By Stephanie Ntim
We all long for the chance to know where we came from. Not our hometown. Not our birthplace. But our heritage.
My entire family is from Ghana — uncles, cousins and aunts, everyone. Earlier this month I went to Ghana for the first time in 16 years. Even though I was delighted to go on this trip, I had some trepidation about flying and just being in Ghana. The anticipation nearly psyched me out of the fullness that resulted from the trip.
I used to envision the moment I would step foot on Ghanaian soil. Daydreaming about coconut trees and the sweltering afternoon heat, I longed to connect with my roots. An American citizen by birth, I was not Ghanaian. I could not relate to the devastating crises and corrupt political climate. I could only relate to the stories my parents told me: the people who inspired them to chase after their dreams, to work tirelessly for a better tomorrow.
For my dad, his mother looked the epitome of grace and hard work. She encouraged my dad to pursue a career in medicine. Diligence was the spine of her philosophy. When speaking about his mother, my dad shows great excitement and contentment. The opportunity to be raised by such a woman — one who was equally daring and kind — is a spectacular gift. My grandmother's children are a testament to her generous spirit. My dad, a Kwahu man, defines women as the originators of the African spirit. And for the first time in the life, I witnessed the valor of the African woman.
The African woman does not allow her children to sleep hungry. She mans the clothing store from dawn to dusk. She hoists fish, meat, water, and peanuts onto her head. She does not complain because this is her livelihood. Her daughters and sons stand beside her, hoping that she will earn enough money for food. Their mother must chase down cars and vans in order to provide. She pleads with customers to buy her goods. She stands restlessly until it is pitch black. Even though this is a staggering feat, she cannot feel comfortable because she must resume work when the sun comes up the following day.
This is the African woman. She is the foundation of history.
Two weeks ago, we stood at the footsteps of history.
The Kwahu Mountain is steep. It is ongoing. My family takes this journey together—Mom, Dad, younger brothers, Aunt, and Uncle. We only look forward as we climb. My uncle sits in the front and my aunt sits behind. We gaze in awe at the townspeople. They, too, are climbing the mountain. They carry food items, water, and souvenirs on their heads eager to earn a better living. The villagers do not want our sympathy. They are businesswomen gallantly swamping our vehicle. The driver quickly leaves before they bombard the vehicle and chaos ensues. I look back once. These strong businesswomen stand fatigued with their young children. The streets are overcrowded with locals and few tourists. The heat dissipates as we climb to the highest point of the mountain.
The journey shortens as we glance at the school buildings and homes. Some are abandoned, and others are in ruins. Most are ornate with large iron gates protecting the compounds. We continue to climb. My heart thumps with excitement. We continue to climb. We pass several towns, like Oboo and Atibie. Then we reach Pepease, where my grandparents are laid to rest. I finally get to see my Ghanaian ancestry.
We arrive at the Florence Osei Ntim Junior High School where my grandmother's body lies. The schoolchildren poke their heads outside. They rejoice when they see the lawnmower. I rejoice when I see their smiling, appreciative faces.
As I walk the streets of Pepease, I only think of my grandparents' journey. The sacrifices they made climbing up and down the mountain selling goods. I think of the people they met. The relationships they built. On one side my grandmother's family remains. And on the other side my grandfather's family watches. We greet the locals, my family members. We stop and glance back at the road; back at my ancestry. We see the church where my grandfather was baptized. My grandmother's name is engraved in a plaque. Her legacy is etched in Pepease forever.
Before we leave, I make sure to glance back again at the road. To remember all that was accomplished before I came into existence. My grandparents did not have a lot of money. They simply had each other. My grandmother was a businesswoman. The African woman. My grandfather followed her command. Their union as husband and wife changed the face of their community.
As we drove down the mountain, I told myself that I must return. This trip opened my eyes to the importance of lineage and storytelling. The fearlessness of one person is not lost. It is crucial to bettering the life of another. The African woman is a hero. She is not always praised, but she lays the foundation for future generations.
As college students, we rely on others to help shape our journeys to becoming responsible adults. Everyday we look to the future hanging on to advice from family and faculty. Everything is now or later. We hustle to get good grades, land the competitive internships, and still make time for friends. We drown ourselves in expectations and heed advice to beware of risky ventures that will jeopardize our futures. If we reflect on the past, we are left behind. The lights gradually dim our memories of history as the future moves full speed ahead. We cannot stop and appreciate our forefathers’ remarkable achievements. Everything is moving too fast.
I felt crippled by this nonstop motion of time until I witnessed the richness of my ancestry. The African woman encourages me to push on. I am reminded of her sacrifices when I visualize the Kwahu Mountain. I see those who toil day and night to help their families. Even though school is challenging, I am reminded to push on because of my family’s bravery. The bell tower, the acorn — there is so much history on our campus. Each of us has a unique and vibrant past that brings life to campus. We can take ownership of it and use it as motivation to push on.
There is a Ghanaian term ‘Sankofa,’ which means, “Go and get it back.” Go and get back what you have forgotten. Although many of us cannot visit the land of our ancestors, we have modern technology at our fingertips. We have our grandparents, our parents. We can hold onto their stories with gratitude and hope in our future. We create our own history by bridging the gap between past and present. Even when we are no longer students at Elon University, our stories live on in the photographs displayed on campus and the walkways paved with alumni bricks. By maintaining connection with our roots, we nourish the stem from which future Elon students can grow.
Let us never forget — Sankofa.