Thursday, June 12, 2008

Photo: Students at cousin Lawrencia's Sky Limit International School in Kumasi

(Troh-nah-fway) a phrase in Ewe, the language of my father's forbears from Ghana, Togo and Benin, meaning, roughly, "to return and find again."

Below you'll find the second of several installments which comprise the "prequell" to the previous four part story, "I Hold High My Beautiful, Luminous Q'uran." Look for another installment next week which will take you farther "Into the North." With that installment I'll begin in earnest the process of sharing with you some excerpts of the book I'm writing about the adventure of finding, through DNA-based genealogical research, one of the African families from whom my father's side was separated by the trans-Atlantic slave trade!

If you're new to the blog, please scroll all the way back to the beginning so that you can follow along with what's happened so far. Thanks for keeping company with me on this journey.


Wesley started having trouble keeping the engine from killing whenever we had to slow down. He grew uncharacteristically quiet, the better to listen closely to what was going on under the hood. The problem seemed to right itself for a while, but then, an hour north of town, the engine simply quit. Fortunately, we were very near a gas station, and Wesley was able to coast the bus off the road, up onto the grass just beyond the entrance. He apologized profusely and promised us a replacement bus would come soon.

He phoned Kumasi, and then we piled out onto the shoulder of the road in a light rain. Everyone pitched in to help offload the luggage. People bought snacks from the service station; used the bathroom; crowded in together under the shelter of the service kiosks – which was fine, because no customers needed access to the pumps anyway. The station was completely out of gas.

We huddled together in small groups and chatted quietly while we waited… and waited… Wesley looked under the hood and cursed; then held court with a small group of passengers, loosing a torrent of complaint about the STC. A business man who was not a charter member of Wesley’s fan club leaned into me and said, “Oh, my, you see how he plays the victim now. I’m sure the STC mechanics knew when we left that this bus had only a fifty percent chance of making it to Tamale at best. But the thing is, I’m sure our driver knew it too. Whatever’s wrong, I assure you it was completely foreseeable, but they just didn’t take care of it, you see? And so now, here we are.”

I spotted another STC bus headed in our direction. I said, to no one in particular, “Hey… looks like maybe here comes our chariot now. This wasn’t so bad.” A young, dreadlocked man behind me chuckled, “Not yet. This be Ghana, oh.”[1] It’s a refrain uttered by millions of people, millions of times a day. Every nation has a national flag; a national anthem; most even have an official national flower and a bird too. But not every nation has an official national sigh of futility and resignation. Ghana does.

Sure enough, it was another hour before we were back on our way. It was a true first class bus this time. The new driver wasn’t a showman like Wesley, but he was pleasant enough. And at least this time, David and I could sit together. The good things about first class were the air conditioning and the comfier seats; the bad things: lousy Nigerian gangster movies and an even lousier sound system only capable of two settings – loud, or off. So, for the next seven and half hours, those of us who weren’t following the action of the movies had to shout just to carry on a conversation with our neighbors. Still, there were people who closed their eyes and managed to nap. Even though I usually can’t sleep well in my seat while I travel, I was tired enough to think that maybe I could pull off that feat myself this time. I tried, and was soon rewarded with a brief period of sweet, badly-needed sleep – not quality sleep, for sure, but enough to take the edge off. And when I awoke, it was as if we had arrived in some other country.

[1] In Twi, the most widely spoken and understood language in Ghana, “oh” is often added to the end of a phrase for no particular reason… like the “eh?” is used in Canada.

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