Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rainforests and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

This weekend felt like it lasted a lifetime. I did so many incredible things this weekend, and it looks like next weekend will be even more adventurous! I have been a little surprised at myself - surprised at how readily I enjoy doing things that some people might be nervous to do.. Who am I kidding? I'm doing things that I am nervous to do! But the exhilaration of doing something that makes you afraid, finding that you can not only handle it but in fact enjoy it - is the best and most confidence-inducing feeling ever.

So this weekend blitz began on Friday evening, when myself and a few other interns from the HRAC went shopping along Oxford Street in Osu. The various hawkers are always on the look out for obrunis (white people) to sell their various wares, so it can be a little intimidating to walk along the street but I am getting better and better at handling it. As I was walking a man grabbed my arms and asked me to marry him, which is really par for the course here. After haggling a bit I bought a nice Ghanaian dress and some beads, and then headed to Cafe Dez Amis near Flagstaff  House (parliament). We were excited for the live music, but unfortunately the  music was pretty lame. Nevertheless, we ordered drinks and enjoyed our time there despite the onslaught of mosquitoes. 

Saturday morning we woke up at 4:30 am to be able to drive approximately 4 -5 hours to Kakum National Park in the West of Ghana. Our drive was long but it was really good to be out of the city and seeing more of the greenery that is truly so beautiful. Kakum National Park boasts of having Africa's oldest canopy walk - where you walk along narrow wooden planks supported by netting between 20 to 40 meters above ground and above the treetops of the lush rainforest. It was really nerve-wracking for me at first - the planks wobble and you have the sensation that you need to balance yourself really carefully or else you'll fall. But the view of the rainforest was amazing and we saw red and yellow butterflies fluttering among the treetops.  

 Although I was really nervous doing the canopy walk the first time, four of us from our group decided to do it again when there was no one else on it (admittedly, technically we weren't supposed to do that..shh). Doing it the second time was much more enjoyable - we walked faster and weren't too disturbed by the swaying or wobbling of the planks because we had already successfully done it once. The only part that really freaked me out was the part of the canopy walkway where the wooden plank was missing and there were only rungs like a horizontal ladder! But it was exhilarating and I felt like I had accomplished something after doing it.

After Kakum, we drove about a half hour to a restaurant that was like a big cottage on the edge of a small pond that is inhabited by crocodiles. We only saw one, and a  bunch of lizards (I fed one some lettuce) but it was cool. 

After that, we drove another hour or so to Cape Coast. The view of the coast from there is really beautiful, but we were primarily there to visit Cape Coast Castle. I really don't know how to adequately convey the emotions I experienced visiting that castle. 

For as long as I can remember I have heard about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the horrors of it, but it has always felt like some far and distant world that never seemed concretely real - it almost seemed too horrible to be true. But no longer does it seem that way. Cape Coast Castle was once used to hold up to 1000 slaves from West Africa for 2 weeks to 6 months before they were packed into ships like sardines to be slaves in North America.  We went right into the male dungeons where  men would be kept in the dark, naked, and overcrowded. We were shown how these men were forced to defecate on the floor of the dungeon and as a result the buildup of waste caked over the bricks and solidified. When it was later excavated, the waste was scrubbed away to reveal the original red brick underneath but a patch of the waste was left to remember the suffering of those men. We were also told how the British and other Europeans built a church right above where the men were kept in squalid dungeons. I truly don't understand how they could be Christian and still engage in the slave trade. We were shown the underground passage that the slaves would use to travel from their dungeons to the Door of No Return (they weren't even allowed in the open light) - the door through which all the slaves would pass to board the ships that would bear them far away, never to return. It felt unfair that I could walk in and out of that door  - I was able to pass through that door twice, but the men and women who were forced to be slaves were never able to. We were shown a small room just beside the female dungeons that was used to punish women who resisted rape from the white europeans - and I noticed how, unlike the male dungeons, the females were held in a room with a large window with bars so that the european men could easily choose whichever female they wanted. The females would have to both defecate and menstruate in the open like that and endure sexual assault - I can't even imagine it...  The final, and to be me the most harrowing, place we went to was an extremely small cell with two bolted doors that was both hot and dark. This cell was where slaves who were sick, resisted or were deemed difficult were forced to basically starve to death. As soon as we walked in the dark room I could feel the oppression - as if all the death and suffering had seeped into the walls and never left. It was awful but a truly significant experience. I can't help but think how messed up our world is and how much we take for granted - but that's a post for another day..
Cape Coast Castle,  on the coast

Cape Coast Castle

Entrance to the mall dungeons

Patch of human waste

only source of light in dungeons

The drive back to Accra was extremely long - we didn't arrive back until it was 9pm. The next morning (Sunday) me, Sarah, and Sikander embarked on a journey on our own to the East Coast of Ghana - Ada Foah! Our friend Eirwen (from England) was already there and had insisted that we join her. I am so glad that we did. The trip to Ada has been the highlight of my stay here in Ghana thus far and I know I won't ever forget it! 

You can read about it in my next post. 

Much love from Ghana, 

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