel" to "I Hold High My Beautiful, Luminous Q'uran." Enjoy. I'll offer up the second half next week. See you then.


“This be Ghana, oh”

Cousin David showed up at the KNUST Engineering Guest House with a cab and driver right on time, at 5:00 a.m., for the early STC bus to Tamale. David, who had squired me around Kumasi to meet relatives and to see the town, had recently lost his job. When Gideon told him of my desire to visit Mole Park, he’d jumped at the chance to accompany me. I was paying, and he had the time. “We don’t do enough internal travel,” he said. “We have so much beauty here, but we Ghanaians, we hardly ever get the chance to see and enjoy our own country.” Travel in west Africa - even in a country like Ghana with better than average infrastructure – is hard. And it’s not cheap, in a society where the economy just limps along and almost everyone is chronically underpaid.

Mole had held a special allure for me, ever since I first read about it in the process of preparing for this trip. I’d loved every minute of my time on the coast, the hill country north and northeast of Accra; the rain forest. But so much of my long-imagined Africa had always been about the savannah too – the land of baobab trees, mud houses and mud mosques; the sahel region at the edge of the great Sahara – the home of mythical, ancient towns like Timbuktu and Djenne. And the other savannah; the home of big game and the safari. Mole is one of the only places in all of west Africa where visitors can have that quintessential east African experience of close encounters with some of the big, endan-gered animals with which Africa is forever linked in the popular imagination. And this is a place where you don’t need to hire a guide and rent an expensive four-wheel drive vehicle to see the park and its animal life. Anything which even vaguely evoked echoes of the whole “great white hunter” safari of the colonialist past was not for me. At Mole, you get to do your safari as part of a small group led by a ranger, on foot. You can also explore the park’s miles of trails by rented bike. Just my speed, all of that. I had to go.

The burly, charismatic driver hopped onto our bus at the Kumasi STC station like a performer taking the stage. “As Salaam aleikum,” he shouted. The two-thirds of the passengers who were northerners going home – and some of the rest of us too – shouted back “Wa aleikum, salaam,” as he launched into his good-natured apology on behalf of the STC that this vehicle on which we’d be spending the next nine hours or so was second class, not the first class bus we were supposed to have. But, no worries, said Wesley, after he introduced himself with a flourish. We should settle back and enjoy the trip, because, “That first-class bus was crap anyway. This bus, my bus, she’s the queen. I’m telling you, you don’t know how lucky you are to be on this bus. And me, I’m the best driver they got, too.” He flashed a huge grin as his eyes scanned the crowded bus. “Some among you know me well. They’ll tell you.” And sure enough, some of his regulars laughed and nodded at the rest of us. “You see; you see? It’s gonna be a good ride. Oh, yes! Schmoooo-ve, man, I’m telling you! No troubles; no worries. If you’re ready, I’m ready. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!!” He cranked the engine and gunned it extra hard just for show. Well, at least, I thought, this is one brother who will not be falling asleep at the wheel. Not a single goat or chicken between here and Tamale was likely to end up as road kill on this man’s watch. And Wesley promised to be entertaining enough that we wouldn’t for one minute miss the bad Nigerian movies they show in first class.

So, David and I settled in for the ride. My only anxiety now was that cousin Lawrencia had promised to see us off, and she wasn’t here yet. She is a woman of her word, and I hated the thought that, driven by this powerful sense of family duty she’s got, she was fighting the unbearable Kumasi traffic to get to us, but would almost certainly arrive too late. Then she’d have to turn right around and fight that traffic going the other direction, with only the slimmest chance of making it to school in time to unlock the doors. I never did see her, but just as the bus pulled out of the station, I heard David call my name from the back of the bus (our seats were supposed to be together, but the ticket agent had messed it up). Slowly, but surely, a plastic bag snaked its way from passenger to passenger until it reached my hand. “Lawrencia,” David shouted.

It was a breakfast sandwich of scrambled egg and vegetables, one of two she’d lovingly made for us in the pre-dawn darkness while she fed her husband and kids and got ready for school. Then she’d made the mad dash to the bus station, spotted David in the window, and managed to hand them up to him as the bus pulled away. Miraculously, my sandwich was still warm. After being up since before dawn myself to catch this early bus, I was suddenly very hungry too. I don’t know when I’ve appreciated a meal more.

Wesley really did know half the people on that bus. As we got underway, good-natured ribbing bounced back and forth between Wesley and passengers who were obviously part of his considerable fan club. And as he cheerfully and expertly navigated the big bus through chaotic traffic and the aggressive sea of street vendors on our way north out of the endless urban sprawl of Kumasi, a half-dozen people leaned in toward him, the better to keep themselves in earshot so they could hear, above the din of the engine, the traffic, and the lively conversation in the aisles, his steady stream of stories and rant. The people on either side of me offered conversation, fresh fruit and cookies. Somebody in back cranked up the reggae music a local radio station was playing. All of a sudden, it was like having wandered into a pretty good party. But like all good parties, it was over too soon.

1 comment:

Karoda said...

I had a dream last night about being in Accra...and here you are with an update on your blog! This is so wonderful!!!