Long, long ago along the Coast of Ivory, there were villages filled with people who were happy and content with their lives. People like Bintou and Adoua, who were young girls who swam the sea in search of seashells and lost treasure. People like Parfait, a well-to-do fisherman, who with the aid of his handmade pirogue and fellow villagers, rode the ocean’s waves way out to the horizon to catch the best fruit of the sea. There were people like Fanta, who turned these catches into tasty dishes or sold them to buy wisdom for her children. There were boys like Adama and Yao who use the ocean to prove their bravery and strength and then dry themselves under the shade of coconut trees.
But the ocean could be mean and temperamental and that was why these villagers felt themselves blessed to have the protection of Mamy Wata to aid them on their ocean adventures. Mamy Wata , the most mystical mermaid ever, could always be seen riding the waves like a rollercoaster, her black and gold braided hair swishing through the ocean, giving it the color of wealth. She road through the ocean as if on patrol, always looking to help and play with these villagers. As I said, these were times of happiness and contentment and then came the time of great sorrow and a parting of ways between Mamy Wata and the villagers.
One early morning Parfait had gone fishing alone, just for pleasure. A big wave the size of ten palms tree standing on top of each other dropped over him. He was surprised that Mamy Wata had not been there to shield him. He was shocked that he had survived such a wave. When he had got himself together, he could see in the distance the back of Mamy Wata and she was
talking to a big ship, a kind that Parfait had not seen before. He felt slighted. How dare Mamy Wata ignore him because his pirogue was small and give her attention to another. He rode back to the shore in great anger and told the other villagers what had happened. They tried to calm Parfait and told him to remember all of the many good things Mamy Wata had done for them. They encouraged him to be patient and wait for an explanation from her. After drinking some palm wine to calm his anger and nerves, Parfait went to sleep in a grove far from his house and he awoke to a nightmare.
The big ship that Mamy Wata had been talking to had anchored near Parfait’s village and men the color of the sea’s foam had descended. They descended prepared, knowing where to go and who to call my name. To make a long and ugly story short, these foam-colored men took almost the whole village, against its will and in chains, aboard this ship. It was discovered later they were taken further down to Elmina, a slave factory.
Those who were able to escape into the forest joined up with Parfait, who told them that it was Mamy Wata who had collaborated with these evil people, these ghosts with smoking sticks, these thieves of happy and contented people. Deep in the forest, these survivors drew from a greater strength than Mamy Wata, those of their ancestors, and they banished Mamy Wata
to the side of the ocean where these body snatchers came. Unfortunately, the ancestors’ strength was no match for the evil that was about to eat their villages for 400 years. And this is how Mamy Wata ended up on this side of the ocean, exiled and out of water, living for centuries in other people’s bodies.
Mamy Wata had lived many lives in the New World, but she was never happy. She could sneak into the ocean and become a mermaid again, but her time in the ocean had lost its magic. Whenever she attempted to go in the direction of the Coast of Ivory, the bodies thrown overboard or those bodies who jumped over on their own during the Middle Passage, would stand tall on the bottom of the ocean floor and block her passage.
Her last station in the New World was West Philadelphia. She spent a few centuries in the South America and a few in the Caribbean. She arrived here with ghost of a man, who was also once the king of the sea and who had been banished for similar reasons like Mamy Wata. He was called Neptune and he worked as a swimming instructor at the University of Pennsylvania and she was called just called Mamy. Neptune was quite naughty as wandering ghosts are inclined to be. He made an extra copy of keys to the pool and he and Mamy often went swimming for whole nights, becoming again what they once were -- magnificent!
One Saturday, Mamy Wata went to have her car cleaned. She normally cleaned her own car, but her body was beginning to tell its age and she could feel this. While she was waiting as the men cleaned the inside of her car, she heard from them familiar words, the language of the villagers she use to swim with and protect hundreds of years ago. She began to cry, uncontrollably, and as she did, she transformed slowly into Mamy Wata the Mermaid. The men who had been cleaning her car, recognized her immediately from stories they had been told about her as children and they knew of her banishment to the New World. They, Boubacar and Kouame, quickly took her to a shed in the back of the carwash. They, too, were a little shaken by this event of seeing the real Mamy Wata in West Philadelphia. She spoke to them in both of their languages which was music to her ears. She asked why Boubacar and Kouame would leave their beautiful homes across the ocean to be here -- lost like her. They told her, yes, they had been fishermen, but now the fish are gone and nothing is left to live on. Big ships from Europe and Asia come near their fishing areas and use the latest technology to sweep the ocean of its fish. Nothing is left for them.
They shared with Maya Wata how badly she was missed over on the other side of the ocean, on the Coast of Ivory. Many people, they said, felt she was harshly judged before she had a chance to explain her relationship with the white ghosts in the big ships. They asked her did she know she could return home, if she did just one great deed for children. This could clean her record and she could return home, no questions asked, to help battle those big ships which were eating the fish all along the coast and far out into the seas. She was shocked to learn that her return home could be so easy. She thanked Boubacar and Kouame and promised to rescue their villages, but first she must do her good deed for children. Mamy Wata slowly transformed back into her human form and left in her car.
Once home, she shared her news with Neptune and asked what might she do to help children. Neptune wanted to know first, if she would leave him alone in this new and lonely world. She smiled and said they would always travel this world, old or new, together. Neptune, then, said he had the good deed for her. He had just learned that all of the public swimming pools in Philadelphia would be closed for the summer and many children would not have other opportunities to cool off or learn to swim. Mamy Wata listened and thought and smiled.
She had the plan to bring happiness and contentment to children and get her chance to return home. She and Neptune could not only change back and forth into sea creatures, but they could also transform the size and shape of their bodies. The next day, Mamy Wata ran an ad in all the papers and on all the billboards in the city telling the community that the Mamy Wata/Neptune Ark on wheels would be traveling each day, to each neighborhood to pick up parents and their children and ride them to the ocean for a day of fun and for building memories.
The response was overwhelming. Each day, for the whole summer, Mamy Wata and Neptune morphed into one huge ship on wheels and took thousands of children to the ocean. For many, it was the first time at the sea and they were thrilled. Their happiness and contentment traveled across the ocean to the ancestors who opened their hearts and called Mamy Wata back home to do battle with those fish-eating ships.