By Matan Gold
Humanist Service Corps Volunteer
An open courtyard. A tin roof rusted red. A useless fan hangs from a wooden scaffold, its cords frayed vine-like. A woman sweeps the yard, back bent, skirt in hand. Her scarf, undone by the day, reveals thin braids. Her sweeps are meticulous. Graceful. What is the inclination to romanticize labor? I wish to get on my knees and help her.
The wooden benches are cleared for the men. Opposite, a wicker bleacher fills with children. They stare and smile and hide their faces. They laugh, bend, and eat sugar sticks; the processed purples and reds duller than the clothes hanging from the lines, telephoning between the rooftops. The sun has disappeared behind an afternoon cloud. They call this area a slum.
A toddler urinates herself, puddling her sandals. A child, no older, lifts her, comforts her, unaffected by the wetness. The swell of grace. The ebb of nascent responsibility. I think of an archivist who gifted me bell hooks and hooks’s descriptions of trans-familial structures in Black communities of the South.
Ants crawl along necks, congealing to sweat. We sit before an open doorway, its jambs adorned with charms: corn husks and skewered meat. On the other side of the yard, a door reads, DOWN FALL OF MAN IS NOT THE END OF HIS LIFE. Beneath the text is a fading butterfly. What will this neighborhood be reborn as?
The men arrive and begin tuning their drums. They laugh among themselves as only men do, taking the temperature of the other as they tap hide. Apateshie, Ghanaian moonshine, circles the group. It comes to us. Libation. The men begin to drum. Quickly it rises to cacophony. The bass hits the chest, squeezing the lungs. It pulses the meat of my eyes. My thoughts run to cinema, to jazz, to my grandmother’s descriptions of Haiti, to Blackness.
A man begins to sing. A call and response. The music ebbs, clarifies. The children begin to shake their shoulders. The neighborhood trickles in. Faces appear in windows. A mother bids her child, sit in the tub. Goats run through the courtyard. The children swat at them.
An older woman begins to dance. Her body lithe and bent. Her steps shrink. Her hands grow. Her dress, a chaos of color. I find it strange how frightened I am of her appearance.
The men invite us to dance.
Obrunis. White people. Spectacle.
In Ghana I am white.
The children are asked to dance. Some refuse and begin to cry. Others pantomime nonchalance as they dance the yard apart.
The high energy of the dancing, its back breaking motions, remind me of Los Angeles, of dance fads, of breaking, of krumping. I attempt thoughts of Garvyism, Pan Africanism, of drum and heart. I think of Bed-Stuy. Of the pressures of essentialism within ethnic social justice. The billowing sails of slave ships entering the Caribbean full of precious starved cargo, till a child of four points at my camera. I take her picture. I show her. Her laughter rings like a jar filling with coins. Perhaps it is less complicated. Perhaps it is still complicated but not for now. Allow now.
The drums continue. I have lost track of time. My feet are caked red with dirt. I place a cube of sugar cane in my mouth and chew the grassy sweetness from its fibers.