“Bata will be the place for my retirement; its energy grabbed me.”
Cultural manager, editor and courageous bookseller (and the good granddaughter of the academic Trinidad Morgades), Deborah Ekoka says she fell in love with the city of Bata because of its aromas, its energy and its beaches remind her of her hometown, Valencia.
I have to say that I undertook my first trip to Equatorial Guinea with a lot of uncertainty and a certain amount of fear, a fear generated by the stories that my cousins shared many years ago at family meals about blackouts that lasted hours or days, or how my cousin had malaria but still escaped the hospital through the window to return home, or the very strict punishments that would shake my spirit or just violent events.
My father had nine brothers and sisters, and although all my cousins had already visited Equatorial Guinea, I was the only one whose father had never been to our homeland. When I decided to go, it was because I was finally able to pay for a ticket and block out two weeks of my schedule for the stay, back in 2012.
I remember how when I got off the plane in Malabo I felt a powerful humidity on my body, and I thought “air in Africa is so heavy”. Years later, on my second trip, I learned that that is something characteristic of places like Malabo, and not of the continent.
On this first trip I discovered the town of Moka, located south of Bioko Island at a much higher altitude and famous for its low temperatures, the Arena Blanca beach, and other places, but one of the things that struck me the most was seeing the leafy forest of that intense green and the Heineken signs on the road, almost the same shade of green, disrupting the harmony of the vegetation. And I honestly loved it. My whole family was happy to finally have me there.
I still remember how my grandmother made me sit on her lap, and one of my favorite memories is eating her fantastic fried chicken wings on the porch of her colonial house, looking out over the patio with the enormous trees and views of Malabo. I was so delighted that I extended my stay for another week. But over time I realized that, although it had been a somewhat superficial trip, something had changed inside of me. I began to give more importance to my roots, and after a year and a half we launched United Minds, a store project along with a bookstore specializing in African authors and the Diaspora, which is still active. Stepping on mother Africa for the first time, even in a superficial manner, made a dent in me.
They say that Equatorial Guinea either spits on you or embraces you; I felt a first hug, not the warmest despite the high temperatures, but I was left wanting more.
My second trip was in 2019, notebook in hand and a list of all the things I wanted to do and see in those 19 days. Seeing my grandmother (aunt) Trinidad Morgades Besari—an eminent writer and academic of whom my family spoke little to me—buying Equatorial Guinean handicrafts, which is more difficult in Malabo since in the shops there is only Cameroonian, Nigerian and from other African regions, although later in Bata I found a small shop in the Spanish Cultural Center where I was able to buy some souvenirs.
I presented the book of which I am the editor and a co-author, “Metamba Miago: Stories and knowledge of Afro-Spanish women” (Metamba Miago means “my roots” in the Ndowe language, the language of my family’s ethnic group), in the cultural centers of Malabo and Bata, and in the only bookstore in the country at that time, La casa tomada.
I also had the opportunity to meet great women for me such as Anatasia Nve “Mama Anastasia”, defender of women’s human rights, Trifonia Melibea Obono, writer, Sese Sité, promoter of the Barbarrio project, Paloma Nze, a TV journalist who took me as a guest to here program on public television, “A Fondo”, to talk about the book.
I also visited Bata, a city I fell in love with and that amusingly reminded me a lot of Valencia, my hometown. Even people there seemed to loosen that hostility that the people of Malabo may show. On the mainland coast I visited Ekuku, my grandmother’s hometown, and I also went inland, my brother (cousin) took me and recommended wonderful places.
The gastronomy of the coast at popular prices is one of those things that I always remember: the pepe soup from a bar called Fina, the bilolá, and other dishes were engraved on my palate, which still yearns for those flavors.
I know that in the future, when I can spend there a great part of my time, Bata will be the place I’d choose mainly because its energy haunted me. If I had to request a tailor-made trip, I would love to learn more about the different ethnic groups in the country, their rituals, their gastronomy, their spirituality and traditions, and to learn about traditional art and its signification.
I imagine that one day there will be a museum like the one already proposed in the National Park, but more accessible to Guinean citizens and containing even more art from all these ethnic groups that make up Equatorial Guinea, on that would even organize visits to the artists and artisans’ workshops. I would also like to learn about people who have had an impact on Equatorial Guinean culture and history. I still have to see places like Río Campo, my grandfather’s hometown near Bata, Ureka, and other parts of the country. I have to start making the bucket list for my next trip.
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