Have you ever cried at the mere idea of something? An experience that you may never have, or a heartache you will never feel? As humans, empathy may be one of the greatest qualities that we possess. The ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else, it’s what helps us connect.
I don’t feel like a child in the Motherland.
Yes, I said it.
As an African-American I constantly find myself feeling like I don’t have a place in this world. I came to Ghana believing that I was going to be coming back where I belong. Why? Well, in America I don’t feel at home. Every single day I am forced to wake up and be my race, I am constantly reminded of the chocolate tent of my skin. Whether it’s the stares that I employ from onlookers while I am in the midst of a black or white people respectively. Maybe it’s the look on my peers face when I raise my hand in class and they are shocked that I can articulate and enunciate my thoughts with eloquence, class, and ease. Being black in America is hard, and being black and feeling like you don’t belong in America is harder.
But the truth is that abroad I have yet to find my place. I just knew that by coming to Ghana I was going to find answers and my place in the world.. instead what I found was strength.
I’ll let John Green give you a 101 Crash Course on Slavery.
Walking into the Cape Coast Slave Castle there was no class, no lesson, movie, show, or book, that could have adequately prepared me for the feeling that I had.
I walked through dungeons. Some specifically designated for males, and others specific for females. I touched the walls that had slave bodies pressed up against them that were once drenched and overtaken by the smell of an obscene amount of missed baths. I walked the floors, floors that used to be packed solid with human waste.. I could still smell the excretion. As the door to the dungeon was closed I heard the water crashing and imagined how I would have felt if that was my first encounter with the water. When the guide wasn’t talking to us it was so quiet I could hear the faint echo of cries, and screams.
As we walked over to one of the two clean water wells I pictured African women being bathed and moisturized with Shea butter just to prepare them to be taken to the governor’s quarters to be raped. And from that rape a mulatto child could very well be a product. I had the opportunity to experience the darkness of prison cells that would uncomfortably accommodate 5, but was created to hold 50 slaves. The darkness was pierced only by a small hole that was created not for light but as a means to watch the slaves in the room. In this prison cell slaves had an unavoidable death.. and knowing that none of the bodies would be removed until the last of the 50 bodies was lifeless. Can you imagine that? Imagine being the first to die in conditions like that or even the last.
Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman provided the best preparation for this experience. There were two points that she made that had the biggest impact on me.
1. Noone can tell you how an experience like this should feel. Regardless of if you go once, twice, or a thousand times, feelings are the most genuine and unique reactions to an experience like this one.
2. ASlave Castles and the structure of slavery itself can be paralleled with the human intestine. The function of the intestine is to take what you put into your body (food) deplete it of all that is good, use that to keep your body going and then get rid of the waste. The slavery system is the same way.
Take a slave. Break the slave down, all the things that make him/her unique strip them of it. Keep the body strong, take away and discard the mind.
It’s in moments like these that I thank God for my mind, and the opportunity to come to this land and expand it.
I came from the womb of a woman and a man that walked through the ‘Door of No Return’ and here I am, returning.
The overwhelming emotion that I had walking out of the front doors of the castle was one of pride. Knowing that someone made it through those inhumane conditions, conditions made to break them and they made it. Because of them, I am. And I am glad to be.
“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be…”
A – (Hartman, pg 111, 120)