on being homesick: sankofa

Sankofa – a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates as “to go back and get it”.

this is me fetching a memory in hopes that i might not lose it. in hopes that transcribing it into words will allow me to live infinitely in these moments.

i remember the gate. brown and rusty with glass spikes lining the tops of white cement walls on both sides. i remember morning mist of uncondensed rain and dog barks interjecting the sound of rhythmic thuds of wood hitting wood, the occasional pause when the fufu pounder stopped to wipe the sweat off her brow — the song of home; a lullaby a young me took for granted, a melody an older me sings to herself so she might not forget; a harmony that tugs at my heart’s strings in a game of tug of war between where i was grown and where i now sit in a vase.
i remember lights out and Anansi stories on the porch with grandma, and negro spirituals with grandpa. I remember stealing sugar cubes and powdered milk from their house next to ours and mixing it with gari and water. a sickly sweet mixture i digested with pride in my secret corner of the compound behind green leaves as tall as my body and raw aloe vera grandma would rub on our mosquito bit legs.
i remember fat jellylike wall geckos and colorful lizards. each breath they took would inflate their small bodies in a pulse as they paused, seeming to be consciously acknowledging the sounds and vibrations around them, contemplating the next move their webbed feet would make. i was never able to hold back the urge to startle the little peaceful creatures, and always took pleasure in seeing them scurry away into grandpa’s garden. i wondered what they do back there. if they had little homes with families between the flowers; how they gave birth and how they knew which were male or female since they all looked the same to me. the stories they’d tell if we could understand them.
i remember mango trees that stretch to the heavens in my great-grandmother’s front yard. i remember my special technique. i’d bite a small piece of the skin off from the smaller end of the mango and suck out the sweet juice, as much as i could till the skin hugged the seed within. then i would attend to the flesh, i’d peel off the skin and eat the soft fruit around the seed till it was a pale almost-white yellow color. at this point i’d have made a beautiful mess and i’d lick the leftover juice off my fingers with a satisfactory smile.
i remember watching Spanish soap operas on tv with the women of the house, screaming to each other when the show came back from too long commercial breaks. i yearned for long curly hair like Esmeralda and rosy cheeks like Rosalinda. my sister and i would emulate them, doing grown women things like purposely moving our hips while we walked and took swigs from imaginary cigarettes, exhaling sex-appeal. we were perplexed by the wonders of adulthood; too eager to grow up, too eager to be European, too eager to join this world outside of ourselves only to find out there is nothing here on the other side but dreams of wanting to go back to when we dreamt that dream, dreams of stopping our past selves.
i remember looking left then right then left again before crossing the street, and jumping over wide gutters on the sides, just to prove to myself that i could; that me and my small legs could. i remember walking with my cousins down that road to return glass coca-cola bottles for coins, and buying fresh bottles. i remember the sweet sparkling taste of cold Muscatella, and seeing who could burp the loudest among my sister and i. we laughed with our souls. i have yet to find a happiness as innocent as that.
i remember the yellow and white checkered uniforms and fun car-rides to school in the back seat with my best friend, the kind of best friend that others assume you’re sisters, the kind of best friend whose home was your home and your home was her home.
i remember the love.
i don’t remember the day i told that best friend i was moving to America to live here. i don’t remember how i felt when packing my bags to move everything i’ve known for a new beginning. i don’t remember the names of my neighbors or the last words i said to my great-grandmother before we departed. i don’t remember walking around one last time to absorb the scents of home; the sounds of home.
so i write down what i do remember. in hopes that i may return again soon. but i am afraid. i am afraid what they say about home is true. that the sounds i remember have changed not only chords, but genre. tales of corruption and modern day colonization. tales of improvement with epilogues of backward thought influenced by western ideologies. of the brain drain– the evacuation of doctors, engineers, and intellectuals; the one which i am contributing to as i sit in my vase reminiscing to times when i was merely a seed.
i am a tree. uprooted. with my roots reaching back home like fingers hoping to grasp on to familiar soil before it slips out of my hands. before it slips out of its own hands.



One thought on “on being homesick: sankofa

  1. Change, they say, is the only thing that is constant in this life. And as I absorb the longing in the words you’ve penned, reaching out to remember and define as much of that past as you can, I can only sigh and say yes, much has changed. Physically the house may be the same, and it is a very weird realization that physical structures by themselves don’t mean much. It is the people who inhabit them, who infuse the memories and experiences that bring fond memories to mind, that make all the difference.
    And yet even those people you remember have changed. They’ve grown, developed new interests and passions, view the world differently and value things differently, yes, even the tight friendship you once shared. I dare say that nothing at all you remember has remained static, as you left it. Everything and everyone has changed somewhat, including you, and that means even your assessment and feelings towards what you remember will not be the same when you finally confront what you left behind.
    But this change is a necessary process of life. At a point you also realize that your memories, your happiness, is something you have to forge for yourself. So do not be afraid to visit, to go back and retrace those same paths from long ago. And it would be most enlightening to hear from you after that.
    I look forward to that post of yours.

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