Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hello from Ghana- sunburned, happy, and in obnoxiously vibrant patterned dresses. I just got back from a 5:00 a.m. run through the African bush (to beat the eruption of heat from the horizon associated with sunrise) past massive red termite mounds, a monkey tethered to a rope, Pentecostal megaphone preaching in the field and the clatter of tongue speaking disciples. Now I am sitting in my room, getting acquainted with my much adored ceiling fan, enjoying the ripeness of my new true love: mango.

The past few days we’ve been in Cape Coast, exploring the hidden paradise of the Guinea Coast, drinking coconut water off the tree, and learning the about the history of the slave trade in West Africa. It was an incredible trip- and I ended up making more money than spending it, since Goucher paid for the program and thanks to scholarships, I got to pocket all of the spending money for the weekend, which was extremely appreciated.

Cape Coast is west of Accra along the shore about 4 hours, which is apparently a long way according to Ghanaians considering the size of their country. We drove down with our coordinator, Mercy, and her family in revamped tro tro with our suitcases haphazardly strapped to the top of the roof. It was really nice to get out and see some of the less developed (developed being relative considering where I am living is still relatively pastoral) and get more of a sense of the breadth of the region. We passed little mud villages, children playing in streams naked, and fufu (which is essentially a mushy, dense dough you eat with spicy soup made of plantains and yucca) being pounded with massive wooden sticks along side the road. Chickens, goats, dogs, cats, lizards, birds and people living seemingly harmoniously. It is not rare to be in a shop here, and look down to see an assortment of animals running around. There is something splendid with living so in tune with nature.

We stopped at Mercy’s farm, which is located in a little village outside of Cape Coast and were able to tour on the deserted slave castles not open to the public made by the Dutch back in the 1800’s. In comparison to the other slaves castles we toured, I found this one of the most interesting (and sad). It was not altered for the tourist eye, and many of the dungeons were converted to be storage houses for series of saccharine soda drinks . The lack of reverence was a little bit unnerving. But we climbed to the top of the lookout towers and were able to listen to the fishermen chanting and drumming as they were coming in with the day’s catch. Lined with meticulously carved and painted wooden canoes and decorated with rusty hooks and brightly tied nets, the boats were not only tools to earn a living, but floating pieces of art.

Mercy’s farm was literally out of a story book. Blankets of green flora sprouting out of the red earth with flowers and fruit and jagged rock faces coated in foam. Being far too overjoyed, I found myself scrambling down the cliffs with Kwame barefooted, attempting to tactfully avoid the crabs shuttling in and out of the foam, to explore some hidden caves he told me about. They were incredible, laced with pink seashells and thick black snails. Crouching down in the coves, I felt like some kind of geeky pirate, too happy to be there.

We also went on a canopy tour in the national forest, which was essentially a series of ropes and boards tethered to trunks of the tallest trees. It was beautiful though, being able to walk above the canopy of the jungle, catching glimpses of monkeys playing on the branches and big butterflies was amazing. I was in need of a nature dose. For those of you who have read the Subtle Knife (yes, I am a Golden Compass YEAH!), I couldn’t help but think about dust and the canopies. Haha. I ended up leading the group of about 50 or so people who were on our tour, inciting fear for the poor people behind me by swinging the bridges back and forth. Haha.
Cape coast was also paradise, having an interesting mix of gorgeous white sand beaches, extreme poverty, and too many obrunis (white folk) to count. Out hotel had air conditioning, toilet paper and WARM WATER! Which is a clear indicator of high class living. I found it a little sickening though that from the beach (literally outside the backdoor of my room) overlooked the Elmina Castle (the biggest and cruelest slave trading castles in the region). So as we were enjoying our air-conditioned rooms and martinis on the beach, we were looking at one of the largest injustices in African history. The whole slave trading situation here is very interesting to me, but the most shocking thing, however, is the lack of hate there seems to be (and in Ghana in general). I had thought before I came that being one of the most oppressed and wronged colonial areas, that there would be much more hatred towards the white man, especially in the villages built around the castles. But walking through the villages, I found nothing but “AKWAABA OBRUNI!” (welcome white man- literally “one who comes from behind the horizon”) being shouted everywhere we went and smiling faces. A few of us decided to venture out off the main road and into the village nearby after our tour, and ended up taking part in a local checkers tournament with about 30 onlookers, dancing in a funeral procession, and taking pictures with the kids and their pet chickens. Ghana gives me hope for the racial tension that is so prominent in the U.S.

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