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The old saying is that you cannot go home again. I think one can always go home as long as one does not expect places and people one left behind to stay the same.
Things change. People change, and if one is to learn anything at all in life, one must learn that change is inevitable. This is a fact of life. I have also learned that there is little to gain from pretending or acting as if all is well when in fact all is broken up around us. This is an inauthentic existence.
I have also learned that one must never live in the past. Living in the past creates problems; therefore, to live an authentic life one must live in the present, the here and now. One must live as if this is one's last day on earth but learn, care, and love as if life will last forever. One cannot change the past, but one can always look and plan and hope for a better future. An African proverb my father taught me says it better; "Castles are only built in the future."
Most of us live as if there is going to be a tomorrow. This is good, except that most of the time we are not prepared if things fall apart. We seem to expect things to stay the same. Sometimes we are so certain of ourselves that we fail to accept the bumps in life. Living as if there will always be a tomorrow to fix things, to care, to do things, to cherish, to love, to give, to say and to do those great things we dream of is false. It seems to most of us that there is always time, and there is no need to be in any hurry. We think the sun will always rise - as an old childhood friend of mine used to say as a joke, "My Lord what a morning." There is always a dawn on the horizon and there is no need to worry.
But sooner or later, that final dawn comes when we least expect it.
Another African proverb from my grandparents goes like this: "Only fools live by denying or pretending that there is no final dawn in the horizon."
"Old or young, we are all chased by the final dawn of life," my father used to say in his serious moments. For obvious reasons, I found great solace in these thoughts as I prepared to go home after several years absence from my beloved country. I found in these thoughts the will and the way to live away from my original home. I had learned to accept the inevitability of life as I set out for home. Finally, I was aware that ultimately there would be that day when the illusion of life would cease and the end would come even for me.
I seem to be ahead of myself. My name is not important, but what I have to say here and how these thoughts are connected and related to each other is very important. I just happen to be the story teller, as we say in my language. It is amazing how one thing always leads to another, and to larger issues, and finally to life and living itself.
Just before noon on that Christmas Eve the car, on the way from Accra the capital to Suhum about fifty miles north, was stopped at a security checkpoint on the outskirts of Suhum where my mother now lived. For almost twenty minutes nothing happened. I sat in the car and just looked out of the windows; however, I was very angry at myself and those who had stopped me.
A pot-bellied soldier with scars on his cheeks walked up and asked the driver to open the trunk of the car.
I told myself that I should resist getting angry. I should not allow this experience to change my love for and views of my beloved native land, now over forty years old as an independent state. For me this experience was an epoch-making moment - the end of the old Africa I left behind. I now realized that I had been so out of touch with the reality of what was currently happening in my native country and all of Africa.
I felt it closing in on me. I said to myself, "My God, the proverbial barbarians are at the gates." Still I could not believe that this was my beloved native country I was actually visiting at this moment in time. A new order had emerged from the ruins of the many coups and counter-coups.
I now came to the conclusion that we had not seen the last of the coups, and that this present reality was the prelude of things to come. The final model would have to combine the present and the future. I was observing just another bad phase of a tribalized political culture of chaos. I felt the ground moving under me. It was enough to give me the chills.
My mind flashed back to KuKuhill Estates, my beloved home on the hill. I thought about my favorite time, when I was growing up. The noonday when lunch was prepared for Daddy by my Mother, and served by the servants. The kitchen, a separate building all by itself, became the center of household activity. Oh, how I loved watching my mother create, as if by magic, one of her extraordinary and delicious meals.
There was no discussion of the menu, nor was there elaborate planning with the servants. By the time mother, in her regal manner, came into the kitchen, she had all the characteristics of a Queen. All the servants bowed as she entered. Everything had been washed, cut, grounded, chopped, and carefully positioned. There were onions, okra, tomatoes, yams, peppers, and many more exotic tropical vegetables. She would sit down on a stool as if it were her throne and would not move an inch. Only the servants moved at her command as she watched like a well rehearsed drama. She would mix, stir, smell, but never tasted as she worked, relying on timing, color and texture and scent to create our sumptuous mid-day meal. For just a moment this memory of the distant past became real.
I could not believe it. I had to wake up.
KuKuhill was no more; it had become a medical center. I was choked with tears. It had taken me a bone-rattling three hours to drive from Accra to Suhum. There was an element of poignancy to the journey, and an uncertainty that I could not explain to myself. The family had become exiles in my beloved native land.
Perhaps this explained why I had not been back until now. In spite of the way I was feeling, I was still stunned by the beauty of my country. I was amazed at how little the land itself had changed. The trees on the plains and forests were weighed down with ripe mangoes, bananas, papayas, blackberries, coconuts, guavas, and cashew nuts. At the makeshift stands along the route to Suhum, street vendors spilled out into the highway with people touching and jostling each other. This was always how it had been.
I suddenly decided to take charge of our current situation and responded to the order of the security guard to open the trunk of the car. I got out of the car and said to the security guard in pidgin English, "My friend, how you dey?" This meant, "How are you my friend?"
He replied in a friendly manner, "I dey like I don dey." This meant "so, so."
I said, "Afishapa to you," meaning, "A happy new year to you and a merry Christmas."
He replied with a silly grin, "You master, you be good friend." He meant, "You are a good friend, Sir."
I continued, "I be in a hurry. I dey go see my mama I no see for plenty years." As I spoke I raised my ten fingers.
He responded, now smiling, "Yes sah, yes sah, yes sah, master. You go tell Mama I say her son deh come home safe." What he was trying to say was, "Go sir, go and tell your mother her son is home now." Up to now my visit was clearly not a pleasant nor an enjoyable one for me. Perhaps he made it bearable just for a few minutes. I thanked God for that.
When I stepped into the half-sunken room that doubled as a shop for my mother, it led me straight into the courtyard. I was met and greeted by a portly and elderly tenant of my mother who ran the palm wine bar next door. He took my hand and led me to his palm wine bar.
The bar was really a rickety verandah in front of a large room stacked with bottles. Over the verandah hung a sign that read, "Palm Wine Bar." A farmer, a merchant, a soldier, and an elderly man were sitting down as if waiting just for me. They spoke in pidgin English with me, although among themselves they spoke their local languages. They had no idea that I could understand them so I just smiled at them.
The old man took over and asked all of them to drink to my health. "We are all different tribes here," he said, "but we find it pleasant to get along with each other." Pointing to me, he said, "Osofo," meaning Reverend, "Now that you have seen how we have taken care of your mother, we drink to you as you take care of the bill." Everyone started to laugh. I paid the barkeeper and gave each of them some money and left while they were still roaring with satisfied laughter.
Back at the airport I was silent and somber as I waited for my return flight to the United States. The spiritual food I came to find in all its abundance had left most of my hunger untouched and unabated. Like much of what had passed my lips, the trip had been both sweet and sour, rich and bitter.
I realized that you can never go home again and I also realized that when I returned to the United States I would have a lot of unpacking to do. Not only would I have to physically unpack my belongings, but I would also have a lot of mental and spiritual unpacking to do.
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