Many of us could use a bridge to connect our battered psyches to the Motherland. After generations of alienation we feel the need for a “missing link” to hold onto. Baba and I always refer to the image of the Sankofa bird as Ayi Kwei Armah describes it in his book, Eloquence of the Scribes: “Its forward motion is not in doubt; nevertheless, the bird is aware of having dropped something valuable, indeed, indispensable. It therefore casts its vision backward, not with an intention of reversing time and returning to the past to live there, but with the purpose of retrieving from past time just that element of value that should not have been lost, prior to continuing its interrupted motion.” So Baba’s illustration in our book, Kpawo, The Bridge, shows the Sankofa bird with a section of the bridge in its grasp. These kinds of symbols and images are all necessary to help us find, connect and/or reconnect to our lost heritage.
At some point, however, we must make the physical trip to the continent and that means selecting a means of transport. The obvious first choice seems to be travel by air, but some people refuse to fly. Given the recent airline catastrophes, more and more people are fearful of flying. So what about travel by sea? Does it mean boarding a cruise ship? In the old days, only the rich went on cruises. When I was young, I never even knew anyone who had taken a cruise. Today, friends and family annually go on cruises! I don’t know how they afford it. Maybe you’ve been saving your whole life for a dream cruise to Africa and have budgeted from $4000 to $10,000 for your travel tickets. In that case, you can go in relative comfort and see a great deal of the world in the process.
Most folks looking at an option to flying, however, will probably look for a less expensive alternative. If you can manage without the extravagance, you can actually book passage on a freighter. It can be up to 50% less expensive per day than a cruise ship, but you must budget the number of days carefully. If your trip becomes too long, it can still be very costly. In either case you’ll need more travel time and in the case of freighter travel, you’ll need a LOT more time and lots of patience. One of our friends who was tired of the jet lag and discomfort of air travel back in the 1980’s, decided he needed a chance to unwind and the freighter travel option was just for him. He found out the accommodations could be very comfortable. He knew it would take a month travelling from New York, his U.S. residence, to Liberia, his Africa residence. He planned to read, relax, and really rest. After two or three weeks on the freighter, leisurely moving from port to port, he jumped ship as soon they reached the first African port and took a flight to Liberia! He couldn’t take the slow pace of freighter travel. I remember Baba and I just wishing for that kind of free time to rest and relax.
In the early1960’s, another friend took the Black Star Line to Ghana. It was also a freighter trip. His experience was quite a different story. It was when Ghana had recreated the Black Star Line under the then president, Kwame Nkrumah. One of the ships was the Afram River which had made a maiden voyage to the U.S. The political fervor around the relaunching of the Black Star Line impressed the black activists of the time and our friend decided to make his move to Ghana by ship where he could take all his belongings and take up his new teaching assignment. He was thrilled by the fact that the entire crew, including the captain were all Africans and he was honored to dine with the captain and crew. He loved stopping at all the African ports en route to Ghana.
Unfortunately, ships going from a U. S. port directly to Africa are difficult to come by these days. If you live in Europe or in the Caribbean, with some research, it should be easier to find a freighter going to Africa. From the U.S. you may have to take a ship to an interim location before making your way to Africa. Let us know what you find.