Ghana in June, Day One

IMG_9610

IMG_9621

IMG_9613

The Wi-fi and I are having it out tonight. But, more importantly, we are here in Ghana and the luggage and our team made it fine with no excess baggage fees or delays. We’re calling it a miracle. It’s so good to be back and although I can’t say that I have missed the slow Wi-fi,  it is another familiar part of my time in Ghana. So is visiting the slave castles that dot the coastline of what was once known as the Gold Coast. After over 26 hours of flying, we stumbled into our hotel rooms in Accra last night and woke up this morning to drive to Elmira Castle. Last spring, Erin and I visited Cape Coast, so it was good to see a different castle, but the story is the same. We walked through the dungeons where male and female slaves were kept. There were hundreds of captured West Africans who were huddled in these rooms with little ventilation or sanitation. Diseases like typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever were rampant. We saw the dungeon, complete with skull and crossbones, where the slaves who tried to escape were kept without food and water until they died there. And we saw the Door of No Return, the last walkway before the slaves were boarded onto ships bound for Europe or the United States. But in this castle, we were also able to stand in the large room where church services were held each Sunday, above the dungeons and the Door of No Return. And we asked the question that we will never answer: “How?”

Despite a morose beginning to our trip (and to my blog posting about it), it seemed like the right place to be today to put things in perspective. There are so many “why?” and “how?” questions that we can’t answer. I’m a person who likes to know these answers, but sometimes all we can do is look ahead and say, “We’ll do things different and better.” Maybe we can never make up for the wrongs of those who came before us, but we can be people who don’t repeat injustice, causing generations that come after us to ask these same questions.

Tomorrow morning we leave Accra for our destination, Ankaase. I’m so privileged to be traveling with Peter and Anna, ACEF founder and his wife; Colin, my son; Shannon, my best childhood friend; and Melissa, a dear friend I’ve known for over 20 years.

Tomorrow, we will board a plane for Kumasi and hit the ground sprinting as soon as we make the drive to Ankaase. It is midnight here and this is my third lost and recovered draft of this post, so I’m hitting publish, saying a prayer of thanks, and then falling into bed. Once again, you’ll have to forgive the typos. If I fix them, I’m afraid this night will never end.

So, finally, goodnight from Accra, Ghana.

Ghana Day One: The Slave Castles

Here are two disclaimers if this post a)looks funny, B)reads like I’m in preschool: I am working on a PC (in the “Business Center” of the Miklin Hotel in Accra, Ghana), and I’m writing this using the HTML screen. I have no idea what that really means – it was just the button I had to push to be able to see the words.

This is Africa. That’s what they say when things are so very different that there isn’t any other way to describe what does or does not happen. There is no way to connect my laptop to any kind of Internet. Just not possible. We have NO outlets in our hotel room that are free except for the shaver outlet in the bathroom, which is where I downloaded my photos. On the toilet – the computer, not me. I was kneeling in front of the toilet. My Mac and I are now bonded like never before. Oh, and there will be no photos to accompany this post. There is no way to get them from my computer to this one, but I’m hoping I can figure that out when we get to the next hotel. I will try my best to describe the day with word pictures.

We arrived in Accra late last night and checked into the Miklin hotel, which is nice by Ghanaian standards and just fine for us. It has a bed and that’s all we really needed last night. It was an odd feeling. Just Erin and me at a hotel in a new city in a different country on a continent we’ve never stepped foot on. I laid in the bed feeling as if I was really nowhere. Hard to describe. A little lonely. But a little exciting at the same time. Erin is doing well. She’s been forced to go native and ditch her IPhone. Poor girl.

We slept in this morning until 8 a.m., then enjoyed a hotel breakfast that consisted of an omelet (just an egg actually), sausage (a strange link covered in peppers), beans (like pork n beans only with no pork), and some toast. Not bad. It held us until 8 p.m. this evening.

We visited the Salve Castle in Cape Coast. This was the holding place for tens of thousands of slaves that were taken from their homeland, across the ocean, and sold in slave auctions and markets across Europe and the United States. They were treated like animals, evidenced by the concrete rooms where they packed into before walking through the “door of no return.” The rooms had almost no ventilation and only three small openings at the top to let in a sparse amount of light. If they misbehaved before going through the door, they were held in separate male and female dungeons. The males who were put in the dungeon were there to die, serving as a warning to anyone else who might dare to try escape or revolt. The male dungeon was a concrete block with no ventilation. They people who were banished there lasted about 24-48 hours before dying inside. Even just walking a few small steps into the room was a stifling and confining experience.

On the top floor of the slave castle were the rooms where the Governor and his family lived in luxurious standards. Across from his residence atop another wing of the castle was the church. It took a while for that to sink in. A church? I guess no respectable English family could reside without a place of worship nearby. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this one.

After this sobering afternoon, we headed back to Accra. The sights and sounds along the road back were enough to keep me awake and gawking. Most amazing: the women who carry everything on their heads: plantains, bottles of water, firewood, luggage, piles of clothing. I would say that it’s all a matter of balance, except that small children are somehow able to carry things as well. Not large items, but boxes of peanuts and pails of water. At some point I will have photos, but for now, picture a slim, tall woman walking down a dusty city street surrounded by honking vehicles observing nonexistent road rules. She walks straight, looking ahead and carrying on her head a tall box filled with bags of fruit stacked at least two feet high. She looks completely calm. She is weaving in and out of the traffic and waving one of the bags as she passes the windows of cars and buses. My camera was in my bag which is where it belonged. I couldn’t have imagined pulling it out and snapping a photo of her. She looked far too dignified.

Tomorrow we drive the 4-5 hours to Kumasi where we will be for the rest of our stay. But for now I must say goodnight because there is a very determined mosquito that has feasted on my legs and now appears to want some computer time. Until tomorrow…