A Space Between My Roots:

A Botanical Layover

A visual story

All photos by Barbara Darko

by Barbara Darko

19 NOVEMBER 2020 │ 4 min. read

In 2019 I went home to Ghana to celebrate the holidays for the first time since 1996, when I lived there as a child, and get away from the East Coast winter blues of my so-called home country for a little while. On my way there, I had a 22½-hour layover in Lisbon. Wherever I travel, I make a point to visit the local botanic gardens if I can, so to pass the time, I dropped in at the Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Lisboa.

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I often fill up my time in the transitional spaces, places both nowhere and everywhere at once, that I’m used to (subway cars, airports, the mean streets of New York City) disassociating as much as possible and focusing instead on where I’m going, the music I'm blasting in my headphones, catching up on leisure reading, or snatching sleep. For this reason, I avoid lengthy layovers like the devil; there's only so much successful self-distraction a person can do.


December 20, 2019, was a muggy, dreary day in Lisbon, but for once, despite the gross and groggy weather, I was happy for the long gap. It was a good stopping point on the way to the place I was headed, where more palm trees and humidity coupled with the unrelenting sun and heat I craved were waiting for me. (Little did I know the “winter” Harmattan season would soon slap me in the face with its incredibly dry, dusty breezes and below-60°F temperatures right in the new year; I'd still take that over 3pm sunsets and crying from air so cold it hurts my face any day.) 

I felt a bit at odds with being so appreciative of where I was then, given I was taking this trip to  lay down my feelings of post-colonial resentment and escape the U.S. for a time, Portugal being a country among many that had colonized the Gold Coast. But it was beautiful and memorable, still. Though they’d been put there and arranged and cultivated, the plants I'd come to see and their forms, their colors, their vitality, their familiarity and inherent wildness, the breaths we exchanged, everything they had to offer tended to the solace I was searching for in that little Eden, (mostly) alone in a country I’d never been to, which is also not something I ever really do. As a stranger in a strange land, I was grateful for their lush, leafy company.


Here is what the plants showed me, in that liminal space between their roots and my own.

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Barbara Darko (she/her) is a founding partner and editor of Hrblgy. She has worked in book editing and production for eight+ years. A first-generation Ghanaian American, she believes in the joint power of creativity, collaboration, cultural inclusion, and open conversation to make much-needed change in the world.


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