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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.