Ghana stirs thoughts of freedom, Black identity

African by heritage. American by my social DNA. African American in heart and blood and rhythm and soul. Despised at home.

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Little girls pictured here are among those John Fountain observes carrying water home each night in Ghana. 

Children pictured here are among those John Fountain observed carrying water home each night in Ghana.

John W. Fountain

ACCRA, Ghana — Freedom. Here lately I’ve been thinking about freedom. About the search beyond America’s shores for liberated air. To breathe and flow. And touch my Black skin. And make me whole.

Heal me from a thousand jagged innuendos and slights. And bloodstained images from centuries of hate and strife against the Black body. From “Strange Fruit” days to state-sanctioned murder and hate.

And the glaze that filled George Floyd’s dying eyes. That summoned a salt-filled sea of cries and tears for Breonna Taylor.

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Here lately, even upon my escaping, for a little while, the inescapable, unavoidable, intractable ebb and flow of racially hate-filled winds that in my own land daily prick my Black skin, I must reckon with the notion that I may run. But I cannot hide. Even in this coal- Black skin on the Atlantic Ocean’s other side, where I am left to wonder: Is there no place for me?

African by heritage. American by my social DNA. African American in heart and blood and rhythm and soul. Despised at home. And yet, not fully embraced away.

And I wonder if Freedom is really a place. Or whether freedom on this side, or the other, is simply a final evolutionary state. Of liberation. Of the heart, mind and soul. That washes over me daily. The way these white foam waves I see here crash and flow. That make my soul, my Black body, still yearn for home.

* * * *

Happy people smoke fish at the wharf through the haze of sun-blazed Ghanaian days. As wood-burnt heat rises from these steel, filled grills. Overflowing. No grass growing beneath busy barren feet. Industrious tasks to complete before sundown.

Fishermen mend their nets amid this scent of sea and humanity. Of sand and grit. And plantain grilled.

As vast canoes, now stilled, stretch for as far as the eyes can see. At pause now, as some here rest and sleep amid this market’s pounding, sweating, unrelenting heart’s beat.

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Mornin’ catch roasts golden brown. And the ground is laden with tiny fish that lie sun-drying.

And all around a people — coal to brown — with souls of gold and humble crowns illuminate this corner of West African atmosphere.

With strong hands and backs that don’t break. And unwearied eyes and pride you can’t take. And the sun pales in comparison to their smiles.

Happy people.

* * * *

Without complaint and with no detectable frown, the children here carry water. In the evenings after school. I see them: Little boys and little girls with sunbaked skin and innocent brown eyes. With assorted filled bottles and buckets. Lifted high. Carried on their heads with transparent ease. Along these red dirt and sand-laden rugged streets.

It is routine here. A frequent sight: Children fetching water. At day and at night.

And yet, the children smile …

* * * *

I won’t forget the music. The songs that fell upon my ears or those I absorbed with my eyes. The sound of the African drum. Even the silence. Ghana’s night hum.

The agony — of white-stone slave castles. Of the muggy dungeon’s smell, where the souls of slaves still dwell. Of libations poured in the dim-lit darkness inside this once living hell. Of standing, at the edge of the sea, from where slave ships once set sail.

I won’t forget: The poise as Black women carry their burden in the heat of the day. Head erect. Iron-board back straight. With the elegance of a runway model. Whether in slow prideful stride or glorious gait. Under sun, sweat, wind weight.

I won’t forget: The pride. The glide. The joy inside. This glorious land indigenous to the first man — a Black man, an African. Land where Black folk number the golden sands. For as far as the eyes can see.

And a clear blue sky is a canopy for the ocean as the wind tickles emerald-green leaves on coconut trees.


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