Reflections On Ghana : Part 2

In Ancestral Park
In Ancestral Park

Despite getting in late, and sleeping even later, all of the Americans I arrived with woke up bright and early. The sound of the Muslim prayer and the neighborhood rooster may have assisted with this early wake up. The house that we would be staying in was absolutely beautiful. It was a small one-story house with a large gated front yard. The house was painted white with mint green accent and finishes and was decorated with beautiful pink ad yellow flowers. There were three bedrooms decked out with endless bunk beds for our stay. Pro World allowed their school partners to stay there for the entire trip, while the home stay interns only stayed here the weekend before meeting their Ghanaian families.

The Pro World House
The Pro World House

The rest of the Mizzou students wouldn’t arrive until later that night so myself and about 10 others followed the ProWorld staff on a site tour. On this first day, we visited a Cape Coast collaborative for children and young adults with disabilities. The collaborative we visited was at the top of a large hill. The estate was simple yet beautiful, representing the tropics of Ghana well. This school in particular, focused on the trade of sewing and design. There were beautifully crafted sewing machines at every table. We were joined by several other American groups and together we began our first interaction with the Ghanaian girls at the school. We were shown how to use the sewing machines, given a quick tour of the school, and overall just got to know the girls.

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The next day, all of the Mizzou students had arrived. As a group we took a walking tour of Cape Coast Ghana. We walked through town, where there was a never-ending market for food, fabric and other necessities. We walked through Rasta row were we met genuine Rastas, who would later become our friends, and viewed their art. We got our first view of the Cape Coast Castle, a castle used to house slaves before sending them to the Americas.

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The tour ended on the beach, surrounded by a group of Ghanaian children who had abandoned their sales and responsibilities to greet us. They were mostly amazed by the large group of white Americans, and the cameras we were glued too. We ended up doing an impromptu photo shoot. Ghanaian children, like all children, love having their pictures taken. The day was, all in all, joyous. The children would prove to be the greatest part, as the trusted and loved so easily. The entire day we had attracted children to our group and they would follow us until their mothers had decided they had gone too far. Never had I seen children so beautiful, happy and fearless.

Cape Coast Castle
Cape Coast Castle

The first excursion we had holds a special place in my heart. We were finally taking a tour of the slave castle. I had wanted to tour this castle since learning of it back in America. For me, Cape Coast was like Jerusalem for black Americans. Many of us had no clue of history beyond America and for me this was as close as I would get (maybe). Walking through the castle, seeing the dungeons and chains that once held African people captive was heart wrenching. In many of the holding cells, there were letters sprayed on the wall, representing the height of fecal matter that people were forced to live in as they waited to be sent away. Our tour guide (who had the most eerie presenting voice) told us of how women would be summoned to soldiers’ rooms and if they refused they would be beaten and chained. Finally we got to the doors of no return. Once slaves had reached this point, they would never return to Africa. It was the sealing of fate. It was so much to take in. Of course we all learned about slavery and the slave trade in school but there is something about being in the place were so many died, was abused and broken down that makes it feel… different…real.

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Doors of No Return

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In the male slave dungeon.  Behind me you should see the painted letters representing the fecal levels in the cell.
In the male slave dungeon. Behind me you should see the painted letters representing the fecal levels in the cell.


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Next we went to the Ancestral River Park. A park dedicated to walk to the slave castle. In this park we were able to see the great history of Ghana’s presidents, as well as the sad history of the “last bath” for many Africans who were enslaved. The trail we took was the path that so many were forced to take. We crossed into the river were slave captors forced their captives to bath for the last time before selling them off at the castle. Like the slave castle, it felt so surreal. It wasn’t all sad though. These tragic marks on Ghanaian history were very much integrated into their modern world. As we went through the park and saw the river, the graveyards, the displays of chains and guns, we also beautiful children lounging in the park. We saw nature taking over and making this site beautiful despite its past horrors.

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This weekend changed me forever. I knew who I was before but I couldn’t quite grasp how much our ancestors did for us. I thought about the strength it took to not just fall down in die during these times. The abuse, the conditions and the loss of freedom would be too much for so many, yet our ancestors survived it. Many refused to die. They survived the capture, the stay at the castle, the long and grueling boat rides, the rapes and beatings, the deaths of others around them. So while I was so sad to stand in the place where so many lost their lives and their freedom, I also felt so powerful. My entire being, and many of you out there, is because of the superhero like strength of those enslaved. My love for my people grew a million times after this.

Words cannot do this experience justice.

-Imani

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Reflections on Ghana: Part 1

   

  

 In 2011, I embarked on my biggest adventure yet. I was spending the summer abroad in Cape Coast, Ghana with 14 other Mizzou students. I must admit, going to Africa, was never on the top of my travel priorities. I had never gone out of the country and I always imagined my first trip abroad being in Europe and gallivanting in Paris. I knew that at some point, I would embark on a journey in an African country but never did I imagine Ghana as my very first travel experience.

  
I tend take things as signs, so when I saw the flyer advertising a service trip in Ghana three times, I knew that it was in the cards for me to go. My sophomore year of college, I had gotten more involved with service and had recently switched my major from business to political science. It all seemed to fit so perfectly together. I jumped at the chance. I had no clue how I would pay for the trip and I knew absolutely nothing about Ghana but I decided I would go, so go I did. (I highly recommend applying for the Gilman Scholarship if you qualify).
After struggling and worrying about how I would pay for the trip, it finally worked itself out (Thank you Jesus). I found myself on the longest flight ever (around 11 hours total) heading to Ghana. On my way from the restroom on the flight, a Ghanaian woman promptly handed me her baby and instructed me to sit in her so that she could go to the restroom. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it was the first Ghanaian encounter I had. In America, a stranger would not dare hand their child to a stranger but in Ghana, I found that trust was a given. Raising a child was a community task and this flight was no different. I learned about the trusting nature of Ghanaian people before I even landed.
  
Fast forward to landing. I arrived in Accra on a sunny June day. There was no bridge way from the plane to the airport. We walked down the steps of the plane and into the airport. (I later found out this was not uncommon anywhere. This was my second flight ever, the first being the shuttle to DC for this flight). Going through customs was kind of frightening for me. I had never been out of the country and no one told me what to do. I was surrounded by a rainbow of languages. A friend and myself, navigated our way through the airport to find our ride. We had been told very strict guidelines about how to conduct ourselves in the airport. We were told not to let a cabby touch our bags. If one touched our bags we would be obligated to tip him regardless of the fact that his service was unwarranted.
We searched for the escort from the organization called Proworld. My university had partnered with them for group internships. Proworld was a NGO that provided interns and funding from the interns to local nonprofits, schools and clinics. The idea was that we would help provide a sustainable structure for the organization we assisted. (yes, cue the American savior music). 
We finally found our escorts without problem. We waited awhile for other Americans to arrive. My friend and I were arriving a few days earlier than the rest of the Mizzou students, so we were going to be with home stay interns for the next day or so. When we finally hit the road, we drove from Accra, the country’s capital to Cape Coast. The drive was long and tedious. Ghanaian traffic is notoriously bad so a trip that should have been about two hours took more than four. Luckily, I had a seat in the front of the 17 passenger van. I was able to get a quick tour of the country that would be my home for the next 5 weeks. I remember the dirt being so red and bright. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Driving between cities was like driving in between different worlds. Certain parts of Accra were adorned with multi colored mansions and buildings. Outside of the capital lie make shift shacks and homes barely big enough for one. While some of the sights were devastating, it still had a beauty to it that one could only understand when there. Businesses and homes were covered in cell phone logos. Children and women walked up and down the roads and through traffic selling water pouches, and plantain chips on their heads. 

After driving for hours, we finally arrived to our pro world house (its been a long time, so I do not remember the name of my town L). We arrived late night and everyone was jet lagged. We ate a quick and short meal made by our house cook, Elizabeth. Then we all went to bed for what would be our first night in Ghana. I fell asleep dreaming about how the rest of my Ghanaian adventure would go.

What I was seeing was just a precursor to what I would soon know as Ghana. Ghana is a land filled with beauty, inspiration, and love as well as, poverty, oppression and despair. My trip to Ghana, thus far, has been the most enlightening trip I have had.

Stay tuned for a more on my Ghanaian reflection. 

   
 -Imani