Reflections from Goree Island

So it’s been a little over a month since I arrived at my host-community in Fatick, Senegal and I’ve been thinking that I am way overdue for a blog post. As I contemplated what to talk about, I remembered that I never wrote a post about my visit to Goree Island. So, I figured it was appropriate to back track a bit and write my thoughts and emotions from that experience.

As we road on the ferry to Goree Island, my thoughts were all over the place. “How will it feel to stand at the ‘Door of no return’? Will I cry? Will I go through the museum quickly and want to get out of there immediately? Will my emotions overcome me and make me want to scream?”. I was feeling so many things. For one, I was grateful for the opportunity to see it with my own eyes. On the other hand, I was frustrated that a place like this ever existed. As the boat carried us through waves of blue sea, my mind imagined the water being covered in blood. Imagined bodies drowning as they jumped in attempt to save themselves before it was too late. I just knew for sure that I would cry the entire time.

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Once we arrived, we stopped for lunch and also visited another museum with general history about Africa and Senegal. I was grateful for this because it gave me sometime to mentally prepare for what I was about to experience. As I walked through the first museum, I saw maps of Senegal that showed when the land was owned by different royal families, information on important leaders of Senegal, and even a few real shackles and chains that had been used during slavery.

After leaving the first museum it was time to finally experienced what we came for, The House of Slaves and The Door of No Return. Before we started our tour with the guide, I was very curious to know if there was anything that I would learn that was new information for me. Was there any part of the narrative that didn’t make it to America? There wasn’t, but to actually be there made the history of slavery much more real. Everything I had already learned was right in front of me. The concrete rooms with no windows were still labeled: one for children, one for women, one for men, and not even a room but literally a hole in the wall for African people who had tried to rebel. The hole in the wall was so small you couldn’t even get in without crawling on all fours. Our tour guide shared with us that Nelson Mandela once sat in there for 5 minutes and left in tears.

As we walked collectively as a unit throughout the house, I knew that once I got a moment to myself I had to go into that small hole. I feel like if I were alive and captured during that time, I would’ve been in that hole. It felt like my ancestors were pushing me to at least get in it for a moment.

 

 

When we reached the Door of No Return looking out at the ocean… I froze. I didn’t cry, didn’t look quickly and hurry back to somewhere more comfortable… I just stood there for about 10 minutes. Here are some thoughts that went through my head…

The Door of No Return, but here I am.

I bet this was not supposed to be apart of the story

For Africans to be stolen from their land and brought to America

And then, for their great great great grandchildren to make it back by choice and not by force

Wow, I’m really here.

By choice, and not by force

They thought they would control forever

Thought that the chains would bind us forever

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I thought about the sign that we saw before we came inside that was placed there in 2012 by Diaspora Afro-American Families. It reads “ From Ships That Brought Us To Bridges That Unite Us. From whence we came, we now return”…. And here I am.

Although Africa does not feel like home to me as African Americans might imagine it in our heads, I still feel a deep connection to this place. It is amazing to be able to walk on the land of my ancestors.

A few days after visiting Goree Island, we took some time to process it as a group. One thing that I noticed during our time in the ‘House of Slaves’ was that while I spent most of my time in each room just sitting and reflecting for most of that time none of my group was downstairs. When I finally went to see where everyone was, they were upstairs… I couldn’t help but ask why? Why, was that the place of choice?

They were upstairs processing in their own way and thinking of their ancestor’s role in the horrors of slavery, and their own role in systemic racism now, but one answer in particular really stuck out to. One person shared that it was a very overwhelming experience and they were deeply burdened, but they went upstairs because it was cooler… a nice airy breeze.

And almost instantly, I thought… couldn’t this be an analogy for how white liberals handle racism? Most know it is wrong, feel a burden about it, contemplate their role in being allies to the oppressed… but far too often they choose to find somewhere they are comfortable. Not in the depths of systemic oppression and in heated and uncomfortable places but instead in breezy safe spaces.

I challenge any one reading this who wants to be an ally or who considers themselves an ally to think about that image. When dealing with racism, are you willing to sit in the hottest places for a moment? To feel what it is like to be overburdened and so uncomfortable that you can barely breath? Or are you only comfortable with dealing with your privilege in the places where you don’t feel suffocated by your own history? This is the question I raise to you.

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In closing, here is my original reflection that I posted on social media:

 

They called this the Door of No Return but yet here I am. I wonder if they considered what would happen if you let people see success but not touch it. To smell prosperity but not obtain it. To build wealth with their bare hands but not possess it. I wonder if they thought about how their oppression would contribute to our strength and endurance. You were better off leaving us in Africa. now we know for a fact that we can do anything and survive anything. You literally put a gun to our head and yet we still survived. And the same thing is true today. You would be better off just admitting that Black Lives Matter. Better off giving us the same opportunities. Better off just giving our schools the same amount of money that yours get. Because you really are not prepared to see what happens when you don’t. Keep poking the lion if you want to. Our great great grandchildren will be even worse for yours.

 

Thank you for reading! (Sorry there’s no pictures but the connection is way too slow!) More posts will be coming very soon and I am doing a Q&A blog posts for anyone with specific questions. You can leave message me or comment below!

 

If you are interested in supporting my year as a Young Adult In Global Mission (YAGM) please follow the link! http://support.elca.org/goto/Mercedes

 

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