The relevance of ships in the context of race is not a subject I am ignorant of or prone to avoid. Yet, I have withheld the pen. Yes, I am on a ship, in Africa, and I endured a brief sea-sail to arrive that was a full insult to the dreadful length of the middle-passage. My people, big ships, the sea, conflict, pain, and lack of reparations are as culturally poignant as the Mayflower and pilgrims are to the European holiday-custom that was manufactured to honor thanks.
Today, September 2, 2019, Mercy Ships Africa Mercy welcomed our first patients to the dock for screening. Gone are the long lines of marketing promotion past. Today was dignified. A respectable number of hopefuls huddled together in the name of hope, and they each seemed to harbor a lifetime need for healing. It was culminating, for me. It was surreal, for me. For them, it was a pivotal day of reckoning and an invisible gamble to win an imagined golden ticket or perhaps the strong possibility of leaving empty-handed in the same pool of regret fashioned by an overcast morning wrought with symbolic rain.
I am a writer. I am, too, a journalist. Today, I was a woman of African-American descent who descended gangway steps and entered a tent that fell short of hosting a circus inside but rather temporarily housed a calm assembly of what I knew was a gross representation of my lineage, my heritage, and quite possibly several centuries of my DNA. Sprawled six-rows deep across slats of wooden benches, a cross-section of generations rested as though today defined the only semblance of their claiming a remarkable tomorrow.
From a healthy baby fattened for the snuggle and being breastfed by her ill mother, to an aged, yet vibrant patriarch who traveled nearly 24-hours to deliver his teen daughter, there they sat. She, his daughter, sought salvation onboard the big white ship. Baby girl I sure pray you find it, because your smile alone dictated that you are deserving. Many traveled with a poor-wealth of belongings; this time history gave them time to pack.
I entered the tall tent smiling but simultaneously hid a pain for my people along with relentless guilt for being a former, state-side Mayo Clinic patient who had the unmitigated gall to both access and afford enough healthcare to survive cancer. I suck, I thought. I wanted to give them each every appointment my spoiled, Black-behind ever cancelled and further redeem the times I was tardy for clinic and blew it off as a patient’s right to be a slacker. In stark contrast, they waited patiently for hours in a display of humanity I won’t soon forget. They were resilient, proud, and strong.
I felt enriched and I, too, felt nauseous. I was in pain from the drop in air pressure that set my own surgical scars on fire. I wanted two, 600 mg Motrin. I felt like I needed a drink: wine with dinner or a quick swig of Barbancourt rum; chamomile tea on the rocks or a mason jar of red kool-aid with a ghetto ratio of sugar to water. Today, I laughed in English and expressed kindness in Wolof. I also cried in my throat and covertly hid disgust behind my eyes.
Today, is just our first day. And for a myriad of reasons, I wrestled with retreat. “How did it go?” I was too many times asked. My emotions belonged to me; I claim a writer’s right. But with hesitancy I too many times shared, “God sustained me.”
Today, I contemplated letting legacy lose and Satan win. Today is still today. She just won’t end. I remain contemplative and stuck in a battle of Godly purpose that’s losing a cheap war against folks. Just like the solemn narrative of my people and big ships, today remains an open chapter in my life, a distinct experience my soul will never dismiss. For me, today was an ethereal gathering of nerves that I gladly surrendered to the night.
Penny Dickerson 2019