Saturday, October 27, 2007

Elmina Castle (graphic and disturbing, but truthful)

I wrote this in my journal today after touring Elmina Castle, a historic slave dungeon that was controlled by the Portugese, Dutch, and English. This is a pretty emotional and sometimes graphic entry.

Ten minutes ago, I stepped out of the gates of hell. One hour ago, I walked into it. What more can I say about a slave castle- a place that stinks of shit and blood, fear and death? I understand now what it means to be a slave- the depth of the horror and victimization that humans can inflict on other humans. Wait. No. I don't understand at all. But I have seen a part of a history that always evaded me.

My ancestors owned other humans. For some part of my life, in a small and dusty corner of my mind, I was proud of that legacy- of the power and prestige that they won by taking advantage of other people. No matter how benevolent and paternal they saw themselves, I have no doubt that they whipped or had people whipped. They bought and sold human beings. They raped women- legacy of the racist masculinist system in which they lived. My ancestors gave their slaves names (not allowing them to name themselves and their children) and did not allow them to read or write, to play music using their African-style instruments, or to associate freely.

Another legacy of my ancestors are the darker-skinned cousins which I know I have. I know I have them, because slave masters were never without their mistresses, and plantations were never without their jealousy. My grandmothers had to compete with the women whose names I have read in my grandfathers' wills- women named Janey and Lucy. They threatened my grandmothers, Mrs. Sally Dumas and Mrs. Lily Dockery with their youth and sensuous darness. Because my grandfathers owned white people, too. Legally, Mrs. Oliver Hart Dockery and all of her property did not belong to herself, but to her husband.

Lucy and Janey and so many other African women weren't even "protected" by the regulatory laws of chivilry and the mobs and the Klan. They were beaten and killed, raped, forced to bear the children of hate and repression. At every turn, they were taken and picked at like so much livestock. The raiders, the governer, the soldiers, the captain, the sailors, the merchants, the masters, and the masters' sons (not to mention the terrible frustrated male slaves, themselves starved for masculinity and control). "Woman is the n-gg-r of the world" John and Yoko said. But black women? Theirs seems to be the worst fate of all.

Today when we went to the women's quarters, we learned that the governer would periodically have all the female slaves brought out into the courtyard (the only time that they would be allowed to see the light of day) for the governer to survey. He would pick out one particular woman who would be washed (they hadn't had baths in months) and fed and clothed, and then he would have her sent to his quarters, upstairs. When he was finished with her, she would be sent back downstairs to be finished off my the soldiers. Many times, they would rape her to death. Any women who resisted a soldier's advances would be chained to a cannonball in the courtyard for the entire day without food or water. They also cut off one of her ears.

My time is running out, so I can't say all that I can. This shook me deeply. It's been a very emotional day.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Northern region

This morning I skipped drumming class to go on the internet. I've been pretty happy with that decision so far.

I had a really great time in the North. My camera is messed up (it won't take pictures), so I've stolen all of these from Emily via Facebook. I'm sure she'll understand.

In Yendi, we visited a witchcraft village, where accused witches are sent. It's a really cruel system- there are over 700 men and women who are exiled from their homes after people accuse them of killing people with magic, making women infertile, or for causing weather problems. These are not usually diviners or shamans, who have traditional powers, but rather people who are wrongfully accused of social disasters. It's society's way of placing blame and shunning undesireables. These are some of the women:

We were flooded by children at that particular village. At one point, I was carrying one on my back and one on my front, while another was carrying my purse. The little girl on my right (left?) knee was really funny.

On Saturday, we went to Mole National Park. It’s a beautiful drive visually, but physically, it was one of the worst roads I’ve ever been on. It’s pot-holed dirt road for 3 hours. Anyway, we went on a walking safari in the morning, complete with gum boots. Here’s Erica, Kristen, and me in our “great white explorer” pose:

Since it has been raining lately, most of the animals are deeper in the forest. They come out around January, when it gets hot and the water dries up. We trudged around for about an hour and a half, seeing gazelles, baboons, and the occasional pack of warthogs, but these things are not as exotic as *elephants*, *zebras (which don’t even live in the park)* and *lions*. We were despairing of seeing any big animals, until we started hiking back to the lodge. Suddenly, our guide stopped and told us to be quiet. An elephant! It was in a clump of trees and we couldn’t really see it, but then the guide started throwing things at it. This probably is not the wisest move, or the most friendly to the animal, but it worked. He moved around for a while, trumpeted, and then started moving towards us. All of a sudden, our guide (pictured here):

said “Go! Go! Move that way! Run faster!” And the elephant started running (or maybe loping would be a better word) towards our general direction. We moved out of its way, and then it trampled a tree and charged a pack of warthogs.

All in all, it was an exciting trip.

Today we are going to Cape Coast. That was where many of Ghana's slaves were shipped from, so I suspect that it will be an emotional trip. I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Are they speaking in tongues or in Twi?

This weekend I did a lot of things, none of them particularly life-changing, but all of them enlightening.

On Saturday I went with my roommate and her boyfriend to see her sister. Her sister just entered her first year of high school at a boarding school about two hours away from Accra. The first year of high school is really hard for students, because, on top of being away from home for the first time, they are also made to do all of the menial labor around the school like cleaning the bathrooms, scrubbing the floors, weeding, etc. I brought a bracelet for her sister, but she said that the older girls would take it away from her, so she asked my roommate to hold it for her. I was so sad for her! Tina and Fifi (my roommate and her boyfriend) said that this was very common in Ghana.

Today, on Sunday, I went to church with Sarah and her roommate, Peace. It was definitely different. It lasted for four hours and included slaying in the spirit, an alter call, and calls for financial donations of $1,000. They got four people to pledge $1,000, so I guess it worked. At one point, I wrote a note to Peace that said "are most people speaking in tongues or praying in Twi?" and she laughed. Most were speaking in tongues. I felt very Presbyterian throughout the whole thing, but it was an interesting experience. It actually reminded me a lot of what we saw at the Odwira festival in Akropong a week ago, when women were ritually possessed by the spirit of their ancestors. They exhibited the same movements, facial expressions, etc. The people around them caught them exactly as the helpers at Odwira did. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

After church, we went to see Peace’s cousin, who is a seamstress. She is making me three dresses, two of which will be quite fancy. I gave her fifteen yards of fabric to work with in all, so I hope they will turn out well. She measured me today, but I’ll go back in a few weeks to try them on.

This week (we leave tomorrow at 6 am) we travel to the Northern region of Ghana. I am extremely excited for this, although I am not excited for the 12-hour bus ride over very bumpy roads. The bus is supposedly air conditioned, so I will hope and pray that it is working. I think that I am going to spend my travel break doing relief work in the North (there has been heavy flooding), so I am excited to see what is happening before I make my plans to go. Joy's parents are involved in a mission organization which has branches in the North, so she is going to connect me with some of her friends. It will be good to do some "real" work in Ghana.

Anyway, things are generally very good here. I am learning a lot about relationships and Ghanaians. I feel like I am finally making friends with some of them, and learning how to communicate across our accents and cultural outlooks. It's been good for me.


Sorry, sorry, sorry. I haven't written for two and a half weeks. I am very much alive, but busy and not around computers very often. Also, Blogger has been acting up.
I guess I'll start where I left off, which was 3 weekends ago, when I went to the Volta region (on the Eastern side of Ghana. It is 3-6 hours away, depending on the less-than-reliable modes of transportation) and I went with Dave, Michael, and Everett. Everett is from Alberta, Canada, Dave is from California, USA, and Michael is from Germany. I had been feeling a little constrained by the Calvin group dynamics, and it was a welcome respite from the same old people, places, and activities. Plus, it was great to be independent and do some things that deviated from the official plan.

We left on Friday, taking an STC bus (similar to a Greyhound) for 6 hours. It was a long trip, and we were sore and tired by the time that we arrived in Hohoe (pronounced ho-hoay). We settled at the Taste Lodge for the night, after a delicious meal of macaroni and cheese and beer, and then got up the next morning to catch a tro-tro to the falls.

Dawg man, those falls so high they be trippin off the chain. The highest falls in West Africa. And I was underneath them.

Then we went to the highest mountain in Ghana and climbed it. Well, really it was more like I crept my way to the top of a very steep, very large mountain, complaining the whole way, while three tall and athletic young men went ahead and left me with our Ghanaian guide. I felt like a dolt, sluggish and unfit, but finally I made it to the top in time for… the sunset. There’s the rub. See, we neglected to bring flashlights, and the descent was rocky and the path covered by jungle and ant nests. At one point I stopped to wait for the guys (the guide and I had gone before they had) and the guide went ahead for a flashlight. Ten minutes alone in the very dark jungle sounds ominous, but really was a lot of fun. I sang and made up stories, and nothing bothered me. Finally, we found the boys and made it to the bottom, covered with small scratches and ant bites.

That night I started to get sick with a fierce sore throat and went to bed early. The boys stayed up and drank beer, and decided to go “swimming” in a water storage tank. Dave cracked his head open when he got out, leaving him with a battle scar and a funny story to tell for weeks to come. Once again, my sickness was eclipsed by something that was actually serious. Oh, the inhumanity of fate.

Monday, October 8, 2007

sorry sorry sorry

This week has been a weird one- I’ve hit a wall in the trip, where I don’t seem to be moving. It’s a little eerie. Anyway, it isn’t really true, because I’ve done a lot in the past week and a half since I’ve written. Mostly, I haven’t written because I haven’t been online for a week and a half. I went to the Volta region last weekend, and then I went to Akropong for the Odwira festival last week. Also, I got a cold and freaked out and thought that I was getting meningitis. I think I was just a little bit bored, because I definitely don't have menengitis.

I’m going to write so many wonderful things this afternoon, and post pictures. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet… I’m getting lazy.