scenery and speed bumps

Day 6
We left at 9am to head to Cape Coast to see the ocean and the slave castles. It was a very long ride and would take nearly 3 hours. Good thing, that means I could sleep some more. It took an hour to get out of Accra and then 2 more hours to reach Cape Coast. I decided to start out by doing some of our class reading from The Beautyful One Are Not Yet Born, but it was so difficult to read a book describing Ghana when the very country is passing by your window. My focused reading was punctuated often by the series of speed bumps. These speed bumps were not set in any sort of order, randomly plaed along the long route to Cape Coast in sets of 10, 5 far apart and 5 closer together. This made it very difficult to read or sleep, however many other students managed to catch some z’s. Also the difference between reading and seeing was just too great to pass up, so I spent my time looking out the window. Richard who started working at the hostel the day we arrived told us that we would see a very different Ghana. He was very right, this was the Ghana that I expected to see. There were numerous slums and rolling hills with so much greenery.

Here are some random snapshot from the road:

We arrived finally at the Cape Coast area and passed Fort Amsterdam, set up by the Dutch. As we neared the actually town center, the Cape Coast Castle stole the view and I was awedby what it stood for. We entered the castle, again hawkers followed us in, and readied ourselves for the tour by exploring the museum. History, artifacts, and knowledge on culture were thrown at us in neat displays, but these could not prepare us for the walking tour that awaited us.
Our guide was a very somber Ghanaian who was very smart. We started in probably the hottest room in the castle, Palaver Hall, where the Bond of 6 March 1844 was signed to create peace between the warring Ashanti and the coastal groups. The tour was great and the views from the castle were breath taking. Near the end of the tour we entered the holding cells for the slaves. Many slaves passed through these cells, many starved, many died, and so many more exited Africa through the ‘door of no return.’ It was a sobering reminder of how our world used to operate and how our people used to treat others. What every happened to that neat ‘Golden Rule?’

We ate lunch at the Cape Coast castle resturant. We had the usual meal of chicken and rice. Here they served a big bowl of what we call ‘hot.’ (Please pass ‘the hot’) We have determined that this is Ghanas’s equivalent to red hot sauce. It is so hot!

Next we took a short bus ride to the neighboring fort, Elmina Castle. Elmina as I wrote before was called ‘The Mine.’
It was used mostly as a trade and military based center, however many slaves did pass through its walls. We also had a tour here, but it was not as good. The guide was not as somber and heart felt for the deeds of the past. After our tour we went outside the castle. There is a bay area where all the fishing boats line the docks to sell their catch. They all have vibrant and multi-colored flags to adorn their vessels.
Here we bought bags of water from some very cute kids. Everyone took their picture so I didn’t want to add to the insanity of a photo op. They were extremely happy to have our business.

We then headed to our hostel for the night. We arrived by way of a very bumpy road. It was a bit confusing at first as we waited on the bus to get our rooms. Eric had us first check out the rooms since he thought they were not the nicest and there was no AC. I am not sure if he thought we could not take the heat or if he didn’t want to have to deal with the heat. The rooms were not bad and many students from the University of Cape Coast stay here. We all said the rooms were fine and we could handle no AC, little did we know. . . That evening we went out to the gazebo for dinner, beans, rice and chicken (getting a bit repetitive). This is where I got my first mosquito bites. By the end of the evening my ankles were eaten alive. Good thing that I am taking my anti-malarial. The Cape Coast is in the Central region, not really the center of the country, but central still, where the Fante people live. After dinner we had a performance by traditional drummers and dancers. It was an amazing performance and we were all made to try our skills at Ghanaian dance. The locals and students enjoyed our show just as much as the professionals. I wish could have taken a video to post here, but it was too dark out. Afterwards we met some UCC students and the performers. We got into a discussion about tradition and culture in America. I had to respond that we really have no culture, but a pop culture driven by sex, money, and fame. Tradition in America is all up to what a family wants to remember and practice or not. Just like keeping in touch with family or keeping a family name is completely optional in America, but it is just not so in Ghana.

We returned to our rooms for the night to the realization that the power had gone out. No power, no lights, no fans, no power – many people showered by flashlight and I wrote my journal in the hallway where the generator was keeping power on. It was an interesting experience as without even a fan the heat engulfs your body. It was so sticky to sleep. I decided to shower in the morning when I could see and when the cool shower would feel so much better. I actually slep very well and somehow encorporated the sounds of a barking dog (for 10 min.), a muslim call to prayer, and loud shouting into my dreams as I was the only one not awakened by the noises. I heard them, but never awoke.

Day 7
The power came back on at 6am and the breeze of the fan was a welcome relief from the stale heat. I had slept fine during the night, but most students said they could not sleep at all. The cool shower in the morning was amazing before breakfast – only to begin sweating in the heat again. I brought out my soccer ball and we all played a nice game of ‘one-touch.’ It was time to leave and I was dripping in sweat. We stopped again in Cape Coast to change money, get water, and saw the castle for one last time. On the bus ride to Kakum National Forest the movie, Blood Diamond was brought up again. Some students expressed fears that this conflict of diamonds would spread to where we were in Ghana. I could not help but speak out and explain the distance of the conflict, the history of Ghana, and the understanding that bad things that happen in one African country are not automatically replicated in another.

We arrived at Kakum National Forest from a short bus ride where we were able to see so much more of the beautiful countryside. It was so beautiful and green. Our tour guide was very nice and took us around the park.
We trekked the steep stone steps through the forest. Our guide told us that we would not see much wildlife because they were all away from the tourist noise on the other side of the park. Just as we began our ascent of the first steps it began to rain. Would this be a typical African rain that I had experienced before? Oh yes. Rain in the rainforest, it poured. Many students sought shelter in the nearby roofed pavilion, but the rain felt so good. The rain let up for a bit and we walked to the next shelter to walk the canopy. As we reached the shelter, the rain poured down more heavily. We had time to meet a Ghanaian politician who had studied at MSU and another politician from Holland, doing an exchange program with the local Elminaian government council, who had also studied at MSU about 20 years ago. Everyone is a spartan even in the rainforest.

The canopy bridges are 316 meters long, there are seven rope bridges and six platforms. The bridges buckle and sway as more people get on, but you know you are safe. Some people had fears of heights, but the view was so beautiful and how many chances do you get to walk the canopy of a rainforest? We all made it across and received a hug from our guide since we survived. As we walked back I realized it was more difficlt descending the stone steeps than climbing. We waited while Don ate his food which he had ordered before our walk. Grrr, Don.

We all then boarded the bus to eat at the crocodile resturant and hotel that we had passed on the way to the park. It was a very nice and expensive place. There were crocodiles in a pond surrounding the resturant. The grounds keeper was showing off the crocs to some local school children. The crocs lunged at meat on the end of a stick and the children screamed and ran away. I sat down on the steps near the pond to relax. As I sat a large crocodile slowly swam towards me. It did not turn away so I stood up to the delight of the school children. It finally decided to run my relaxation and chill at the edge of the steps, probably envisioning me as a tasty morsal of meat. Maybe it had never seen an Obrooni?

We left for the long trip home and I slept most of the way. We stopped at a pump station (gas) and bought water and I got a coke. It tasted very similar to coke in Americ, but with less bite. Back in Accra, some people bought toilet paper through the window from the hawkers. 4 rolls for 10,000 cedis ($1). We unloaded at the hostel and got ready for a night out. Richard took us to a neaby pump station that supposedly had internet, but that was false, so we hailed taxis to get back. We had by now figured out the proper pricing and worked to get the right price instead of being ripped off Obrooni style. After the thrid taxi drove away, we conceded to a slightly higher price. This is what happens when Obroonis get tough, the tough get going and leave the Obroonis behind. We used the internet in Osu and later enjoyed some Gordon’s Spark (fruit and gin) and hit up the club with some drummer friends.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

off to the continent of my dreams

It crowds my thoughts; it accompanies my dreams; it wrenches my heart; I am so close to arriving on its glorious soil: Africa. In less than three days I am going to travel back to the continent that stole my heart. Six years ago I was captivated and moved by my travels in Uganda and now I will be headed to Ghana to continue my journey. This summer I am going as part of an official study abroad through my university, Michigan State University’s study abroad program in Ghana: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. And so this blog’s title is about to become a bit oxymoronic, however regardless of title this blog will cover my experiences in Africa this summer and will continue to chroncile my work in and for Africa.

From the MSU Ghana Program Handbook:

Introduction to Ghana
The Republic of Ghana, the first country in colonial Africa to gain its independence in 1957, is roughly the size of the state of Oregon and lies about four degrees north of the equator in West Africa. Formerly the Gold Coast, Ghana bordered by Togo to the east, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to the west, Burkina Faso to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. The country is divided into ten administrative regions, each with a capital city, and the capital of the country is Accra, a port city. English is the official language, and at least seventy-five African languages and dialects are spoken, generally divided into Akan, Mole-Dagbani, Ewe and Ga language groups. Twi is the main Akan language, it is the first language to approximately half of the population, including both the Ashanti and Fante, and is widely spoken in the central and southern parts of the country.

The current population of Ghana is approximately 20.7 million, 63% of Ghanaians are Christians, 16% are Muslim, and 21% practice indigenous beliefs. Christianity dominates the south and Islam is the predominant faith in the northern part of the country. Most Ghanaians maintain some traditional beliefs and customs no matter what their professed religion.

Politically Ghana is a constitutional democracy – John Kufuor is the current president, elected January 7, 2001. The currency is the cedi, $1 = 9,445 cedis.

Ghana’s climate is tropical. In the south it’s usually hot and humid (average daily temperature is 86 degrees F). There are two rainy seasons, from April to July and from September to November. The heaviest rains usually fall in May and June. The Harmattan, a dry desert wind, blows from the northeast from December to March, lowering the humidity and creating hot days and cool nights in the north. In the south the effect of the Harmattan is felt in January. In most areas the highest temperatures occur in March, the lowest in August.

University of Ghana
You will be spending much of your time on the University of Ghana at Legon campus, about 14 km outside of Accra. The University of Ghana began in 1948 as an affiliate college of the University of London. In 1961, however, the University of Ghana was, by an Act of Parliment, reorganizaed as the University of Ghana to award its own degrees. The University has over 20,000 students, including many international students. The campus is large with many buildings, dorms, cafeterias, a botanical garden, bookshop and library.

Field Trips
Elmina Castle in Cape Coast
Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti Region, home of the Ashanti, the richest and most powerful people in Ghana, with the largest open-air market in West Africa
– Bonwire to observe the kente cloth weavers
Volta Lake, the world’s largest artificial lake created by the Akpspmbo Dam in 1964
Kakum National Park

Be prepared to read of some great adventures and be sure to check back often for updates! I would say Africa awaits, but Africa does not wait for me, I am waiting for Africa.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

forever enslaved: past and present

We will be forever enslaved by the deeds of the past. There is no way that we can separate ourselves from the historic wrong-doings of our ancestors. I like to think that there is only the present and that everything hinges on the present course and action. That idea is true I feel, but we cannot forget the past and we cannot discredit working towards the future. Last month there was a rememberance of slavery at the Elmina Castle in Ghana. Hundreds of locals gathered, the British Council and UK representatives were present and the crimes committed and journeys of slaves were remembered. In the BBC article Baroness Amos, who expressed pride at being a member of the African Diaspora, said transatlantic slave trade had been “responsible for some of the most appalling crimes perpetrated by humankind against its own citizens.”

Elmina Castle, which was built by Portuguese traders in the late 1400s before being taken over by the Dutch and later the British, was capable of holding 1,000 male and female slaves at one time. I feel like commemorations like these are repeated in different parts of Africa and yet they remain only symbolic gestures where words are spoken and the only actions that follow is that of representatives traveling back to their respective countries. This is where the idea that everything hinges of the present action is needed. If we are truly dedicated to healing past crimes and reversing the effects of those actions, then how can we remain inactive?

Even as we commemorate and remember and honor those enslaved and those affected by slavery – it continues to be a prevalent issue even today. The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) is the world’s leading producer of cocoa. When you explore deep into the cocoa plantations you will come across a frightening discovery: forced child labor – slaves. These children are enslaved, forced to harvest cocoa, kept out of school, not treated for wounds recieved from working, and kept from their families. As the BBC reports: “In 2001, under pressure from the US Congress, the chocolate manufacturers promised to start eradicating forced child labour. They failed to meet an initial deadline of 2005, were given until 2008, and now patience is running out.”

We see slavery in new forms, much as we see colonialism in new forms. Child soldiers are recruited and brainwashed to fight in conflicts of which they know nothing. Many of these conflicts are perpetuations of the ‘developed’ world’s desire for some commodity or resource. We see slavery in an economic form as well. Women selling their bodies in order to feed their families, people taking on dangerous jobs to provide for their families – this economic slavery is very much linked to the actions of the past that have come to fruition now. Economic conditions as well as past historic incidents keep us enslaved. Those of us with privilege are enslaved to the deeds of our ancestors and governments, those who are forcible held and those who suffer from economic are enslaved by the systems that are so often perpetuated by our privileged wants. We are forever enslaved by our actions – whether they were in the past, or are happening present day – we are enslaved by our deeds. Are you prepared to own your actions when the time comes?