Cape Coast

Saturday, November 04, 2006

By Melissa Rick

Ghana rests on the Gulf of Guinea.  Cape Coast, one of the largest cities in Ghana, embodies a typical tropical city.  The buildings are painted brighter colors, palm trees lean into the ocean, and white beaches scattered with white shells.  Long narrow wooden fishing boats crowd the beach fronts.  They are painted bright colors and are filled with thick fishing nets.  Naked or scantly clad children play in the water or practice acrobatic tricks on the sand. 
Our primarily purpose for visiting Cape Coast was to see the infamous Cape Coast castles.  Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle are painted white and to the unknowing eye, beautiful historical structures.  However, I found the community trash dump behind Cape Coast Castle to more adequacy portray the historical elements of these landmarks.  These castles represent periods of Ghana’s history since they were built.  Elmina Castle was built in the 1400s when the Portuguese were first establishing trade links with the African people off the coast.  This location was crucial in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  The process of the trade is described as a triangular slave trade.  England would trade manufactured goods for slaves.  The slaves were then sent to America to work in plantations to produce the raw materials that were sent to England to manufacture goods…and the cycle continues.  Over 11 million slaves passed through Elmina Castle and 4 million passed through Cape Coast.  This figure does not include those that died at the castle and in the process of capture or transport.  Elmina Castle over time switched hands to the Dutch and then the English.  Also as history progressed and slave trade was abolished by the British the castles took more administrative proposes. 
Visible cruelties run throughout the structures.  For example, the church in Elmina castle is located directly above the slave’s dungeons.  The dungeons still smelled terrible.  They are concrete rooms underground with little to no ventilation or light.  The rooms were built to contain 500 persons but during the height of the slave trade over 1, 000 were kept there at a time.  The captives could stay in the rooms for up to 3 months.  Both castle’s exit to the ocean was called the door of no return.  Our guides explained that these gates were now the doors of return for the Africans of the Diaspora to return to Africa. 
We also visited Kukom Rainforest and Canopy Walk.  The Canopy Walk is narrow rope bridges strung from tree to tree.  The bridges hover over the rainforest trees allowing us to look down into the forest.  Walking on the shaky but ultimately stable bridges was an adrenaline rush.  While at the park we also took the Ebony Tree Trail Walk.  Ebony is an endangered wood and was extracted from Africa during pre-colonization and colonization.  One tree takes 1,000 years to mature!  My favorite tree on the walk was the proud tree.  It is a small tree but its roots make it stand above the ground and the roots grow out in front of it so it follows were the water is essentially walking through the forest.  The sap from the roots cures certain aliment and the fruit cures different aliments.  However, if the two are mixed together it is a powerful poison and is even used as a pesticide.  The liquid that comes from the roots will kill any plant life that it touches so that nothing stands in its way as it moves through the rainforest, hence the name proud tree.

Northern Region Trip

Friday, October 27, 2006

By Ruth Groenhout

We’ve returned from our longest trip in Ghana, a study trip up to the Northern Region. It involved lots of bus travel, of course, but iPods help pass the time, and it’s handy that they come with two ear plugs.

Our first day’s drive took us up to Tamale, the largest city in the Northern Region. While in Tamale we visited the World Vision site located just outside of town, and were impressed with the organization and vision of that NGO. We also spent an afternoon exploring Tamale on rented bikes. Its a great way to see the city, as it’s one of the few cities in Ghana that is truly bike friendly. There are wide pedestrian/bike paths on every major street, so it is possible to fly around on bikes without having to dodge large trucks and buses. Tamale is a great place to visit—the pace of life is a bit slower than Accra, the streets aren’t quite so crowded, and the people are lovely. The Northern region has a high percentage of Islamic folks, so there are lots of interesting mosques to see, as well as a large central market with all sorts of interesting stuff to explore.
The next day we drove up farther North, to Bolgatanga and then on to Paga, a town close to the border of Burkina Faso and a major truck route through Western Africa. We stopped in Bolgatanga for lunch, and had our first taste of Guinea Fowl. You know what? It does taste just like chicken! Some of us had it in ground nut soup, a soup made with peanuts and assorted vegetables, and served with a large ball of cooked rice on the side. And in Ghana this soup is correctly eaten with one’s fingers. One takes a chunk of rice and uses it to scoop up the soup. But of course, the weather is extremely hot, and the soup has just come off the stove, and the rice is really hot too…it’s a bit of a challenge to Western eaters! But well worth the trouble, as it’s really great stuff.

Then we went on to Paga…


Lots to do

Monday, October 09, 2006

By Stephanie Skaar

Today is our 42nd day in Ghana.  What?  This semester is flying, and sometimes I feel like I’m going a million miles a minute; there is always somewhere to go, someone to meet, something to do, see, read, experience…  Last Thursday, a friend and I took a trotro to Max Mart, ordered some coffee, and just sat and talked for a couple of hours.  It was great to just… be for a while.  I’m not by any means stressed out here, or disliking it at all (in fact, I can finally honestly say that I love it a lot here… good feeling), but I always feel like there is something going on, and I’m constantly doing and going… Sitting and being was wonderful .

The last couple of weeks have been pretty eventful.  The Palm Festival last weekend was in Dzodze, a small town/village in the Volta Region.  We left on Friday afternoon, stopping at the side of a random highway fifteen minutes into the drive to wait for a big enough bus.  For the next two hours we sat around waiting for a second bus that could take us all (a group of about 30 international students, 5 of them Calvin students). 

When we got there, we had an introduction and welcome talk.  We then walked around the town, had some dinner, and came back to the “bungalow” they had provided for us.  By “bungalow”, I mean a medium sized room with some mats on the floor (and roaches and spiders), and a side room with a “trough” that served as a bathroom.  It was an adventure.

In the morning, after some bread and Milo, we walked out (getting our first real look at where we were staying in the daylight) to find a small mud huts and brick homes, a water well, some chickens, and some goats.  It was wonderful.  We then sat in front of Mr. Johnson’s house (our host) as about 8 kids, Greg (American student we met on the trip), Harrison (Rasta friend), Frances (drum teacher), and Mr. Johnson took turns playing the drums.  We sat, listened, watched, and danced for about two hours and it was honestly one of my favorite parts of the semester so far. 

After that, we started walking out on the street to see the festival.  It was smaller than Odwira, but a lot more festive; the people were very involved in the celebration, and there was much dancing and singing.  At this point, Cassie started feeling sick.  By the afternoon, Cass was in pretty bad shape, so we called professor Groenhout, who met us when we got back to Accra and took her to the doctor.  I was really proud of Cassie for handling such a long, bumpy drive back on the trotro so well.  I was very proud of the rest of us for being calm, but urgent about bringing her back home.  As miserable as Cassie’s malaria was, I really saw our group come together that week- visiting her, praying for her, and loving on her until she got out of the hospital.  If I haven’t said it enough, I like us a lot.

The best parts of the Volta Region trip were not what I had signed up for- standing on the side of a random highway, getting to know other international students, sipping on a coconut, sitting around watching a bunch of kids play around with some drums, laughing at the ridiculousness of the bungalow, and the beautiful drive to and from Dzodze…  It was a good weekend.

This last weekend, we went to Cape coast.  We left on Friday morning, dove for four hours, and went straight to the Cape Coast Castle, which was a slave castle built in the 1700s.  It was a beautiful day and the ocean was gorgeous.  After eating lunch and taking pictures of the boats, fishermen, and children swimming, we began a tour of the castle.  After the tour at Cape Coast castle, we drove to Elmina Castle, which was another slave castle built in the 1400s, controlled predominantly by the Portuguese and the Dutch.  This one hit a little bit closer to home, as many of my ancestors are both Portuguese and Dutch.  Such a beautiful setting (beach, sun, trees) seemed out of place as we walked through dungeons and rooms where such awful acts were done.  Being there, uncomfortable and tired in the heat, hearing stories from our tour guide- seeing, smelling, and feeling everything around us was a very real and (I think) very valuable experience.  I think that we all, coming from different backgrounds and families, had mixed feelings and different thoughts running through our heads as we went on the tours.  I know that I will not easily forget it.

On Saturday, we went to Kakum National Park and did the canopy walk…. in the middle of the rainforest.  This was something I have been looking forward to since February… and now we were there!  It was absolutely beautiful, and my heart was happy. 

After the park, we drove to Bremu Beach Resort.  This beach was beautiful—it looked like it came out of a postcard.  After journaling a little, swimming a little, going for a walk, and eating lunch, I did not want to leave.  So…. I didn’t.  While the rest of the group headed back to Accra on the bus, Joel, Jamie, Allison, Stephanie, Anna, and I rented a room to stay another night…. And what a great decision!  We went for a walk, swam, and relaxed all afternoon, night, and morning.  Dinner under the palm trees, with a perfect breeze, delicious food, and great company… We felt like we were in paradise.  I plan on returning to Bremu for a few days of my free travel with (plans not set in stone yet) a few Calvin students and maybe a couple of friends we met at our hostel on campus. 

We leave for the Northern Region on Monday (and will be staying for a week).  Please pray for safety, and more importantly for health.  It would just make the trip kinda crummy for all of us if anyone got sick.  Thanks!

Volta Region

Thursday, October 05, 2006

By Melissa Rick

I think I can easily say that last weekend climaxed into the greatest adventure yet in Africa.  Cassie, Chelsea, Deborah, Sarah G., and I headed far into the Volta Region near the border of Ghana and Togo to a small village.  Our purpose was to witness the Palm Festival in the town.  We went with a group from the university that goes every year.  On Friday afternoon the five of us piled into a tro-tro.  Immediately, I knew this would be an interesting trip.  The organizers neglected to accurately count the number of people versus the amount of seats on the tro-tro.  There was no possible way that all of us would fit.  We ended up waiting by the side of the highway for over an hour and a half before another tro-tro arrived to carry the excess passengers. 
The ride took around three or more hours but we finally arrived at our destination.  It was dark and in Africa when it is dark it is DARK.  Even in the middle of the town, it is pitch black with only scattered candles flickering tiny hallows of light around small stalls along the road.  These few lights coupled with the strange darkness in the middle of a dense habituated area projects and a mystical sensation.  While we were walking down the main road of the town many people were also out walking.  The shadows of the candles made them seem like zombies or deformed figures. 
When we arrived at the house where we were to stay the owner and his two older brothers greeted us in the traditional African way.  They gave us water to drink and to pour libations to the ancestors to thank them for our safe journey and arrival.  Then the man questioned our leader in the Ewe language (Ewes are the ethnic group in the Volta Region) to the purpose for our trip.  The accommodations consisted of a small room for sixteen girls with thin cots on the ground.  Everyone had to sleep sideways and try to not turn over.  The “washroom” was a concrete room with a tiny trough.  After the first night, we were thrilled to find the next room that not only had a door but also a box in the floor that opened into a large pit. 
On Saturday, we walked close the house to see the day’s events.  First there was a procession of the chief from his palace to a large open area for the ceremony.  We joined the procession of drums, dancers, and local villagers.  The chief sat in an ornate chair hoisted on top of men’s heads.  At this point, Cassie was feeling sick and it was so miserably hot this day that she decided to go and lay down.  Deborah decided to go with her.
Many of the experiences I continue to have in Africa are surreal.  Even while they are occurring I feel like third person or on looker and think to myself “is this really happening?”  They are strange dreams.  Walking in the procession is one example of this sensation.  When we got there another occurred.
When we arrived at the ceremony grounds, Chelsea, Sarah, and I sat in the grass near the rest of our group.  Our group also included drummers who began to drum.  Other groups were represented around the large field.  Each had their own group of drummers and dancers that played and played for at least an hour or more as we waited for the ceremony to actually happen.  Drumming and dance is a central aspect of the African social and formal life.  Different ethnic groups have their own styles and dances.  In one of our classes we are learning an Ewe dance called the Abuja.  At this occasion in the Volta Region, the Abuja was a highlighted dance.
Soon after the ceremony began, Chelsea and I noticed that the speaker, who was talking in Ewe, was refereeing to the University of Legon.  Suddenly we realized he was announcing our small but visible prominent group.  One of the group leaders jumped up and the drummers started to get ready.  He motioned for us to stand up to dance.  Chelsea and I looked at each other in disbelief.  We didn’t know this dance.  He must be mistaking us for other student.  In fact what was happening was that each group represented at the ceremony is introduced then does a practiced and choreographed dance for the chief.  What was happening to our group was that some of the students had learned the dance but at this time they were no where to be found.  To avoid insulting the crowd our leader was trying to get some of us to dance.  I looked at Chelsea and said, “let’s do it.”  So four white students and three Ghanaians attempted an African dance I had never seen before for the thousand or more crowd.  There was a point in the dance were you flap your arms and squat. At this point the crowd would start laughing at us.  Then we had to pause.  When we did this the crowd would cheer.  It was an experience I still can not believe I did.
After this and other interesting experiences, Cassie was still feeling terrible.  We originally planned to stay an additional night but decided to get her back to the University Hospital as soon as possible. The five of us with help from the ever friendly Ghanaians found a tro-tro to take us back on the bumpy crowded ride to Accra.  When we got back, Cassie went to the hospital with me and Professor Groenhout.  The doctor immediately knew she had malaria.  She is doing wonderful now and we are grateful that we were able to come back so quickly.  Please pray for her continued recovery and health. 

Odwira Festival

Monday, September 25, 2006

By Melissa Rick

Bang.  The gun shot into the air.  Drumbeats accelerated as the procession continued down the street.  The African town of Akropong is settled among mist covered mountains as people joined in the yearly festival.  Crowds huddled by the open gutters.  A single woman took labored steps closer and closer to where I was standing.  Four men stood by grabbing her arms and sides while another balanced the container of food on her head.  Her eyes steadily fixed ahead.  Without warning she suddenly stopped.  The men urged her on pulling and pushing.  She remained fixed.  Suddenly she sprinted ahead almost losing her attendants.  Within the next hour similar groups progressed through the town.  The ceremony was to venerate the ancestors.  The Africans in this area believe that the people carrying food on their heads are possessed by their ancestors as they parade down the street. 
Wednesday after our classes, we left Accra and ventured back to the comfort of the Akrofi-Christaller Institute.  The purpose of this trip was to study and observe the Odwira festival in Akropong.  Odwira means purification and the festival is a week long series of traditions and rituals to purify the community for the next year.  The ethnic group’s calendar is made of nine months of forty days.  The festival begins each year on the last set of the forty days so the festival is actually their New Year’s Celebration.  When the last month begins certain prohibitions enter the town, like a ban on noise making, dancing, funerals, celebrations, and eating yams.  When we were greeted in the town, people will say Afe hyia pa (meaning a good meeting of the year or happy New Year) you would answer Afe nko mmeto yen (Let’s enter the New Year) or Afe sesee na ye te ase (may we still be alive by this time next year). 
The festival is from Monday to Sunday.  On Monday men from the town go to where the ancestors are buried and clear the path.  On Tuesday it is the outdooring of new yams.  Basically, a harvest festival.  On Tuesday the ban on eating new yams is lifted.  Wednesday is the day of mourning.  Everyone wears black and red.  They go from house to house to mourn anyone that has passed in the last year or bury anyone that died during the forty day ban on funerals. 
We observed the festivities on Thursday and Friday.  Thursday was the day of feasting.  We started out in the chief’s palace and watched as different kinship groups brought him and the queen mother presents.  The palace is an open building with a courtyard and covered sides.  It is smaller than what the imagination would entail for a palace and serves more like a community hall during the normal week.  Drums beat numerous rhythms that somehow combine perfectly.  The ceremony started with a brief sermon because the Queen Mother is a devote Christian.  This year marked her fortieth anniversary of being Queen Mother so the entire festival was laced with Christian elements.  Someone even brought her a poster of Jesus Christ as a present along with other’s gifts ranging from firewood, vegetables, live goats, and cleaning supplies.  Coca-Cola and Fanta were also popular presents. 
Next was the procession of the possessed that I described above.  On Friday, it was the day of celebration.  Ghanaians really do know how to celebrate!  The main event of the day was when all the sub-chiefs, sub-queen mothers and locals came to celebrate with the principal chief and queen mother (there is a hierarchy). 
Everyone was decked out in gorgeous African fabrics of white or bright colors.  I felt out of place with my fair-freckled skin, red hair, and western style clothes.  A procession began with drumming.  All the chiefs and queen mothers where paraded up and down and up and down and up, ect. the street.  The women were seated on elaborate chairs and the men in boat like chairs.  Their attendants carried them, aggressively bouncing the chairs up and down in celebration.  Each group had its own drum line and some even had brass bands.  The principal queen mother was also accompanied by a hoard of pastors dressed in dark suits and priest collars.  She wanted the Christian community to accompany her on this day.  During all the commotion, the sky opened and it started to down pour.  However, it seems like only the audience noticed as the parade continued till the rain stopped and the sun came out sometime later.  Finally, everyone took their seats, formally greeting each other and the principal chief. 
Afterward the party continued all night.  The previous evenings there was a town wide curfew at 9 and lights had to be out by 10.  On Friday, it was lifted and everyone took full advantage of it.  We could hear the music blaring all night long. 
On Saturday, we left the comfort of the Akofi-Christaller Institute and had another adventure.  We climbed Krobo Mountain and saw beautiful views of the Ghanaian landscape below us as we trekked up the mountain. 

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