The Cape Coast

This past Friday my eap group went on an amazing day trip to the Cape Coast. It could easily end up being one of my favorite experiences in Ghana.  We started the morning early at six a.m. where a group of us head out to get breakfast before the bus picked us up at 6:30 to embark on the two in half hour drive over bumpy red dirt roads. The morning was cool and everything just felt so right now that the campus is pretty familiar for me now. This may be an unnecessary point to share and somewhat gross but there were squished toads on the road from the night before. Which I thought was a little odd to see at first but the open gutters at night are filled with hundreds of toads and it reminded me of one of my favorite camp songs “ Tom the Toad” who was ran over by a truck.  It was one of the silly reminders of home and was a great morning welcome to the day. After that gross sighting we left for our trip to the Cape Coast and Kakum National park.

            On our way we stopped by a little town to use the restroom and what not and when we first walked in to the restroom it said Ladies and no one really hassled us. Yet seconds later after coming out some of the local men around were saying it cost 60 pesquas to use the restroom. And at first I was shocked and thought “ Pssh, where’s the sign” and then looking at it you could see it chalked on the wall. How sneaky of them but it made me really just shrug it off and relate to the saying TIGO. Which stands for “ This is Ghana, Oh”.  Kind of like oh well, no biggie, its just the way it is. And although at times it can get frustrating, the way of life here really helps me develop my patience and appreciation for the simple things. 

Welcome sign! 

My friend Jessica and I  at the entrance sign!

            The Kakum National Park was unbelievable. I was so excited because it was one of our first trips centered on nature and the outdoors, which I obviously love. Our tour consisted of a beautiful hike through the rainforest and then ending up at a breath taking canopy tree walk that was twelve stories high. Here are some pictures of my friends and I and also a short video so you can see what it was like. 

            After the canopy walk, I got fresh unfiltered honey that was harvested in the rain forest, which was really delicious. On a complete rush of happiness we then headed back to the main part of Cape Coast and toured one of the Slave Trade castles, Elmina castle, used over 500 years ago.  My friends and I would consider this day as the two extremes one will ever experience. Just that morning we were grasping the earth with such positive energy and here we were at Elmina castle already feeling uneasy from just being around the area and having not been on the tour yet. 

 As a precursor to getting here, we were all told that this could be a very emotional experience and a large portion of the people who come here have a negative energy with them throughout the castle grounds.  Our guide was amazing and led us throughout the entire building explaining the history and significance of each room. Originally built by the Portuguese as a main trading post for gold, cacao and other goods, the castle wasn’t necessarily intended for slave trade. However some theories say it could have easily been designed for slave trade, since the Portuguese were well aware of African slave trade from the North and had an increasing group of Africans who were taken to Portugal to work. After about a hundred years, the slave trade in the castle began and would be the last place these innocent people would reside before being shipped to Europe and the New World. The castle eventually was taken over by the Dutch and then later the English once they gained colonial rule.  Regardless of who ruled the area, slavery was a huge part of this place and the tour and stories we were given were heart wrenching and showed us in an intimate way of understanding how negative and destructive this time period was. 

            Throughout this tour I felt anger, sadness, guilt and an indescribable negative feeling that dragged along with me for our stay in the Cape Coast. I’d prefer only to share one of the experiences, as they are all very serious, emotional times where words only do so much to describe what happened here. And I believe it is important to know that the idea and understanding of this time period is different for each person as we are all shaped by our own life stories, backgrounds and experiences. 

The Women’s Dungeon: By far the most emotional and negative feeling that took over my body and mind on this tour.  We walked through a narrow long hallway that opened up to a courtyard surrounded by four rooms that were used to hold the African women for up to two months without much ventilation and cramped in a tight space that held up to 4x its assumed occupancy.  Here women and children were locked up together and were given only enough food and water to keep their body physically alive but enough hunger and abuse to keep them weak in the mind. The women would become so weak, sick and malnourished that the two sides used for a bathroom like a toilet became useless. They would not be allowed to bath, and would often be laying in their own vomit, urine, feces and menses.  Over five hundred years later we walked into the room and instantaneously everyone either covered their nose or commented on the overwhelming smell of all these things combined. It was shocking and painful to experience this and just exemplified what horrible conditions these women lived in before being shipped away to even worse conditions on the ships to the New World.

This is just a small part of what we learned in this section and there are details that just don’t seem appropriate to openly share.  At the least you can have an idea of what this place was like and how important it is for everyone in the world to look at these times as a lesson learned and a promise that nothing like this will ever happen again. 

The stairway up to the living quarters of the men who controlled the castle.

The death chamber where slaves would be placed without food or water until they die. Often the guards would not look in here for days where a live person would be cramped in the same room with a dead body.  

The door that led directly on to the ships. This door was so short and thin to avoid anyone from trying to escape. 

One of the chambers that the men would reside in.

Another room that was filled with bats. 

This is the "courtyard" that the women dungeons faced into.  Women would only get a chance to come out here  to be picked out of the crowd as a mistress/ sexual victim by the main leader who stood above on a balcony. 

The not so pretty view from the castle. 

A picture of myself just outside the castle grounds. 

The rest of my weekend ended up being very relaxing and was spent preparing for class on Monday and going out at night. The nightlife here is just amazing and the Ghanaian music  is so lively. It’s now Tuesday and I just found out yesterday my official class schedule, which is busy with lectures and lab practicals. So far I have had my Conservation Biology class, which is going to be so interesting, and I’m really excited to see how the semester goes.  

I lastly want to just give out all my love and gratitude to all of those following my blog. These are life-changing experiences for me and it is great knowing that I get to share them with all of you back home.  And that no matter how many miles we may be apart, I guarantee I have thought of all of you at least a handful of times.  Whether it’s been looking at all my pictures on my computer, reading old class papers, thinking of all the places I’ve worked and all these trips I’ve done in my life, and just sharing stories with people.  I am truly lucky and I want to make sure that everyone knows that I really like hearing from everyone and knowing how things are going back in the States.  Just like you are here for me, I am here for you as well. It just may take me a bit to get back because of the Internet situation but don’t let that ever stop you.