Tree of Forgetfulness

“No visit to Benin is complete without a visit to Ouidah. Accordingly, [we] dedicated the entire next day to seeing the eccentric city known for being the birthplace of Voo-doo and one of the most infamous names in the Atlantic slave trade.

“First stop was the Ouidah History Museum, housed on the premises of the last remaining colonial fort. Built by the Portuguese in 1721 as a trade and missionary base, the fort stood watch as millions of Africans marched by on their way to slave ships bound for the Americas. Today, the museum documents with accounts and artifacts how Ouidah came to be the busiest slave port in West Africa.

“From the museum we hired moto-guides to take us along the 3.5 km slave route from the city center to the sea. They competently led us through the six stages of the journey from slave market to the waiting ships. Among these stages is the ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’ which was believed to have magical properties that allowed whomever circled it (9 times for men, 7 for women and children) to forget their homes and identities, thereby freeing their souls from the pain of their imminent departure. The final stage is today marked by the ‘Gate of No Return’, a striking monument which stands meters from the water and commemorates the thousands of slaves who left that beach never to return again.”

Kate Puzey, a Peace Corps volunteer and fellow W&M alumna, posted these words less than two weeks before she was found murdered outside her PC home in Benin. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. Anyone who met Kate can detail her endless well of patience, her compassion, and her beautiful, ceaseless smile. BoingBoing has an excellent writeup on the Benin community’s reaction to the death of this amazing woman. In her blog, Kate brought Benin to life whenever she had the time and opportunity. Her family members, in their interviews, echo the spirit of her words online. Kate loved Benin, her work there, and the Peace Corps. And her death, her family claims, should not deter others from trying to make a difference in the world by serving.

The Kate Puzey Memorial Fund has been established “to help causes Puzey believed in,” her father said. Donations can be sent to: c/o Smith, Gambrell, and Russel, LLP, Suite 3100, 1230 Peachtree Street, NE, Atlanta, GA 30309-3592.

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