WholeHeart board member, Marissa Colston, shares her experiences in Ghana – visiting the Elmina Slave Castle and traveling with twelve high school students to a Pk-12 school in Ajumako. Her story offers a perspective on wholeheartedness – connections beyond borders and and the deep wounds and atrocities of slavery. The whole is not shiny. The heart is strengthened by the genuine and the generous.
I didn’t know how it would feel or what it would look like. I couldn’t imagine the heat or the overwhelming powerlessness. I stepped into the room of no return at Elmina Slave Castle along the coast of Ghana and my body began to quiver and my throat immediately got tight. The tour guide continued to talk about the conditions that my ancestors were in. Packed in small rooms for weeks or months at a time. If you survived the holding cells, and most did not, you were put on a ship to a foreign place that would soon be your new home.
It was a hot sweaty day. Upper 90’s and the humidity felt like it was 100%. I was having trouble breathing in the stuffy room and we were only passing through. I felt the need to leave something like the red and black wreaths that some of the other visitors left along the original stone walls and floors. I rummaged in my bag and found a crystal stone that I kept with me for good energy. I found some scrap paper and wrote “Strength, Love and Peace” and placed it on the floor with the crystal on top as an offering. It was the least I could do. Although it didn’t stop my hands from shaking or loosen my chest, I felt a little lighter when I walked out of the walls of the castle.
Traveling with students for 2 weeks we stayed in Ajumako, a small town a couple hours from Accra. We spent most of our days teaching at Heritage Academy, a Pk-12 school that was modeled in a very similar way to our Quaker school, Westtown, back in Pennsylvania. The founder of the school was a former Westtown teacher and also a Ghanaian who grew up near Ajumako. We stayed in a guest house with him and his family. The world family has an expansive meaning in Ghana. The house we stayed in was home to some high school students from Heritage who needed a place to stay and some recent graduates from the school. It was also home to the cook who made us amazing food of fried plantains, cassava, banku (a corn and cassava sticky ball of starch), ground nut or palm nut soup or my favorite dish, red red with fish (black eyed peas, tomato sauce spiced just right). I learned that kin and family are not necessarily who you are blood related to but who you have deemed family and who helps take care of and provides for you at the current time. If you help take care of your neighbor or those who need, these people are now people included in your family. So as a guest of the house for two weeks we were also treated like family and formed close and sincere bonds with everyone who lived there.
And now months after my return I miss the sounds and rhythms of life in Ajumako. The humid heat that made my often dry skin well moisturized, the welcoming spirits of the many people we met, and the connection to my own ancestry as a Black woman in America.
With gratitude to Marissa, and in the spirit of WholeHeart, we invite you to reflect:
· Where in your life do you experience both heartbreak and connection?
· Who are your kin and how do they nourish the genuine and generous in you?