Year 2: January Term Week 2

Hello from Accra!
I've gotten to experience a lot of interesting things this week, and I'm looking forward to sharing them. If you haven't yet, consider taking a look at my last post where I introduced some basic information about Ghana and what it was like settling in. Once again, I struggle with how to write about Ghana without "exoticizing" it, which is why I will repeat the disclaimer that it is definitely preferable to learn about Ghana from Ghanaians themselves. But anyway, here goes:

Some places I've visited this week: 

Makola Market
This outdoor market in one of the oldest parts of the city was full of pretty much every product imaginable. Mountains of shoes juxtaposed with piles of beads, assorted electronics and herbal medicines, handbags and street snacks and everything in between. Every so often a truck or a taxi would plow down the middle of the road and everyone would squeeze to the sides of the street. I had to pay close attention not to accidentally fall into the partly-uncovered drainage gutters. It was so interesting to explore the seemingly endless alleyways.

Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Temple)

I was so glad that I got to attend the temple while I was here. For those who don't know, Mormons meet in church buildings for regular Sunday services, but we use temples for more sacred worship/learning and for ceremonies like marriage. To have a temple, there usually needs to be a large enough population of Mormons in the area that will use it, and there are only about 160 temples in the world. This means that, when I'm in the U.A.E. and China, even though I have church, I don't have a temple nearby to attend. This makes me appreciate it even more when I do have the opportunity to go.

The temple in Accra is so beautiful. The temple grounds are surrounded by palm trees and tropical flora. Usually, temples try to incorporate some aspect of the region/culture into the design, and this one was no exception. There were beautiful purple and gold "tribal" looking patterns around the ceilings, on the carpets, in the stained glass, etc. and some paintings that featured African wildlife. It was so nice to be able to worship with my Ghanaian brothers and sisters in such a peaceful place.

I went with some of my classmates to a live jazz performance by a local band, which was lively and fun to watch.

W.E.B. Dubois Home
One of my class trips was to the historic home and burial site of the African-American writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois. While most of his work was in the U.S., Dubois moved to Ghana toward the end of his life to rediscover his heritage. Some of our assigned readings included his most famous works. The home itself was not much more remarkable than any other house, but I'm glad that the city of Accra has commemorated his life by preserving it as a museum.

Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle
My class went on an overnight trip outside of Accra, to visit two castles which are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. Unfortunately, just like the one we visited last week (Osu Castle), these castles are historic for their role in the slave trade. Elmina Castle was owned by the Portuguese and then by the Dutch, and Cape Coast Castle was first built as a Swedish fort and later mainly owned by the British.

Elmina Castle is the largest and oldest slave castle, but both castles were used to hold hundreds of slaves at a time before loading them onto ships and sending them across the Atlantic. Learning about the slave trade in books is one thing, but seeing the place where it occurred brings it to life in a completely different way. Seeing the austere, poorly ventilated, dim, sweltering dungeons and thinking of the unimaginable suffering that people endured there is somber and humbling to say the least.

Elmina Castle

Cape Coast Castle

One of the most heart-wrenching things about these castles, is that in both of them, the castle level immediately above the dungeons served as a church. To think that the slave traders called themselves Christians and even used the Bible to justify the human suffering they inflicted on the people chained below them... I guess it just reveals how as humans we are so capable of deluding ourselves, so capable of deflecting guilt and living in denial while dehumanizing other people. It's a scary thing to think about.

Castle defense overlooking the sea

One of the Elmina dungeons

"Slave Exit to Waiting Boats"

"Door of No Return"- the exit through which slaves were taken and loaded onto boats

The "condemned cell", a punishment chamber in which rebellious slaves
 were held without food until they died of starvation

Marks scratched on the walls of the condemned cell...counting days?

Dungeons at Cape Coast castle

In everlasting memory

Elmina City Tour

After we finished the tour of Elmina castle, we had a tour of the surrounding city. Most of the economy of this city relies on fishing, so we got to see the whole process from catching the fish, to cleaning and salting them, to drying them on racks over wood fire stoves.

Elmina fishing boats

Fresh fish

Buckets used to transport the fish, carried on the head

Fishing boats under construction

Elmina from above

Fish drying ovens

Local woman shows a few of my classmates how to bake the fish
Cape Coast Beach Views + Crocs
The beaches in the Cape Coast area were generally better maintained than the ones in Accra, and there were a few beach resorts there. I got to have one brunch on the beach and one dinner/sunset on the beach.

Cape Coast beaches

Beach at sunset

Crocs! The beach resort where we ate brunch had a pit of crocodiles on display for tourists. The crocodiles were disappointingly small and very lazy, and the ethics of keeping them there is probably questionable at best, but they were interesting nonetheless.

Kakum National Park
This was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my time here. We went to this natural park in the forest, where they have suspended rope bridges ranging between 10 and 40 meters off the ground through the forest canopy. We walked along the rope bridges and were surrounded by beautiful, peaceful forest views. I wish we could have stayed here longer than we did.

Other things I've noticed: 

The Ghanaian handshake is interesting to me. It starts the same as an American handshake, but then the people snap their fingers as they pull their hands away from each other.

People sometimes make a short hissing sound to get your attention. Not in a rude way, just a short "tssss" to get you to look up before they start talking.

Obruni is the local word for "foreigner", and while the adults are usually too polite to call out to me, sometimes the kids will say obruni, obruni! and follow me and/or point. I go out to the city a lot with my Chinese roommate, and random people will just say "Hey Chinese!" or "nihao" to her as we walk around. Sometimes they ask "how are you?" or "Where are you from?" I don't really mind it-- usually the kids are either just naturally curious or they end up asking for money, but either way I usually smile and wave and keep walking. This little boy and his sister followed our class on the Elmina city tour for probably 2 hours.  Normally I hesitate to take close-up photos of local people for a variety of reasons, but he asked me to take a photo of him, and he was so excited to pose that I couldn't resist.

I'm so fascinated by the way people are able to carry things on their heads here. They usually just use a small disk of cloth for support and can balance huge packages mostly without holding onto them at all. I guess they just start practicing it from such a young age that it becomes natural.

Most mornings, I still wake up to the shrieking of the crazy rooster that lives next door, but I suppose there are worse things one could wake up to. The Wi-Fi still works on and off, the street traffic is kind of chaotic, and everything is a little bit disorganized, but Accra definitely has its own charm.
Anyway, hope you're all doing well.


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