Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Waiting by the River


(Note to reader: My blogs will be in jet lag with themselves. This was written several days ago and to me, feels like old news. But no matter to the reader. Because Internet is spotty in our place in Ghana, I will post two back-to-back and keep the narrative going as possible. Thanks for your patience.)

And so it begins. 27 hours of air travel in my movie theater in the sky. Books, pretty good movies and sleep my companions that made it all bearable and even fun. On the last flight, from Brussels to Accra, Ghana, I couldn’t help but notice my pasty white face amidst a sea of beautiful black faces and let’s face it, we never will be color blind nor need we be. Our deep innate tendency to seek out our own for comfort will not go away, but neither will our capacity to enjoy the other and enjoy the pleasure of coming to feel “them” as “us.” I have long stood outside black culture as an admirer, as a serious student of a certain style of soul and spirit, sometimes side-by-side as a fellow lover of basketball and music and now, one inch deeper with my mixed-race grandchildren. But as much as one can study and absorb through personal contact, reading, music, dance and more, there is unquestionably a connection gifted by birth and inaccessible by study. So it is and so it shall ever be and it’s okay.

Meanwhile, I can’t help note the sense of being the minority never made me feel that I was wrong or strange or unworthy even though the sins of my white-skinned ancestors (and contemporaries) could easily have dressed me in that garment. The generosity of the majority black folks is never to be taken for granted, the smile the immigration officer gave me and the easy welcome to his country. What a contrast when it’s a lone black face in a sea of white or an African visiting the U.S. We should be ashamed and further ashamed that we often aren’t.

While waiting for the luggage, I overheard a man telling his friend “Patience is one of the most necessary virtues here.” This was not a condescending comment on the efficiency of the social institutions here, for indeed, efficiency is often not high on the cultural list of things to attend to in the daily round. I waited with my plane-mates for an hour for my luggage and it never did come. Another man was back for this second day hoping his luggage had made it on the next flight. It had not.

We waited for an hour and then the dreaded three words came: “No more bags.” So off we trotted to the Claims Counter and as I stood in line behind 15 people, I notice five carts piled high with luggage. A spot of green peeked out that looked familiar and lo and behold, it was my bag! A quick look through the other carts and there was my other bag! Hallelujah! I think my bags must have come off first and got put on this cart and somehow wheeled away. So the hour wait was unnecessary, but justified by the happiness that I had my bags after all.

Meanwhile, there was the psychic exhaustion of looking at bag after bag and wanting to see mine and being disappointed a few hundred times over. To pass the time, I began to work on a poem, still in process and here it is:

Waiting by the River

The bags circle around the conveyor belt like golden boats floating
        down the river.
Each one filled with the friendly faces you might recognize as your own.

But only one of them is for you.
Out of all the variations of faces and bodies,
        Only one (or two) is meant for you.

They come carrying everything you will need to accompany you
 on the journey you have begun.
The clothes that fit only your body,
 the colors that bring you happiness,
 the books that chose you to read them so that you might unlock
 the next secret of your soul.

Some things are interchangeable—the tubes of toothpaste, the playing cards,
the shampoo and so on.
But most is molded precisely to the character you’ve shaped.

And so you wait anxiously as all the ones not yours circle past,
like the immigrant who has sent for the family scouring the faces of those coming off at Ellis Island, waiting, waiting for the first gasp of recognition
and explosion of joy as you rush to meet them.
But your nerves wearing down as you wonder how many more are left and what if yours never comes?

And then wondering how this trip will change if nothing you brought arrives.
                Wondering what journey awaits you
Without your suitcase of familiar selves.
       Truly starting your life anew. 

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