I arrive at one of the transit hubs in Accra, a station in the middle of winding corridors of markets. Fresh vegetables, spices, fish from the nearby sea, black soap and shea butter, sandals and sturdy bags are stacked along the crowded walkways. This is Madina, and I’m walking to the station where a car will take me to the outskirts of Accra. A friend once told me that it’s impossible to be lost in Ghana if you’re not afraid to ask for directions. The last time I left the city, I left the house a couple of hours behind schedule. Such is life in Accra, where the standard greeting is a 5-minute conversation and the traffic congestion promises to add time to get across town.
When I think of home, I don’t necessarily think of Memphis where I was born or Flagstaff, Az. where I spent two formative years. Castro Valley is where I spent most of my childhood in one fell swoop. My family moved into a suburban neighborhood with Securitas guards circling the streets at night, mail with my name would arrive in the mailbox, I would stamp accomplishments across the summer reading challenge at the Castro Valley Library. My first kiss happened by the Columbia pool on the playground, and I played soccer for 11 consecutive years for the Castro Valley Youth Soccer League, mostly on the same team. But home means something different to me than it does to the communities of people I’ve come to know in Ghana.
They see home more the way I imagine the Ohlone people see the Bay Area, a place with roots where life is tied to the land. When I was in school here four years ago, I spent most of my time in Ghana split between Accra and a small beach town on the outskirts of Accra called Ada Foah. Now that I’m back, it’s been very much the same.
The drive takes longest just getting out of Accra proper, a land originally settled by the Gah people. I take a tro tro from Madina station, pass through Tema— the industrial spill-over for businesses that don’t fit in Accra proper— and then embark on the drive east through hours of grassy countryside and fresh air. If the season is right, I’ll see people selling melons on the road. When I reach Kasseh, I’m shepherded to a taxi that will take fellow Ada-bound passengers down the paved, tree-lined road into town. From there, the road splits and I pass to the right to drive into Ada Foah.
Each transition brings me further into the countryside. Closer to the water. Further from the smog, and dense, cultural metropolis. Closer to the people who recognize me.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to unpack where the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence begins, and where indigenous culture ends in Ghana. Colonists, much like in other places in the world, arrived as strangers on these shores and saw opportunity for glory and wealth disconnected from the inhabitants and how they’d come to know the land.
From Foah I take a moto, traversing uneven dirt roads into a world apart. I’ve tried to capture the journey a few different times. I can’t add the context of stretching cramped legs and the feel of the ocean breeze across sweaty skin. From paved roads to dirt roads, from homes and apartments cramped in close quarters to the openness of village life.
Halfway through the first village, the packed earth starts to loosen into sand. The moto ride ends. I dismount and walk.
Children practice their english with me; giggling as they run up, sometimes coming to hold my hand for for a few steps, before they say smiley goodbyes and pass through narrow corridors to their homes. Goats roam freely, picking up food waste when left aside and returning home to sleep where they know a reliable meal will come. Chicks, chickens, and ducks also wander through town, somehow more regal and colorful with a free range fierceness about them. The people don’t bother them, they don’t bother the people.
I cross a wooden bridge over a water pipe that leads to a small lagoon from the river side of the estuary. Looking out to my left I see the river. I see fishermen in huge painted vessels and smaller canoes. Words like “DETERMINATION” and “UNITED WE STAND” are splashed across the sides of the boats. Each morning starting between 3 – 4:00AM the fishermen board the boats and cast the nets.
Most people enter the touristic beach camp where I’ve been staying from the river side, taking a boat from town. Curious visitors will walk through the community, but it’s not too common. It feels private in the village. People bathe at the water side. Women breastfeed. People are used to seeing me in the village now, and I’m greeted warmly. My clumsy mouth forms greetings in Ewe, “Eh-fua” how are you, “Meh-fo” I’m fine, “Wah-zoh,” you are welcome. They speak a particular dialect of Ewe here. I can’t really discern the difference not knowing much of other dialects. When I bring Ewe-speaking friends, they comment on the accent and local jargon.
I trek through the school toward the center of a community called Kewunor, which in Dangme means “People of the Sand.” Their Dangme neighbors gave them the name over a century ago when the first Ewe ancestors started to settle on the land— fishing and planting coconut trees. In the community, they call themselves Kedzi, which is Ewe for the same thing.
Every building structure is built from materials on their land— small trees hold up palm frond fencing. Grass thatches the roof. I often see women sorting through materials for building, babies resting comfortably in fabric tied to their backs.
It’s a different type of home. It’s a home that has been inherited through generations of hustle. A home where the people’s relationship to the land is a partnership. In their DNA, their diet, their songs, their language, their life experiences, the river, the sea and the sand is a part of them in a way that none of my homes can be. To be disconnected from that relationship is something I could have never understood until witnessing how deep love can exist between land and people.
To learn more about indigenous folks in the Bay Area who are working to reclaim sacred sovereign land, visit the Sogorea Te Land Trust and find updates and resources on the indigenous publication Awakening the Horse. Those with additional resources or comments, feel free to leave them below.