Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chasing Waterfalls and Scaling Mountains

I have been in Ghana for three weeks now and the first day of school has been secretly creeping closer and closer. A number of EAP students decided to take one last trip before classes begin tomorrow (Monday). By the time our travel plans were adjusted and readjusted, we ended up with a group of seven adventures girls.

On Wednesday afternoon we took an STC bus from the center of Accra to Hohoe, a city just east of lake Volta. After an overly complicated taxi ride to the station and 5 hours on the bus, we arrived in Hohoe around 9pm. Arriving at night is never ideal, but we were able to check into a hotel, find food, and sleep 3 and 4 to a bed. The next morning, after consulting the Bradt guide, we set off for Likpe Todome, an ecotourism site whose hiking trail is known for its caves, waterfall, and view of the neighboring country, Togo.

We had been walking only a couple of minutes and just lost sight of the tourism office when our guide stopped in the middle of the path and waited for us to gather around him.
“See that stick?” He pointed to a lone stick protruding proudly from the top of a seemingly distant mountain. After searching for a second, we responded with excitement, thinking maybe it was some historical landmark.
“That’s where we are going.”
What?! We exchanged surprised glances and excited giggles. Thinking back, it was at this point that we should have realized it was not going to be an easy trek.

“The path to the caves involves a near vertical climb, and although ropes have been attached to the trees for support, its safety is questionable” - well, Mr. Brant is no liar. I don’t know why we were shocked when our guide expected us to clamber up into a dim, slippery cave. After reading the guidebook we should have known exactly what we were getting ourselves into.

After climbing up, into, around, and through a series of caves once used by the Bakuas people as hideouts, meeting places, and even prisons, we finally came to the bat cave. We were expected to shimmy down a ladder, through a hole - 3 feet in diameter, and into a dark underground cave, which houses a colony of bats. After the guide explained the process, we once again shot each other awkward glances of trepidation followed by a chorus of nervous giggles. Finally one of the girls spoke up,
“Um, is this part optional?”
So the seven of us found ourselves crouched in a dim, somewhat damp cave with lamps on our heads and winged rats (aka bats) flying frantically from one side of the cave to the other. Needless to say, most of us were ready to climb back up the ladder after a lengthy 5 minutes of observation.

We spent the night at the Waterfall lodge owned by a friendly German couple. It is a beautifully secluded haven with a majestic vibe and a gorgeous view of the Wli waterfalls. The rooms were clean, there was toilet paper in the bathrooms, and mashed potatoes with meatballs were served for dinner. Leave it to the Germans to have everything in order.

The next morning we walked from the lodge to the bottom of the falls. After the adventures of the previous day, we learned not to take the Bradt descriptions lightly. The 2-hour hike to the base of the upper falls was going to be “arduous”, so we brought plenty of water, Neosporin, and band-aids. We were given walking sticks for the hike, which at first seemed like more of a hindrance than a help. However, it sprinkled on and off during the day and the steep, tiny path was extremely slippery. Towards the end, I was so thankful for something to lean on while jumping from the slick rocks onto the muddy path.

The view and the waterfall were of course absolutely stunning and the feeling of accomplishment was unprecedented. The seven of us worked as team lending each other a hand or shoulder for support, and encouraging one another after every fall (and there were many a stumble). It was definitely a bonding experience and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other group of people. As dad would say, “Las Mujeres Fuertes!”

All in all it was a fantastic trip – I have the cuts, scratches, and bruises to prove it.

Love from Accra!

One of the many "near vertical" climbs

After rolling around in the bat caves, we finally made it to the waterfall

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cape Coast and Emlina Slave Castles

Cape Coast Slave Castle

Last week we traveled west of Accra to visit the Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles, which once served as the heart of the Trans-Atlantic slave route. The slave castles (even the name is an uncomfortable paradox) conjured an array of emotions among the group. I was left with a gut wrenching, awesome, exhausted confusion.

At one point we were led into a small room, 15ft. by 15 ft. with no light that trapped over 100 slaves at one time. Many of them suffocated. Their last breadths recorded by nail marks on the walls and ceiling, which today serve as both a memory and a warning.

My confusion was further fueled by the juxtaposition of beautiful white sand beaches and the dark, cold cement walls that so clearly separated freedom and confinement. From some parts of the castle, you can see the palms swaying lazily in the breeze of silent whispers from those who suffered only 200 years ago. The castle and surroundings seem to be far too handsome to have such a tragic history.

The governor’s quarters were located on the second floor of the castle – on one side of his bedroom, a view overlooking the Gulf of Guinea and the infinite Atlantic Ocean, free and uncontrolled. And through the other window, a view of the courtyard where the female slaves would line up -hoping that the months locked in a cell with the stench of feces, blood, and death would cause the governor to find them unattractive. The others were raped.

How is it possible that human beings were able to inflict such pain and humiliation on other human beings? It is said that almost 60 million slaves spent time locked in the castles over the period of only 200 years. More than half of them died before they were shipped to other countries to work as slaves.

I’m really not sure how to end this post, so I guess I will finish by repeating what was written on a plaque in the Elmina castle:

In everlasting memory
Of the anguish of our ancestors
May those who died rest in peace
May those who return find their roots
May humanity never again perpetrate
Such injustice against humanity
We, the living vow to uphold this

Love from Accra.

View From Cape Coast

View From Cape Coast Casle

Inside One Of The Cells

Elmina Slave Castle
View From Elmina Slave CastleInside Looking Out

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Snaps from Kumasi

The market in Kumasi is the largest in all of West Africa!

Learning to weave in Kumasi

Friday, August 1, 2008

Akwaaba means welcome in Twi

I can’t believe I am finally here in Ghana. It all happened so quickly. I find it even harder to believe that I was still in India only a week ago. I miss India. I miss the intensity and stimuli. The busyness of the city. The hardness of the people. The “head wiggle”. Cows on the roads. I miss my duparta and being able to cover my head whenever I want to. I miss the modesty and the humbleness. I miss the things that became so familiar during the past 2 months – the challenges that I learned how to overcome. It’s funny how your perception of an experience changes once you have completed it. As ready as I was to leave, part of me really wishes I were back in India. Anther part of me wishes I were back in the US. And part of me is excited about the adventures that lie ahead.

I left Mumbai at 3am on Saturday morning, spent 6 hours in London, and finally arrived in the capital city, Accra around 8:30pm (local time) Saturday night. I was incredibly relieved to see an EAP (Education Abroad Program) student coordinator waiting for me since I wasn’t able to fly with the group. When I finally got to the International Student Hostel at the university, the other students were having dinner by candlelight – the power had gone out earlier in the day (and has gone out multiple times since). I am currently living with one of the Ghanaian Student Coordinators, Efua who has been a big help. The past few days have been jam packed with lectures, logistics, and fieldtrips. The University of Ghana campus is beautiful and lush – red dirt roads and all kinds of trees and shrubs. The campus is currently very quiet since school doesn’t begin till mid-August. I have to admit; I am definitely looking forward to a little bit more action.

On Sunday, we spent most of the day at the beach (which is super touristy) listening to live music, getting out of our seats only to dance or dip our toes in the water. We also had our first African dance lesson. Our teacher was an older man with glasses, a grayish beard, and a walking stick. He says he walks with a cane, but when he dances, “the cane falls away”. He spoke a little about the history and importance of African dance, explaining that it is about celebration and communication - about being able to let lose and have your soul transcend your body. It’s about being free to express yourself. Dancing is about family and acceptance. It was a blast (and a total workout!!)

On Wednesday we finally made it into the center of the Accra. Well kind of. We had a bus tour of the city. Accra is broken up into multiple parts depending in part by who colonized the area (i.e. Jamestown was colonized by the British). While the main roads were nicely paved there were many dirt alleyways lined with shanties (aka “low cost housing”). As in India there were some stark contrasts. There are many large buildings, center road dividers, and traffic lights, but then there are people living in their selling stalls, on the streets, in small door less shanties. There were children in the street barefoot and sometimes shirtless. There were women cooking and washing laundry only 100 yards from a fast food restaurant. Its odd to actually see the effects of globalization and development and to wonder how it is all affecting the informal markets.

Tomorrow we are traveling to Kumasi to learn more about Ghanaian festivals and funerals. We will return to Accra on Monday.

Miss everyone!! Love from Ghana!