for Krista Keil
The surf was pounding. It was difficult to make out the details of the lava rock formations ahead because of the wind-swirled sea spray. Fishy wetness filled our nostrils and our lungs. A beach near Busua, deserted now that Jenny and I had passed a group of squishy fat ruddy Australian miners with their gorgeous sexy Ghanaian mistresses. Last night in Cape Coast we met a boy of perhaps 12 who told us of his busy day at school and his favorite American action and adventure movies, his favorite actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his interest in computers. Busua was but 20 miles or so to the west and yet only the skinny wood poles lined the rutted road the wires carrying the world had not yet installed. We were assisted in finding a place to stay by a 12-year old boy, dressed in a University of Colorado T-shirt, who sweetly asked us if small small boys like him got to drive cars in America. He was endlessly fascinated to learn about telephones and computers and cars and anything American. Only twenty miles, yet decades of distance.
Walking the beach I picked up a cowry shell. I remember walking the shell-littered beach at Mission Beach Australia. Emily and I spent many hours walking the beach. At dusk the fruit bats flowed forth like a black river across the golden sky. On that beach I took up, without resolution, the strange issue of what compels us to actually bend down and pick up a shell; one particular shell among thousands. Finders keepers. And then weeks later when we get home we have this little baggy filled with sticky sandy shells wondering what we are to do with them. I’m not so sure I thought about that on the Busua beach, but I did think about the significance of the cowry shell. Of course the cowry is available for free, for the taking, on the beaches of many tropical countries. Yet, cowry shells have for millennia been used as money. Something that in itself is free, worthless really, being used to represent wealth. Guess we do the same thing with paper money. It is, in itself, worthless or nearly so, yet we allow it to represent our wealth. In God we trust.
Given the sameness, I think I prefer the cowry. At least it is beautiful either on its own or as a decoration on an African bracelet. It shines and it comes in different colors. It was once the home of a creature. On one side it appears as an eye looking at us, checking us out I suppose. The other side is a dreamscape of imagery from teeth to vaginas to vagina dentate … now there’s a story for you. The cowry: a thing of mystery, of creativity, of desire, of fear; … beach trash; … wealth.