Monday, July 27, 2009
XIII. OLD GHOSTS
By Kathryn Taubert
She could be my age, ten years older or younger. Routinely passing my perch in early morning, toting at least 25 lbs of cassava root on her head in a large metal pan, a wicked machete in her hand, she’d announce her arrival with a simple “NORDEBRAU.” I soon learned that’s her name, meaning she was born on Tuesday. Many older Ewe were named for the day of their births.
As days passed, I’d see her at the “market”, the space alongside the main road in town under the big Acacia trees, sitting in her plastic lawn chair, selling small, square cellophane-like bags of “Mt. Zion Purified Water.” For the equivalent of about 70 cents, you can buy a couple of gallons worth.
One day Nordebrau invited me to see her house nearby. She gave me her chair as she sat on a stump. Her interest in children not waning in her retirement from teaching, she wanted me to know that there were orphans in the village who were even more disadvantaged than kids with a parent. I asked her about them, which pleased her.
Since then, Nordebrau and I have had regular little chats by her stand at the market as I await the tro-tro for Ho.
I learn a lot by sitting on the front stoop, or at the market, or merely walking down the road. People tell me things that help me understand village life beyond what my handlers can. There is much to learn here.
Nordebrau commented early on the fact that we both have white-hair, although hers is cut about as close as can be. She has a gray fuzz dusting around a strong, handsome face. And she’s smart.
Turns out she has a brother who is retired doctor in Accra, a sister who teaches, and relatives in the U.S. She hopes one day to go live with them, but she can’t now, because “it‘s very expensive,” and “who would take care of our house?”
I wondered aloud if selling the house was an option so she would have money to go. You’d have thought I had asked her to sell her first born child! To the Ewe, the family home is a place to go in perpetuity. The thought of selling is heresy. So Nordebrau stays. “I came from Accra to see my mother, and I didn’t know she was going to pass,” she said, the implication being it fell to her to remain as the caretaker of the family home.
Over time she’s asked about the U.S.
“Does it get cold there like today?” (It was all of 80 and she had a wrap).
“Oh much colder in places, but we have many different climates there too.”
“Is it true that the Black people live all over the country there and that some of them have painted their houses black to celebrate OBama?” she asked?
“Yes, Blacks live all over the USA. I don’t know about the houses, but I suppose it’s possible,” I replied.
“Are there a lot of Black people there now?”
“Yes, and they do better now, although it wasn’t always so in the bad period of our history.”
“Yes, I know about The Slavery,” she said, suddenly growing serious.
“Many of your people helped build my country, Nordebrau, even though they didn’t want to be there, they helped it become what it is,” I said. “And now they are doing much better than they did for a long time. Perhaps your great-grandparents were among them?”
Nodding thoughtfully, she looked at me quietly with her expressive brown eyes. No words were necessary.
“There weren’t many grandparents or great grandparents for my generation,” she said. “The Slavery took them. Sometimes I see pictures of Blacks in America that I think look like me.”
More than 3 million Ewe were shipped as slaves to the U.S. alone.
There was sadness in her for the first time since I’d met her. And for a moment, she and I shared a profound sense of loss. Her, for long lost members of her tribe. Me, at the thought of having family ripped away never to be seen or heard from again.
Nordebrau speaks English well, is good-humored, bright and kind. She helps me flag down the tro-tro and seems to enjoy our little chats under the Acacia trees.
Somehow, I am already sad at leaving her, which I will in a few days. These people really grow on you. I sense that there may be some in the Village that look askance at her from time to time. She’s outspoken. I expect Nordebrau speaks up at times when some wish she wouldn’t.
It’s not easy being such a person. But without them, who would speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?
I’ll miss her as I recall our little chats under the big Acacia trees at the market on the side of the road, thousands of miles from home. Perhaps much like her people did generations ago, before “The Slavery” stole them away. Maybe even Nordebrau’s great-grandparents are somewhere smiling now, at just how far we’ve come.