Monday, September 27, 2010

Day #2 in Ghana

Oh man.. so much to write. I will warn though.. the castle stuff is heavy.
So Eric and I got up on the second day of the Ghana journey in our mosquito-netted hut and hiked with our trash up to the main area at around 5:45 am to meet Eric, our guide for the nature walk. Kakum Nat’l Park does not let anyone hike alone “because they will get lost” which I thought was interesting. Can you imagine not being able to go into the woods of Yosemite just because you don’t have a guide?! Eric was running a little bit late because he slept at his girlfriend house (haha) and showed up in the same green camouflaged combat outfit, boots and all, as he wore the previous day. We went into the forest just the 3 of us by 6:00. The sun was just barely coming up and it was hard to see where we were stepping, but we trusted our guide.
From time to time, we would stop and observe a tree or large vine. The first tree we saw grows thorns on it to prevent elephants from using it as a scratching board while the tree is small. As it grows larger and more sturdy, the thorns begin to fall off as it can withstand an elephant rubbing his back on it! I thought that was so great. Nature is so neat. Then we looked at a vine that was very large, and if you have a stomach or head ache you can chew up the seeds, or mash them and mix it with honey and warm water, and drink it to cure yourself. There were several other plant remedies like this that involved honey. What a neat way to feel better! The sounds of the forest were great and we tried very hard to be quiet and get the monkeys to come out but they sadly did not. We talked to our guide a bit who said he sees his family once a year maybe, and that he was about 25 years old and has facebook! We explained that we were on a ship traveling the world and he got so excited and asked all sorts of questions. There was a point where there were SO many ants walking across the path that we had to run through it, and even then they were covering all of our legs. They were biting ants, and I got several bites and all three of us were jumping around brushing our legs off and yelping. It was great. I’m so glad I have my super excellent Oboz hiking shoes I bought at Clintonville Outfitters before I left (even though I felt bad because Eric was in flip flops). They’re phenomenal.
An hour and a half later, our hike was over and the park would still not open for an hour. Eric (not the guide) and I jumped into a taxi and headed into Elmina to check out the village and the castle there. I slept through the hour ride, and was shaken awake as we pulled up to the village. There were pigs and goats and all sorts of animals running through the muddy, rainy village. There were people everywhere selling food and fabrics, and taking shelter in their shack-shops. The names of these shops were great, some of them were called “God Is Great,” “Good Eating Food,” “Good Toys For You,” etc. They were all painted extremely vibrant colors of lime green, yellow, magenta and teal but I could not take pictures because it was pouring. Cars here don’t really have air-conditioning (though I’m sure at one point they did), and the windows steam up quickly. When we got out of the car, a man named Richmond got me and Eric’s names and introduced himself but hung out outside of the castle. We walked up and paid 5cedi each for a tour, plus 50pesewas (cents) to take pictures. We first stopped in the women’s quarters with our tour guide and one other traveler and things got intense.
Slavery in Africa existed before anyone came over and colonized different areas in terms of owing each other land or being in debt; they would pay off debt as servants or slaves to each other. When the Portuguese saw this, they took advantage and developed the ideas of slavery that we think of today. After them, the Dutch occupied the same area, followed by the British and then the land went back to the Ghanaians. They kept women in caged areas surrounding a small stone courtyard with a hole in the ground covered by a wooden door. The water was so infested they would not drink it. The governor’s quarters were above this. He would sometimes go to the balcony and soldiers would herd the women into the courtyard until the governor made his selection. They would then use the awful water to clean the woman in front of everyone at the courtyard’s center as she probably had gone a month without any sort of bath, was dressed and given a bit of food for energy. She was then sent up to the governor’s quarters and back down to the dungeons when he was done using her. The women who became pregnant would be put in another area, and once she bore the child she would be freed. As most of these women came from far-away countries, they would never get to go home. The kids were given European names and educated, which is why many Ghanaians are named Eric or Christopher. Their education often times turned into running the slave trade.
We walked through the areas where they kept women, and the smell was unbearable. It was the stench of urine, feces, vomit from hundreds of years ago embedded in the stone of the castle, and literally made me cry. I was so ashamed to part of a culture that once used people the way these people were used. I’m sure I looked like a whimp. We saw an SAS group who had come to the castle on a day trip and they joined the rest of our tour. With them we went to the men’s quarters, which were better but not by much, and led into the “Room of No Return.” This room was between the slave quarters and the ships where they were carried to other parts of the world. They had to crawl through such a tiny hole in the wall to get to the ships; I had a hard time fitting in it. Our guide said that obese people would come into the castle and be able to fit through that passageway by the time they left. When they boarded the ship, they were strapped to one other slave by the ankles and carefully organized on the ship to maximize space usage. Often times when one person died on the ship, they were still attached to their mate for the rest of the voyage.
One last thing I found to be especially shocking was the Room of the Condemned, which had a skull and crossbones in the stone of the castle above the doorway. When a slave acted up as a leader and fought for their freedom, they were thrown in this room with no food or water until they died. Often times they did not empty the cell between people, so they would die alongside their long-deceased brothers. All dead bodies from the castle were thrown into the ocean and never recorded. Overall, the slaves had a careful balance of sustenance; they had to be given enough to survive but not enough to be able to rise up against the soldiers of the castle to rebel.
I’ll stop going on about all this.. but it was alarming, terrifying and shameful to see all of the things that happened before they boarded the ships. In the US, all we learn about really is the receiving end, and this trip and tour had a pretty big impact on me.
We got into a taxi to Elmina Junction to grab a Tro-Tro to head back, and Richmond (the guy from the entrance) had written both Eric and I notes on large seashells, “To My Dearest Friend Amanda, I hope you enjoyed your time at Elmina Castle!” with his contact info on the inside. Of course I had to pay for it and now it is making my room smell like fish and it needs desperately to be thrown away.. but it was great.
We smelled like rainforest, rain, sweat, humidity, slave dungeons and Tro-Tro.. it was great to get back to the ship finally and shower. I slept the whole way home, and we ended up at a bar called “Champs” that night later on. I played some billiards with my new friend on the ship Tall Ross, and made some Scottish friends. The bar had all types of flags hanging from the ceiling, including a Texas Longhorns flag and a Gators flag, so I wrote down the address and will send them one from OSU when I get home to have the buckeyes represented in Ghana. We stumbled home at about 2 am and Corey, Travis and I stayed up late chatting about all the things we had seen and were experiencing emotionally on our voyage, while also playing with some beautifully terrifying African masks I’d purchased earlier. All in all, a great day but so glad to be back.

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