“Take Only memories, leave only footprints.” Chief Seattle Part I

A photo essay and reflections of my experiences in the Volta region of Ghana.

“Africa, more than any other continent, needs to be seen by the world. It’s both the place we all come from and where we are going.”

-Anthony Bourdain

This is Bellah. He is the Director and docent of the Prenzenstein Slave Fort in Keta, Ghana. In my first visit to the fort, I was lucky enough to be the only one there. Upon my entrance, I asked Bellah, who I was meeting for the first time, If I could have a time of prayer. He left me alone. I drew a medicine wheel on the ground and prayed to the four directions asking the ancestors for permission to be there, for guidance in honoring a place where so many died, and inspiration for connecting and feeling the lessons I was supposed to learn.

Bellah guided me through the painful experiences of the fort. We cried and had deep conversations and prayed some more. I felt the spirit and the strength and will of the the Ewe people that were once enslaved in that fort. He sang and chanted beautiful traditional songs of resistance and resilience of the Ewe’s.

Toward the end of my visit, he showed me the circle with the four directions the Ewe people prayed to. He then went to buy me a Calabash bowl and cassava and maize powder. He showed me how to mix the powder with water inside the bowl while he chanted in Ewe. We then prayed together and poured a libation to honor and thank the ancestors for my time their and our encounter. Though I only spent 3 hours with Bellah that day, the connection I made with him was as if I had known him forever.

On my last day in Ghana, I went back and sat with him under a beautiful, abundant tree located in front of the entrance to the fort. He told me stories and let me absorb them in silence. His presence was healing and compassionate. His gentleness put me at ease, inviting me to just be from the deepest part of myself.

There are people that come into our lives and transform us in ways we may never totally understand. I will see Bellah again, but for now, I carry him in my heart and spirit.

Volta River // Ghana

It is a beautiful sight and experience to witness the synchronicity and connection of people to the land. This is why, no matter what part of the world I find myself in, I always gravitate to the countryside and pueblitos.

There is a magic that happens when there is a reciprocal and respectful relationship with the land. She is generous, giving and abundant. All we need, she provides. And I often find myself contemplating the simplicity and accessibility of living in the countryside, from the land. All the material wealth one works for in the city seems to become irrelevant when one is surrounded by luxuriant fields, robust rivers, vast lakes, and rich fruit trees. I can’t help but to wonder and reflect about what it is I truly need to be joyful and content in life.

Having been raised most of my life in the hustle and bustle of the city; watching the people around me grind to survive and still not have enough; watching people have enough, but still live from a perspective of scarcity; I am shifting in my knowing of what is necessary and what is superfluous. What is truly a part of my livelihood are the things that bring me closer to the pure, unrestricted energy of life.

The earth and our connection to it isn’t just about grounding ourselves and finding balance. When we surrender to her and intentionally hold a relationship with her, we are saying we trust her to hold us through our pain and difficulties, to heal us in our wounds and fears, to sustain us with what we need to thrive and fulfill our greatest lives. I want to know her and learn her more deeply the way I saw the fisherman do on the day this photograph was taken.

Sunbird // Ghana “When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it is bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast and limitless. “ -Pena Chödrön

Both pain and joy teach us compassion. Both allow our hearts to be touched. The thing is, we have to be willing to feel them both, fully.

The drums tell stories, too. The ancestors speak through the drums. It is their heart beat connecting with ours.

This precious baby, Anam, which means “gift” in the Ewe language, stole my heart. Her whole family did. They all have a loving, gentle, warm and nurturing spirit. She started coming around, first. Her family’s farm is across from the home base I stayed at. She’d come to the gate and wait patiently until someone noticed her. The students I mentored would become so excited to see her. She was one of many kids who often came around, but her spirit definitely stood out. She’d often climb on one of the students’ laps and fall asleep or sit quietly sharing her peaceful energy with them.

One particular morning she was surrounded by all the women in her family from young to elderly, and they all smiled and laughed as they heard our students calling to Anam on their way to service learning. I think they knew Anam had won our hearts over.

Anam truly lives up to her name. Ewe names have deep significance and the name that is given to a child is a blessing from his/her parents and ancestors. A child is honored with the name in a “Naming Ceremony,” also known as Vinehedego in which the whole family and community, including elders and chiefs come together to recognize and welcome the child into the village. This is an Ewe tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

The child is not taken out of the home until he/she has been honored with their name. The rite is performed on the 8th day of the child’s birth. During the “Naming Ceremony,” libation is offered while the child’s name is being mentioned.

Then the child is given to taste the following:

(1) Water which represents the life the child has been given.

(2) Salt which teaches the child that not everything in life will be sweet and he/she will have to learn how to overcome the struggles. (3) Honey which teaches the child to remember the goodness of life despite the struggles.

(4) Gin which teaches the child to call things by their name. To be truthful – to instill in the child a consciousness of morality.

In essence, every person with an Ewe name is a walking prayer, a blessing sent from Spirit. It was evident in Anam and the lesson she taught us about living life in a gentle and peaceful way.

59 out of the 64 slave forts built on the western coast of Africa were built in Ghana. This one was built by the Danish. It was particularly brutal to women.

A game of marbles // Recess

I saw so much sacredness in the area of Ghana I was in. In part because it’s here among the people, and in part, because it’s in me. The more I have discovered my own sacredness, the more I see it all around me and the connection I have with all that is.

This particular morning, I was walking to the beach, passing along many of the cassava and chile farms. Early mornings create a deep intimacy with the land and people, here. The illusion of separation disintegrates at dawn when life is simultaneously awakened in everything. You can feel the life force as one. The bird songs dress the dawn with joy. The sunrise greets life. The earth grows, reaching her arms to the sky.

Women intuitively in sync with the life that comes from the earth and the life that comes from within. Women who understand that life is delicate, vulnerable and formidable.

What a gift to have seen and felt life this deeply in the countryside of Ghana.

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