Weekend in Cape Coast

Cape Coast Castle

My weekend getaway with roommates was short and almost 15 hours of it was spent in the car, but we managed to pack in quite a bit during our stay in Cape Coast.  After the adrenelin  rush at the canopy walk in Kakum National Park, we shifted gears and toured the Cape Coast Castle – a fort built by the Swedes in the 17th Century and later used by the British.  When slaves became a valuable commodity for the Americas, the Cape Coast Castle became a holding place for the slaves before shipping off to the Americas and Europe.  Changes within the castle were made to accommodate the slaves with the addition of several underground dungeons where they were held awaiting export; a duration that ranged from a few weeks to 3 months.

We were taken through these dungeons as a part of the tour and stood in the exact spots where over 150 to 200 men or women were housed in one of several dungeons.  Even in our small group of 20 or so people, it felt very crowded, extremely hot and so stuffy due to the lack of ventilation that it was hard to breathe.  At one point, the tour guide shut the lights off for a few moments to to give us a small simulation of what it would have been like to be in total darkness, below ground, in a room full of people.  Of course in reality, there would have been 5 or 6 times the number of people and far worse conditions than our brief experience, but just in those few moments, it was terrifying.   To  accommodate so many people, they literally were stacked on top of one another amid feces, urine, vomit and the decaying bodies of those who didn’t survive.  Those who did survive the tortuous conditions, were often partially blinded by the time they made it from the dark dungeon then to the dark ship hold once their eyes were finally exposed due to the prolonged darkness.

My words can’t begin to articulate the impact of this experience had on me – heartbreaking, humbling, horrifying and raw.  Many in the group were in tears as they listened to our guide lead us through the horrors that were played out on these innocent victims.  The energy within those stone walls of such an injustice against humanity was palpable  in the air that hung thick in the dungeonous caverns. It’s an experience that will stay with me for a very long time.

We got back to our hotel around 4:00, had a late lunch and did little else.  I felt mentally exhausted and needed to simply absorb the day.  We had a small patio with dining tables at the hotel with a half-wall around it, which made for a nice place to have a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening, although I can’t say I felt totally comfortable in the space.  After 2 nights there, I concluded that although our hotel was a nice place to stay, I didn’t want to spend anytime wandering the neighborhood around it.  Our hotel was situated at the bottom of a pedestrian bridge, which was crowded with vendors, children quietly trying to get our attention then motioning for money, goats and groups of people gathering.  The stark difference between the hotel and just feet outside of its front door, the poverty, was unsettling to me.  We were the ones that had the kids pulling on their mom’s skirts to get their attention to point out their curious discovery.  If they were old enough to talk, the word,  “yayvu,” or white person in Awe, usually followed.  We have been reassured by many that this is not said to us with disrespect, but rather as a matter of singling us out, much like you’d do if you saw a rare bird, which I guess we sort of are.  It felt uncomfortable, not only being the only white people in the entire area, but that we were sitting in chairs, at a table, eating food, when I had to wonder how many of those who were watching us were hungry.  I felt as if we were on display.

Our drive back went a lot faster as we didn’t hit the traffic we hit on Friday night, which meant we encountered far fewer vendors and only in a couple of spots.  They had upped their game though and to the list of goods that were being sold, I saw a lot of new items, such as bike intertubes, toilet bowl cleaner, dish towels, flip flops, first aid kits, oh and chickens…live.  Of course all of these goods were carried atop heads as they wove their way in and out of the stopped cars.  At least it was daylight and not dark, which seemed totally unsafe to me.

I saw several posters as we passed through small towns that would have a person’s picture on it and would have the words, “Call to Glory” below the photo.  I’ve got to think that this was an obituary of sorts, although there was no other information, except for the age.

This is a very religious country with a strong Pentecostal following.  About every other billboard, it seemed, was advertising a church – mega churches, the “hot” church (no idea), the church of many miracles and so on.  What surprised me the most though was not necessarily the advertising, but rather that the picture was always of the minister, which looked like he was the one being advertised, rather than the church, in full celebrity fashion.  I found them  fascinating, for that reason, and started taking photos of them.  I think my roommates think I’m strange.

We made a stop midway for a bathroom break and to pick up a few things.  On our way out, there was no bathroom break, but rather, our driver pulled over, behind a bus, and asked if we needed to go.  Granted, we would have had the bus for privacy, but the bus had stopped and was unloading it’s passengers for the same purpose.  No, thanks.  We’re good, at which point legs got crossed until our arrival a few hours later.  We appreciated the gesture though, and a few miles later, he pulled off again and told us that he needed to “go use himself.”  His English wasn’t very good.  He may want to work on that phrase a bit more before using it on passengers.

We only had one checkpoint, vs the many checkpoints on the way out and our driver told us that it was because people don’t rob during the day.  I’m grateful now for the inconvenience of those stops, in the dark, on Friday evening.

It was a powerful weekend in many ways but it felt very good to be “home.” Lynette, my traveling buddy who was detained in Atlanta due to illness, is finally here.  It’s was so good to see her and I’m anxious for her to get to meet the charming kids tomorrow.  2 volunteers left on Saturday, so our group is only 4 now.

The Wi-Fi is very slow so I could only download one photo.  I’ll try to post more later.

3 thoughts on “Weekend in Cape Coast”

  1. What an experience you are having. Love your stories and pictures. You should write a book of your trips.

  2. Being in a third world country is such an education for Americans.
    How are the eye examinations going. If they don’t look at you how do you get t he info you need? Are the children e n fascinated by you?’

    1. The vision screenings are going great and less than 10% have failed. Actually, the kids do look at us… they are fascinated with us and want to touch our skin!

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