I once heard Africa calling my soul, I now hear America calling me back home

I am torn as I embrace my return to paved roads, an abundance of modern infrastructure and the trappings of the Western world, to friends and family. Torn by the simplicity of life in Ghana, despite its hardship for so many amid glaring abject poverty, which exists side by side with opulence.

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John Fountain and his son Malik and daughter Imani visiting Cape Coast Castle during his Fulbright Scholarship in Ghana.

John Fountain and his son Malik and daughter Imani visiting Cape Coast Castle during his Fulbright Scholarship in Ghana.

Provided by John W. Fountain

I’m coming home. At more than 38,000 feet above the sea, I recline in my cushy seat on this Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I am more than halfway from Africa on my way back to America. It is 5:50 a.m. in Ghana, 1:50 a.m. in East Coast America. And I am only 1,913 miles to my destination.

More than six months ago, I was bound for the other side, for my great adventure back to Africa, having visited South Africa in 2006 and Ghana in 2007. I fell in love with Ghana. With its people and its air of freedom, which flowed like a cool wind on a hot summer’s day.

I fell in love with the sea of dark-complexioned Black people whose skin looked like mine and among whom I did not sense the color conscious culture I experienced in South Africa, where I witnessed billboards advertising skin bleaching creams and where the effects of apartheid and colonialism seemed to have left a visible film of self-hate. Ghana felt like home.

It wasn’t the trip to the slave castles alone, where in hell’s dungeons my ancestors once lay in urine and feces, awaiting transport through the Middle Passage to America. It wasn’t just standing on the soil of the Motherland. It was the air, something in the air: freedom.

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It was also the Ghanaian people — coal to brown and beautiful in a land where racism was not the perennial soup du jour. For the first time in my life, I felt like a man. Not a Black man. Just a man. Free.

I came to Ghana with arms and heart wide open. Without delusions at age 61, but with an eye toward possibility, at least the opportunity to finally lay down my burden of being Black in America for a season of being Black in Africa.

I had even considered the possibility of applying for Ghanaian citizenship amid the door opened by President Nana Akufo-Addo during the Year of Return, as he called in 2019 for African Americans to return “home” — 400 years after the first African slaves appeared on America’s shores.

I had mused about living in Ghana beyond my Fulbright scholarship year, even about being buried in Ghana, should I die there.

At the very least, I wanted to bring my family back to see Ghana. To experience her. And they did.

Of all the countries in the world that I could have gone to for my Fulbright, I chose Ghana because … I love Ghana.

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And yet, I am coming home to America this morning, half-full and half-empty. Half-heartbroken and half-hopeful. Returning to a country that hates me from another that does not love me. I am betwixt and between in one sense. Tears for Ghana. Tears for America. Love for Ghana. Love for America.

Torn by the experience of living in Ghana, where there is something inexorably intoxicating even in the morning scent of burning refuse mixed with the rooster’s jagged crows and the omnipresence of goats, even in the city.

Something that causes tears to well up and spill uncontrollably from my eyes even as I type and my soul recollects the scents and sounds of life in Greater Accra and the daily sight of women head porters, carrying their burdens in the searing sun with the poise of Paris runway models.

Of time spent at my favorite neighborhood bar and grill in a small town called Sakumono, ingesting, amid the African night breeze, the way Ghanaians dance within the music, the rhythms and melodies enrapturing their body and soul in rhapsodies sublime, transporting them in a kind of Pentecostal celebration of life, love and joy that transcends earthly circumstance.

I am torn as I embrace my return to paved roads, an abundance of modern infrastructure and the trappings of the Western world, to friends and family. Torn by the simplicity of life in Ghana, despite its hardship for so many amid glaring abject poverty, which exists side by side with opulence, and my return to my cup of middle-class life American style and my Starbucks coffee.

I am torn by my love for Ghana and by Ghana’s most often lukewarmness toward me. By my love and embrace of my country, and her rejection of me.

And yet, I am certain of this: That inasmuch as I once heard Africa calling my soul, I now hear America calling me back home, where there is still work to do in my mortal days that remain.

So I’m coming home. Home where at least I belong.

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