Monday, September 28, 2009
I could see it trying to burn off the haze and break through the clouds, for some reason the hymn “How Great Thou Art” (one of my favorites) popped into my head. I caught myself praying and humming as the sun broke through and burned off the haze. I noticed a couple of fishermen in their boats several hundred yards off the coast. I then noticed the traffic on the beach had started to pick up with women walking to market using the beach front as a cut through. All the while I tried to prepare myself for the Castles I was about to visit, I had read about slavery, studied that part of history but I was now standing on the coastline, one of the last, that many captives saw before they were shipped to the Americas and into a life of slavery. It all felt so heavy. I gave considerable thought to my own family’s migration to the US and how our struggles pale in comparison to the 400 years of migratory practices imposed on people of the Sub-Sahara African region. It was very heavy.
I joined a colleague for breakfast which had just started by the time I walked back to the outdoors dining area, an older woman who works at the University of the Bahamas, during our breakfast she turned to me and asked, “do you think these people are prepared for what we are about to see?” I boldly replied, “I don’t think I’m prepared and I have at least studied it”. We both nodded and continued eating our breakfast and small talk.
The ride to the Cape Coast Castle was a quiet one for me; I sat with my iPod on listening to my inspirational song selection trying to get the melancholy out of my system as if that would help. Our tour guide informed us the previous day that she was one of the guides that was available and traveled with the Obama’s when they came and visited the Cape Coast castle and the Michelle cried during the tour but that Barack was stoic during the visit.
We arrived and were quickly led in to meet our guide for the Cape Coast Castle tour. Our tour guide was a middle aged man, the lead tour guide of the Castle; he himself had given the Obama’s their tour. He provided us with great details of the history of the Castle and when it was erected and how many times it had changed hands, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, then the British (the British actually maintained slaves at the Castle into the late 1800’s well after slavery had been abolished). He then led us to the first dungeon. The Male holding dungeon; this was a tunnel that winded in a downward slope into darkness which led to a greater cave dwelling with a room to the right and left. This space was where they would hold a thousand or more men at one time, chained together. In this space these men would relieve themselves, starve, be extremely ill, and even die.
He turned the lights off (installed for tourists) so that we could see just how pitch black it was in the space. As he walked us form one area to the other he gestured to the ground and said,” please watch your step as you walk on the caked feces and remains of ancestors that did not make it out alive”. That’s about the point where all my emotions came to the surface. The tears started to flow as I walked to the other room with the rest of my group and watched quietly as he introduced us to the keeper of the sanctuary that was placed in that room which once housed the tunnel that led the captives to the "Door of No Return". The keeper of the sanctuary performed a brief greeting for our safe voyage and to keep the spirits of the captives at rest. We continued on the tour to the other holding areas. Walking past the original dungeons which were nothing more than a crawl space on the roof top of the fortification which led to open space below, where captives would be forced down into total darkness for months at a time. We also walked past the observation tunnels, where soldiers would stand and watch the captives ensuring they were moving towards the door. Then we entered (or rather peeked into) a space shape of an isosceles triangle, the depth of the room was no more than 4 ft and about 8 feet at its longest point, this was the room where the women who objected to have sex with soldiers were held, this with no ventilation just a small 2X3 space looking towards the soldiers quarters. The next space was a much larger area where the women were held, this area was right next to the huge wooden black doors, a sign posted above the doors read “Door of No Return”.
As our guide opened it the light from outside was blinding and as my sight adjusted I could see and hear the Atlantic Ocean as well as the members of the fishing community that now make this their home. I imagine this was not the case 400 years ago. Instead when that door was opened it was to lead captives onto small boats, 20 or so at a time to bring them to the slave ships that would then transport them across the Atlantic. What a completely different view it was now.
As a tour drew to a close we walked through some of the other cells and saw some of the other parts of the building, ED joined us, he was meeting one of the Faculty members to go visit a village and bring them a gift. I gave him a guided tour of what he missed and he too was moved by the information I provided, though not to tears.
We moved on to Elmina Castle, the largest of these castles in the Sub Sahara African countries, where we pretty much heard more of the same, these castles are located on the same coastline a few miles from each other and were operating at the same time. The one detail that really stuck out for me at this particular castle was that here like at Cape Coast the men and women were kept separate, however the Governor’s bedroom and the men’s mess hall was immediately about the courtyard of the female captives. At any given time the Governor could step out onto his balcony and select a female captive which would then be taken to a corner of the courtyard and forced up sets of wooden stairs to a hatch where she would then be taken to the Governor’s quarters and raped.
The ride back to the ship was solemn and quiet most slept some read and others reflected. It was a heavy day.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Off to breakfast and onto buses. I won’t bore you with the details of our bus ride, but will mention there was an “Ugly American” on board which I will blog about later, and that Ghana’s country side is beautiful, riddled with great vistas and vegetation, and plenty of people urinating by the roadside. Women and some men carry everything on their heads, from huge pots with produce, to bins of cans of evaporated milk to sewing machines, basically anything. Ant hills are as tall as the average height man and there is one major road way which means there is a lot of traffic. People also sell their goods walking in the street, think every city you may have been to where folks are selling water, chips, the newspaper, or flowers times 20, because there will be that many or more people walking in the street at intersections trying to sell their goods to motorists. It was all so exciting.
Our first stop was a rest area where we could get soft drinks and snacks and use the rest room, which was much better than the road side rest rooms in Morocco, though the toilet didn’t flush and we had to pay .20 cedi to an attendant woman to use them, (still better than Morocco). It was while in line to get to the restroom that I spotted this lizard he was about a foot long and looked menacing from a distance, he and another lighter not so menacing looking lizard seemed to be playing tag with one another. After a few minutes I realized the lighter colored lizards were everywhere they just blended in well. Anyway, that was the excitement during our rest stop. Back on the bus for the 2 hour drive to Kakum National Park, when we had finally arrived the first thing I noticed was the sign on the lawn in the small round about
“Do Not Urinate Here, use the washroom” I guess the urination thing is a big problem in all of Ghana.
We were on our way up to the Canopy, I was excited for all of 5 minutes until I realized that the hike up included walking up these uneven steps made of small boulders that were unequal in size so that every other step was anywhere from between 1 foot to 2 feet high (and measurements in between). It was a HIKE UP for real, and steep. While I had realized we would have to walk up or hike up as it were, I guess I never considered the conditions. So after sweating from parts I didn’t realize had sweat glands, and hiking for what seemed like 30 or so minutes we were at the entrance of the Canopy area. A group of faculty and I waited at the end of the groups of students and finally about 30 or so minutes (maybe even more) it was finally our turn to take the last 15 wooden steps onto the bridges that would carry us across the top of this amazing rain forest, truly majestic views in every direction. No picture I could take would make the actual view justice. Since we were the last in our group we took our time. It was wonderful. We then hiked down and got back on the bus, just walking through the rainforest and appreciating it much more being on the ground.
Our next stop was lunch with the crocodiles at the Hans Cottage Botel. We ate lunch under a roof surrounded by a small lake where we could see the crocodiles sun bathing. After lunch we watched one of the waitress place some leftover chicken under one of the trees and within seconds the crocodiles came up out of the lake to eat. I didn’t know what I was more intrigued by, watching this magnificent 7 foot creature eat or trying to calculate how many shoes and bags I could get from the skin (sorry if I offend any conservationist that may be reading this). We continued to watch the crocs sun bath and get back in the water, as well as the variety of lizards some about a foot in length run around the courtyard, and then the weaver birds (whose nests looked like Christmas ornaments on one of the trees) captured our attention. It was all so exotic yet seemed so natural to just be sitting there watching this take place. It was now time to head back to our bus. As we got back we were informed that we would be giving up one of the buses that we had because another group’s bus broke down. So as we shifted over to the other bus, some of us sitting three to a double seat, and a couple on the floor, we braced ourselves for the 30 minute ride to our hotel for the evening.
Friday, September 25, 2009
As 6am rolled around the sun started to burn off the fog and I was able to get a couple of pictures of the sun’s appearance we also started to see something we had not seen. Ahead of us in the distance container ships lay in wait, almost directly in our path. Within a half hour we were right upon them and passing them as we continued on into the port of Tema. The excitement was mounting. At this point other ship board community members had awakened and joined us. Including our inter port student (a student that joins us at the previous port and sails with the community to the next port providing insight to the ship board community about their native homeland) Nii, had joined us on the outer deck.
Nii and the rest of us would have to wait, there was another ship in our parking space, the captain had to circle around several times which made for an interesting morning (PL referred to it as “the captain was doing doughnuts in the parking lot”, which is a pretty good description of exactly what we were doing). While we waited to actually arrive in Tema, we went below to enjoy breakfast. Our meal was disrupted by a momma and baby whale playing about 200 yards away from our ship. Yes, I saw a whale, though I have no picture proof, this sighting excited me and let me know that Ghana was going to be an enjoyable adventure.
As we came back above we finally were in port in Tema, Ghana. After Immigration and Customs cleared the ship (i.e. went through everyone’s passport and made sure everything was on the up and up) PL and I boarded a bus to go on a city tour which would take us through Tema into Accra. It would be an all day adventure. We were whisked away in the busy streets of Tema where everyone was buzzing; it’s a very active and industrious port town. One of the interesting sites we passed was a shell of a building which was the Meridian Hotel which actually sits on 0 degrees on the meridian (the longitude line), guests can vie to stay in the actual room which sits on the meridian, and in room 0 those guests are treated extra special. It actually took us a while to get through Tema passing Labadi beach we were arriving in Accra, we were taken to see several sights, like the Ohene Djan Stadium, where futbol (Soccer) is played. This stadium rivals the major American Football or Baseball stadiums in size. We also drove past the Independence Square: which commemorates the independence of Ghana, a first for Sub Saharan Africa. (Wikipedia, 2009) and then on to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park; Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana’s first president, a graduate of Lincoln University and a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Spain Day 2
Today was as laid back as I want my life to be. Two of my colleagues and I ventured off the ship at about 10:30 am and caught the no.1 bus down to the beach area and had a breakfast which consisted of pateˊ on bread and Spanish coffee. It was yummy.
ED and I then left our colleague HM on the beach, she wanted to get a start on her tan, and He and I went on an official bus tour of Cadíz. For a little 11 euro’s each and a little over an hour we received a comprehensive history of the city as well as a little siesta at one of the extended stops.
We then joined HM at the beach and quickly realized “Toto we aren’t in Kansas anymore”, not that either of us is from Kansas and clearly Kansas has no beaches. It was when we saw the first of many interesting sights. This attractive woman with a great shape walking towards us in her black bikini with what looked to be a belly carrying a 9 month fetus, yes she was pregnant and wearing a bikini, and she looked stunning.
As we started our search for HM we quickly realized there were other women, not so attractive or in as great a shape that were wearing similar type suits. We walked down the boardwalk on the beach and were passed by two plain looking women that were completely topless, one of the women was so plain and flat I thought she was a man until ED made a comment about the two women. We then saw a sight that was as innocent as Adam and Eve pre apple, children, male and female of various shapes and sizes, frolicking in the and out of the water, some of the female children were topless and didnt seem to care or even pay it any mind. This is where it begins.
ED and I then started a conversation about how normal this “nudity” was to the Spaniards and how uptight we Americans were about it, which lead to our next point in the conversation. As we watched women of varying ages, shapes and sizes; many of them without tops on, we concluded that perhaps some of our (American) negative body images had a lot to do with the lack of freedom we have with our own bodies, and how we aren’t allowed to see this positive display and appreciation for the form. This gave me the fuel I needed to throw caution to the wind and remove my top and promptly lay on my stomach and take a siesta. When I went to roll over I promptly put my top back on, in the very prudish way I had been raised to do. I could list a million reasons why I didn’t go topless, but the truth was that honestly I wasn’t comfortable in mixed company on a public beach to do it, maybe next time.
So when in Spain, drink the Sangria! It may just give you the liquid courage you need (as a woman) to throw caution to the wind and your top on the sand.
Tomorrow we take a train to Sevilla let us see what that brings us.