Last week, I attended a lecture given by Ron Daise in Murrell’s Inlet, SC, about his book on his West African roots. A native South Carolinian, Daise traveled to Ghana to reconnect with his Gullah heritage. He told us of his feelings as he saw people with his nose, his eyes, his smile, all around him in the African countryside. His face, his voice were joy-filled. “There’s a connection, deep down in my spirit, with Africa!” he read, his deep voice booming to the far corners of the room. I want that connection, I thought, with my own tribe of people. I want it, too.
Steve and I have signed up for a trip with Exploritas (formerly Elderhostel) called “Poland At the Heart of Europe.” This coming July, we’ll visit five cities and take a side trip to Regina’s hometown, Wojtowa.
I’ve wanted to go there ever since I started writing about her. I’ve already been there in my mind and on the page. But the place in my novel is as it was two hundred years ago. This summer, it will be as it is today. Will I, just by being there, in the place where she walked, slept, lived and died, be able to feel that “connection?”
In his book, Gullah Branches, West African Roots, Daise tells of the shame and embarrassment of the Gullah people because of their heritage as slaves. “Gullah” and “Geechee” were words intended to humiliate. But recent documentation brings to light the fact that before West African people were forced into migration, they were skilled rice growers, among many other things.
When I was a girl, I was embarrassed by “dumb Polack” jokes, and wondered why people expected me to laugh when they told them to me. When I first realized that Auschwitz was Oscwiecim, in the country where my grandparents were born, I felt shame and sadness. I was fifty before I heard of Wislawa Szymborska, Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner. Oddly enough, I feel “a connection” with both her and Ron Daise.
Let’s see what the summer brings.