John Fountain

John W. Fountain’s Journal

Nov. 24-25:

Here, 37,000 feet above the earth in a black November night sky, the hum of the United Airlines Boeing 757 reigns steady throughout this cabin of humanity midway between the Atlantic Ocean and Ghana. My thoughts are an almost dizzying array, my heart full as I cross this ocean by air that my ancestors crossed by sea.

As sardined and huddled masses of humanity slavery bound. To sojourn in a strange land to be inflicted with horror and hate over centuries. I imagine the agonizing sounds and scents of fear, evil and blood, even as I sit here pecking on my MacBook keyboard amid the cool air and a cushy seat.

I am the great-great-grandson of a man born a slave. His name was Burton Roy. He was in all likelihood a descendant of West Africa, like many of the African slaves brought to American shores as human chattel.

I am returning to the Motherland as a “free” man, at least not in chains. At least not physically enslaved. And yet, I carry with me the soul’s yearning to taste freedom, to lay down the burden of race, of being Black, the pariah, the N-word. Freedom. This was the soul song of the slave, to taste sweet freedom before the bitter herb of the grave.

The descendant of slaves, my blood American and African—my soul and psyche bathed in the cultural waters of deep Afro-Americana, I am struck by the diametrical position of my journey to my ancestors’. But we are bound together, knit in spirit, by our invariable connection to both America and Africa.

Many in this airplane cabin are asleep, the head of the older woman seated next to me bobbing every so often toward my left shoulder. The glare of headrest video screens dot the rows of seats where some passengers snuggle in blankets, our destination still at least six hours away. I cannot sleep, though I am exhausted. So many I’s to dot and T’s to cross to get to this moment and place in time. Ghana’s Top Hits blares in my ears from my headphones—music I began listening to about three years ago as I began the application process for a Fulbright Scholarship. It was a dream in my mind, a wonderful possibility. If I were lucky enough to land one.

A colleague had stopped by my office at Roosevelt University a few years ago and broached the idea of me applying for a Fulbright. I honestly didn’t know much about it. She said she thought I’d be a good candidate. I took Mary Ellen Schiller’s advice with more than a grain of salt and began to investigate. The Fulbright was for young people and also even old heads like me, offering time and resources to research or teach, or both, to immerse oneself in another culture. So I find myself here.

…Thirty-five minutes until landing. A fast flight. Slept some but mostly not much. Anticipation, anxiety, the coolness of the cabin, the journey ahead, butterflies. Fourteen years since I was last here. Much work to do. Sources to find. A journey to make. Questions to ask. Tears to cry.
A baby somewhere in the back cries intermittently, sounding at times like a purring cat. People are awake now, the plane beginning its final descent into Accra. Fasten your seatbelts, put away carry-on items. Here I go… Here I come. Ghana.

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