OYARIFA, Ghana — Africa called him. He could feel it deep down in his soul. I felt the same call, speaking, beckoning, emanating perhaps from our spirit ancestors, whispering, “Come home.”
Or so we imagine. We do not yet fully comprehend it.
But here we stand, as American escapees. Black men who, on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, greet each other with gregarious handshakes and brotherly hugs as if we are former slaves separately escaped from the same wretched plantation, jubilant in our common bond of survival and safe passage to freedom.
Two brothers from the Chi loved to life by strong grandmothers — one of us from K-Town, the other from the Wild 100’s, better known as North Lawndale and Roseland.
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Two souls from a land far away, where two poor Black boys grew up a generation apart and yet also as kinsmen in “the struggle” in America, where racism still blows cold like the wind, and Black bodies — at the hands of white and also far many more Black males — too often lie bleeding in her streets.
We stand apart from her, atop a modern mall in Oyarifa, in Ghana’s Greater Accra Region. At least for now.
A cool West African evening breeze flows. Emerald hills in the distance rest beneath a twinkling night sky.
Far from the gusts of racial hate and the incessant threat of murder and gun violence in America, we inhale the breath of freedom and peace amid the ambiance of shimmering lightbulbs and stately wooden tables whose tops are emblazoned with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel.
This is Telie Woods’ place: “Jerk Soul Rooftop Restaurant.” A sign inside Jerk Soul welcomes all who enter: “Shalom.”
Jerk Soul is one of Ghana’s newest eateries — an elegant establishment with hand-crafted wooden tables and chairs shaped like thrones that create a regal yet down-home atmosphere that sets the table for Woods’ jerk classics and an assortment of mouth-watering fusions that erupt like sunshine on the palette.
Woods, who grew up in Roseland, says his secret sauce and culinary craft stem from his Caribbean roots and are nurtured in the inheritance of traditional soul food made sweeter with a twist of jerk. His menu lists jerk jollof — Woods’ rendition of a Ghanaian staple; veggie tacos with jerk oyster mushrooms; rasta pasta with a creamy parma rosa sauce and sauteed sweet peppers; smothered turkey wings and more, including a host of cocktails. Among them, the twisted Bob Marley — a rum mix as delightful to consume as it is to look at.
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Woods, at 6’ 3,” is a bearded gentle giant who opened Jerk Soul March 7, just eight months after deciding to sell his belongings, pack up and move to Ghana.
He is not unlike other African Americans here whom I have spoken with about their decision to flee America, which, for some, was ushered by their desire to escape the toxicity of American racism and the incessant assault against the Black body.
And despite the imperfections of Ghana and the growing pains it presents in adjusting to life here, Woods, 45, like many others, has found home.
“The lights go out sometimes, I don’t like it. The internet is shaky, I don’t like it … But I’ll deal with all that stuff versus what I saw on the internet the other day,” he says, referring to an April shooting in which a released video allegedly shows a Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer shoot a Black man, Patrick Lyoya, 26, in the back of the head.
“Bro, I’m done with that,” he tells me. “That stuff is dead to me. Us killing each other is dead to me.”
It is dead to me, too. Except I hear America calling me back home.
For now, however, I savor the sweet taste of freedom, peace and culinary flavor here with my brother from the Chi, at a very special place called Jerk Soul.
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