the land can't even absorb it

or the first week I moved to Accra, Ghana & accidentally drank the water or, the hallucinations I have of my white grandfather I never met, or the summer Bijan was killed, or maybe a slave castle is all a blk gets for lineage or, the summer I donated my body to the sand.
Publish date:
April 25, 2016
travel, family, Ghana, Lyric Essay

This is a lyric essay. It's new for us, but we're excited about it and hope you are too. If you're as obsessed with Aziza as I am, you can (and should TBH) buy her book, i be, but i ain't. — xoxo Amber

One of those Lebanese dudes. Whose parents came through to make cheap houses in Accra and invest in nightlife and tourism, erect hookah bars and disco tech looking-ass clubs no one would walk in without being immensely cross faded. We talking highly imbibed. One of those. One who wore gel in his hair the consistency of silly putty, the kind a neighbor of mine owned when I was eight, pasted into his scalp to hide his widow's peak or make it beautiful, which is sometimes the same thing, burying and framing. He wore a belt that read "NERD" on a silver plate coated in rhinestones, about a decade short of the style's craze in the States, wore his jeans low enough to show the line tracking his obliques to his crotch. The line looked drawn on. It was a long line.

I'd seen Lebanese dudes on roofs yelling in English at Akan folk in the afternoons before the fruit bats hit the air between the trees and dumb American Blacks like me went out through alleyways and in cabs, bartering Cedis crisp from the monetary exchange, to have a real African experience with some real Africans. I was one of those. Alex Haley version of Autobiography of Malcolm X angry. Still press your hair to look "good" deluded. And those Lebanese dudes, yelling, employing, demanding the hired Ghanaians to properly use a hammer toward the industry of a window, sounded like the nurse back in New York, barking at me in that way older white women do when they spot a moment to kick into the maternal on a Black girl that ain't they child, are you sure you want to go to Africa? Africa? As if I was going to the whole continent. Sure? punctuated with a needle in the arm against yellow fever, you know there's diseases there I can't give you inoculations for, dear and I was angry when she pointed on the map here's the meningitis belt, right where you're going they're sick with it and I was angry when she told me not to drink the water or have any sex with the men the cholera, the AIDS, you know they just don't know how to sanitize over there and I was angry with collegiate level, micro-aggressive theoretical anger, youain't-my-mama anger and dreamt of my grandfather, white as the Empire itself, descending from the grave to spit on this nurse's shoes, I mean I hoped he would, he might've sided with her and pointed me away from Ghana and onto the left hand of my high yella ancestral corpse, Europe. His name was James. I never met him.

Anytime I have a fight with an older white person, I feel like my grandfather James Barnes walks in the room, ghost-perfect and somehow 35 years old even though he died at 60, and says his own name real smooth like, the name's Barnes. James Barnes, and all the bite of white privilege would ease out of them into some dewey ass smile, got them thinking they a Bond girl or some shit.

I can't protect you against the bone breaking fever, that's what they call it, did you know that? Bone breaking? It hurts like that. As if your bones, they're breaking. One of those. Who decides I need protection without my having asked for any, girl, I don't even know you, is always my response. Never mind the plane ticket been paid. Never mind the dude I kept inviting to my dorm to fuck and watch Cornel West interviews of all things, like we was in some last days of Rome post-break-up fling, whom I still loved was waiting until he could love me. Never Trayvon Martin dead and George Zimmerman acquittal that evening and me and my friends bought Blue Moons at the 7/11 on Bowery to take our minds off or put our minds in and yell at white folk eating dinner at restaurants and walking they dogs, a boy is dead and y'all stay eating. Never mind Bijan would be murdered in a McDonald's drive thru in a month's time and the neighborhood in LA would mourn our lost boy, his girlfriend clinging to his bed like he'd appear out of the mattress fibers, his name tattooed to the back of her neck in Farsi, the neighborhood wondering if this was a way to grieve, everyone too young for permanent gestures, even though she loved him in a way I'm not sure I could love anyone, even though I admired her grief, full and ugly and loud. Never mind any of that cause some of it had happened already and some of it hadn't yet by the time I was in the nurse's office, angry and summoning my white grandfather, who I guess is just my grandfather, white withstanding, and the only real thing was my ticket to Ghana and an idea of Black Heaven I didn't think I believed in but might have been the only thing I believed in.

And when all you have to believe in stems from the indecipherable lyric of a Voodoo album D'angelo song, you end up at Bellaroma on a Wednesday night, your third day in a new country where homosexuality is illegal and every traffic circle, building and trotro bus is littered with posters of white Jesus. I was full of cane sugar spirits, 80 proof, Club Beers and the water. Maybe I accidentally brushed my teeth with it. Maybe I craned my neck back too far in the shower, mouth open. Whatever. It got in.

One of those. Wore a "YOLO" tank top, looked about my size. Drunk every Wednesday. Knows the owners of Bellaroma, his daddy probably. Bijan is dead in some LA morgue. You don't get a casket for homicide victims. I touched his forehead in the hospital and I swear I thought he was gonna move, shift in his bed, flick at the wires or just look at me. Dead bodies don't move. White bodies go home. Except my grandfather, who died on a sidewalk in San Diego while running the marathon. My dad identified him by the toe tag, his toe. They were 3 days from cremating him as John Doe before his half brown sons picked him up. I don't know if my dad touched him, to see if he was real, to see if he would move. In LA, I tried to validate our parking stub at Cedars Sinai after Bijan's welcome home balloons became condolences bouquets, but the nurse said something about daytime visitors not applying and I don't know, something that was mine wasn't anymore and we paid the $10, $15 whatever and drove home. The dude I was fucking in New York, I loved him. But I'd never tattoo his name on my body, sleep in his bed at his parent's house, try to resurrect the smell of him and him with it. He didn't want me so much as a place to stay in the city and I was leaving. I chased him down a street once and saw my grandfather appear on 13th and Broadway behind me, running down the block screaming this dude's name, wanting him to love me. James Barnes, his blue eyes clear as the monotone hum of death in a hospital, don't walk staring at your toes, kid. Look up, I imagine he'd say and I wonder if I'd wonder about taking his advice, was it a colonial act to take a white man's advice, even if he is your grandfather? Don't walk staring at your toes, kid.

But I couldn't do much different than that in the bathroom at Bellaroma, which bore resemblance to a bathroom my neighbor had when I was eight and hiding from them, when I walked in there with Moud, the dude's name, the One of Those, the "YOLO" tank and "NERD" belt and daddy owned establishment spawn. I didn't even trust this fool in the bathroom and now we were in his car, his city, his country, and his daddy's construction of cheap houses lined the road on either side of us, employing Ghanian folk whom I was so sure would call me sister, sure as I hid from the bathroom and Moud and the approaching 3am, the witching hour. The water had already gotten in and I didn't know what else could. Let's get outta here, he said. No, I said. Come with me, okay? he said, holding my hand, we were going outside. Okay. Outside Bellaroma, I ran into my homegirl whose hand was also being held by some Ghanian dude. We're going to Reggae Night at Labadi Beach! Follow us! And I guess I said okay, I guess something like that came out of my mouth and I'm in the passenger seat with This Dude, the One of Those, driving about 70 to this beach, this coast, where some real Black American tourists first got got and became the first American Tourists, and of course I'm making a snide joke about slavery when it gets to the point in the story where my body is in most danger. We park on the sand, walk to the shore.

I guess this is the part where I can expressedly say I'm drunk. Drunk and walking on sand with leather boots, sand leaking into the soles. There are pool tables on the beach, fake Rastafarians smoking shit weed, a cover band playing Bob Marley songs, I don't wanna wait in vain for your love, and it's the first time I read that song as coercive being pulled into a shack behind the projection of a Wailers concert which I'm guessing was once a bathroom or was going to be a bathroom and never got properly built, going by the concrete floors, going by the wooden boards covering window shapes, door shapes. The Lebanese dude pushes me against the concrete wall and it's colder than my body by more than a handful of degrees. No, and I might as well be saying what a nice night, don't you think? Come on, he says to me, as if I'm a browser that refuses to refresh, just come on. He unzips my pants and they fall and my underwear falls and I think how typical, how Black American tourist in Ghana of me, and I'm blaming myself before the crime so that something belongs to me, and this is so typical and familiar and I'm eight hiding in a bathroom from my neighbor, no, I'm in an almost bathroom on Labadi beach and my neighbor is in LA and she's not coming near me, no, I'm saying no, and nothing's changed and I'm so typical and this blame is mine just as my body soon won't be, and my legs can't move but I don't deserve them, of course I don't deserve them if I never use them to kick if I never use them to run, only as recreation, a sport in high school, track, cross country, and never when it counts clearly I don't care about my life, my body and it's so typical, this disposability, my body a donation to the sand.

Wah gwan? and a Rastafarian, fake or otherwise, being in Babylon, his head on the inside of the wouldbe-door, The Lebanese dude for a moment off of me. Wah gwan and I have permission to run, down to the shore, water on water on water and me staring at it. I don't know yet that a parasite is in my stomach, that in 2 hours I'll be keeled over my toilet bowl back at Church Crescent, vomiting indiscernible bile until all I can cough up is water, that I'll be in a hospital in another 5 hours screaming at a room full of Ghanaian nurses with wigs on their heads that make them look like back up dancers for The Supremes, my phone dead and about 5 people in the world knowing my exact location, that I won't be dead at least no more dead than I already am, dying and dancing, and will have more time until I meet my grandfather, until I see Bijan and he moves, until any police officer in America is arrested for killing a Black citizen, until I understand the implications of citizen, until I laugh and stop resenting the ocean for being the carrier of all human sin, carrier of me and mines, until I think fuck. I really don't want to die, then, well, that's not entirely true.