Monday, July 12, 2010

"From Makola to Bukom to Elmina to Cape Coast..."

This past weekend we had a trip planned to Elmina and Cape Coast, and though I was looking forward to it, I think the whole weekend completely exceeded everyone's expectations.  We didn't leave until Saturday morning, so I should probably take a step back and talk about Friday, since that turned out to be a pretty great day also.  Friday morning I had a meeting with Walter Pimpong, head of International Needs Ghana, to talk about where he's going to take me in order to write my piece on the Trokosi women.  Though he didn't stay long to talk, he was incredibly helpful and has a whole itinerary planned for me that is better than I could have even hoped for.  He's going to take me to the office based in Accra, so that I can meet and talk with his staff, then he's going to organize a day trip for me to go to a village shrine so I can actually see the practice and lifestyle in action, and finally, i'm going to spend two days in the Volta Region of Ghana, which is more northern, to experience the vocational schools he's set up for the former Trokosis, and this way I can talk with them and hear about their experiences firsthand.  It's all coming together, so hopefully it just keeps going this way.

After my meeting with Walter, Megan and I decided that we wanted to go to Makola Market to look for fabrics.  James called and asked what my plans were for the day, and when I told him we were going to go shopping at the market, he immediately insisted that he would come with us to make sure no one gave us a hard time.  He met us in Labone, where we live, and the three of us took a cab to Makola, which is the very busy, downtown area of the city, and where a lot of Ghanians do their shopping.  The market is huge, and it's fun to go to because although it's overwhelming, it's a real market where people go to do their everyday shopping, and not a tourist attraction.  James was really great and took us around to a few of the fabric shops, and after a flustering 45 minutes or so of trying to make up our minds, we finally each picked out a fabric and started to make our way towards Bukom, which is only about a half hour walk away from Makola.  It was fun to walk through the city with James because people will randomly call out to him or come shake his hand, usually saying, "Fire, Fire!"  I think he also liked that we were with him, and enjoyed introducing us to people along the way.  Though quite a few people made comments or came up to him in Makola, once we got into Bukom, everyone seemed to know him and to talk to him.  As we were walking, all of the kids would come up to us and hang on us and hold our hands.  There was this one really sweet little boy who wouldn't let go of my hand and just walked with us for a few minutes.  When James saw how much we enjoy interacting with kids, he made a great suggestion to buy a bag of small candies to keep in my bag and give out to them when I'm in Bukom.  So now I'm going to make sure to buy some candy before going back tomorrow.

But we got to the gym around 3, and since training doesn't start until 4, Megan, James and I just sat around and talked with Joseph, the owner of the gym.  There were already three little children there waiting for training to start, and Joseph made each of them come over and give him their names, ages, and then once they shook his hand, he told them they could go sit down.  It was really adorable, and the one boy was only four years old.  Joseph talked a little bit about how he always encourages the boys to come after school because it keeps them from getting into trouble on the streets.  After a little while everyone else started trickling in, but it was kind of nice because it ended up actually being the fewest amount of people I've seen there so far.  It turned out to be an incredibly fun day because Megan and I started to teach some of the boys how to use our cameras and they absolutely loved it.  It was probably one of the most moving experiences I've had here so far.  At first, they were really hesitant about it because they had probably never had the chance to ever use a camera or camcorder before, but after we kept encouraging them, they just kind of took off and had a great time with it.  It's just kind of crazy how big of an impact you can have on people's lives here.  I kept thinking, what if I keep encouraging them to use my cameras when I'm there, and it eventually motivates them to become involved in photography or film later in their lives?  I mean, maybe that is a little far fetched, but if it weren't for us doing that, it's really unlikely that they would ever have any experience with equipment like that.  Even a few of the adults came over and wanted to take a few pictures with the camera.

So the kids were a lot of fun, but then Lawrence started to teach me how to use the punching bag, and I think all of the guys found it pretty amusing.  Henry also does jiu jitsu, and after training, he made me kneel on a mat with him and tried to show me how to pin someone down.  I think that I'm finally going to be able to work out with him on Wednesday morning, as long as a meeting or trip with Walter doesn't come up.  But before we left, Henry, James, and Lawrence asked other people to take their pictures with us, so I'll post them on here.

Saturday morning we had to be ready and on the bus by six in the morning.  It was a three hour drive to Elmina, and since the bus had huge glass windows, when we were driving through towns, children constantly pointed or ran up to it shouting, "Obrunis!"  Maybe this shouldn't still fascinate me as much, and I should be used to it by now, but it really is just still so absurd to experience on such a constant basis.  When we got to Elmina, we had breakfast at the hotel/resort we were staying at, which was actually much nicer than we were expecting.  There was a nice pool, and it was right on an incredibly beautiful beach.  I think when we first got there, all we wanted to do was just lay out and swim all day, but of course Frankie had a whole day planned out for us.  After breakfast we drove to Elmina Castle, which was built by Portugal in 1482 as a trading post, and then later became an important stop during the Atlantic Slave Trade route.  The castle was taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch in 1637, and the slave trade was continued under them until 1814.  In 1871, Britain took control of the castle and it stayed that way until 1957, when the Gold Coast (now Ghana) was given their independence.

The castle tour was probably how one would expect a tour of a building that traded slaves to be.  The building was really old and beautiful, but there was an overall darkness to all of it.  We had a guide that took us through each room and explained what went on where, and what it was like for the slaves.  I don't want to go into detail, but it's always depressing to be reminded of how dehumanizing and disgusting humans can be to other human beings.  The guide told my friend Raja that they've had instances there where black people get upset at white people for being at the castle.  I understand that there's a different kind of attachment and emotion linked to an experience of the past if it's your own race or ethnicity, but I don't think it's wrong to feel upset about it just for the sake of recognizing that other humans suffered.  I just always have such a hard time trying to comprehend how people could possibly treat others so cruelly.  And the sad thing is that it continues to continue.

But even though the tour wasn't the most uplifting experience, it was still really interesting and amazing to see, and the town of Elmina is really beautiful with tons of bright boats everywhere.  Then, after our tour, we drove about an hour away to Kakum National Park to do a canopy walk.  I figured that it would probably be a lot less scary and a lot safer than ziplining, but that was completely not the case.  The bridges were just made of rope, a few pipes, and some wood...all of which seemed questionably old, and often deteriorating.  We weren't attached to anything, and the bridges were incredibly wobbly and unstable.  Even though it sounds like hell, it actually ended up being pretty fun and I think we all enjoyed being scared a little bit.

After Kakum, we drove back to the hotel, and we all just swam and hung out on the beach until dinner.  After dinner, they made a bonfire for us on the beach, and we just spent the night sitting around the fire, drinking and just having a good time.  It was probably the best night we've had here so far.

On Sunday, we went into the town of Cape Coast for a little bit, went back to the hotel for lunch, and then made our way back to Accra.  We have an article due tomorrow, so last night and today after class most of us have just been getting last minute reporting done for that, and will probably be up all night tonight actually doing it.  After class tomorrow I think I'm going to hang out with Henry for a bit, and then Adrian and I are going to go to the gym for training again.

The guys warming up before training.

Joseph teaching Megan how to roll the wraps.


Joseph, the owner of the gym.

Some of the smaller kids playing before training starts.

One of the boys using Megan's camcorder.


Lawrence and James

Elmina Castle

"The Room of No Return."

Girls selling fruit outside of the castle.

Kakum National Park

The beach at our hotel.

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