" A Day at the Beach" - January 15, 2010
We have finally arrived at our day of rest. We leave our hotel in Accra and battle the traffic to get out of the city. They are doing a large construction project and the main road is being torn up. I think the attempt is to build a flyover to reduce congestion in the city but right now it is a mess. There are no traffic cones or overpaid state policemen directing traffic. It is a free for all. We are lucky that we are traveling in a larger bus because some of the smaller vehicles are yielding for us but it is a bumpy and stop and go process and it takes us over an hour to leave the city. Our journey to Cape Coast takes about 3 hours and along the way we see some of the affluence of Accra turn into the typical mud and grass huts that are the standard of living for many people in this country. I am reminded again of the extreme poverty of this nation. We are traveling to the sites where much of the slave trade occurred in Western Africa. Over 11 million Africans were carried across the ocean from the mid 15th to the late 19th century. There were no American forts but the Americans played a significant role in this terrible human tragedy. I urge you to watch Traces of the Trade which is the story of the slave trade that occurred in Bristol Rhode Island (available on PBS).
We are told that Cape Coast is the educational center of Ghana because it is the home of many fine schools and universities. It also used to be the seat of government many years ago but that has all moved to Accra. The buildings are very old. We see a 500 year old building. We drive down “stone house road”. Is it lined with very old brick and cement homes that were the original homes of the mulattos. The mulattos were the product of rape of the female African slaves and the British and other military soldiers in the 17th-19th centuries. These children were actually respected by both the white and black population so they served as important liaisons between the two races. They were usually not shipped off as slaves and enjoyed a different quality of life than their mothers and African family members. Many of them have Anglo names such as Taylor, or Williams. The city is very old and sometimes if you don’t look too close at the cell phone kiosks or the blaring of the taxi horns you could imagine yourself back in time. We arrive at the Cape Castle which was owned and operated as a slave castle (among other things) by various countries but it was last operated by the British. Our tour is very well done and it is amazing to be walking in the dungeons where hundreds of men and women were imprisoned. We see a mark on the wall which is about 2 ½ feet from the floor. We are told that when they first started to prepare this as a historic site they thought the floor they were walking on was the original floor. It turns out that there was about 2 feet of dried blood, excrement and other fluids that had dried over the years in those dungeons and eventually the level of the floor rose. We can now see a groove around the perimeter and through the center of the room. It is the trough that bodily fluids are supposed to drain out of the room. I can almost feel the human suffering as I touch the dark cold stone. The lights are turned out and we are told that 500 men would be in this room. Many died from starvation and infections. If they attempted to attack their captors they were put in a cell in complete darkness and deprived of water and fresh air until they died. Their bodies were then shown to the other captives as an example. The heat in the dungeons is oppressive but there is no odor of dying but I sense the pain of those people. Outside the male dungeon there is a new plaque that was not there last year. It is a commemoration of the visit by Barack Obama. The visit to this Castle touches me in a way that is hard to explain. I can only hope that someday many of you will get a chance to see this site.
Our time is running short and we cannot visit Elmina Castle today but instead we decide to go to the Coconut Grove hotel for lunch. This is a very nice resort right on the ocean. We have a wonderful lunch in a gazebo overlooking the rough surf of the Atlantic Ocean. There are some American food items on the menu and everyone is happy. The UML students get to play in the surf and take some pictures. We buy some beaded jewelry from a Rastafarian student. The mood is high and we are looking forward to another fun day tomorrow. We are staying at a nice hotel (running water, AC and a TV that gets one American channel) and it is a relaxing night. I am sipping some Californian wine and realize that home is getting closer. I watch a bit of American TV and catch up on the news of the earthquake in Haiti. We feel somewhat disconnected to the world events right now. Last year the pilot landed on the Hudson River when we were in Africa. It is interesting how we have become isolated from the news due to lack of access to TV and newspapers. One interesting item is that last night while checking my email I find out that our meeting with the Ghanaian Minister of Health has been shown on national TV here in Ghana and also picked up on the internet feeds to international news sources. I am forwarded a copy of an article that appeared on the internet regarding that conference and the Minister is quoted discussing his goals for improved health in his country and then I am quoted discussing the need for compassionate and competent nursing care.
The article also mentions UML and AFRICED as sponsors of the program. It is bizarre to have this email forwarded to me from the PR people at UML. I am proud to that we have made a positive impact while representing our university.