So, we take a cab to one of the castles that housed dungeons that kept male, female and children captive, 200 to a room the size of your average subway (only without the windows, the flush toilets, or the fresh veggies), for periods of a few days to 3 months until the imprisoned Africans passed down unlit stone passageways to The Door of No Return and onto small boats similar to the fishing boats still in use, to ships that would take them through the middle passage to North and South America. It is the same one that the Obamas visited when in Ghana.
“Africans were stronger,” our guide explains. “They were more able to survive harsh working conditions on the plantations rather then simply enslaving the indigenous peoples.”
In this picture, a young Dane contemplates the magnitude of what we are experiencing and the guilt that all of European descent must bear.
Directly above the cries from the dungeons stood (stands) canons pointed out at sea and a church, where the overseers prayed for peace and redemption. A trap door is in the entryway so worshipers could look down and check on the status of the imprisoned before taking communion. Redemption indeed. Were the overseers clinging to guns and religion on this rock thinking they were worshiping on some high ground? I stand there trying to pull logical thoughts together in the blasting wind. Later she takes us down to visit The Door of No Return, which she unlatches and swings open. Our little tour group steps out into the blinding sun to imagine what it might have felt like for the departing prisoners of slavery.
Our guide is a soft-spoken volunteer who tells us about the five graves in the open yard of the castle. These were not for slaves that succumbed to the horrors, those folks were either buried in a mass grave or thrown to the sharks. Instead, this is the final resting place for four white guys who mostly succumbed to malaria along side the body of one woman. She was the wife of the head overseer, who arrived at Cape Coast only to find out her honorable husband was getting it on with a local. There are three theories why she died. 1. She found out her husband had been unfaithful and did herself in. 2. She too succumbed to malaria. 3. Her husband's mistress poisoned her. “Which do you think?” the guide asks me.
This picture is from the castle looking north, bare shore similar to what the departing slaves might have seen back then. It is not a friendly port, but an uneven shoreline with aggressive waves and a vicious undertow.
The next picture is taken looking out The Door of No Return to the south, onto today's vibrant community of fishermen, tangles of nets and waiting boats. In order to get the boats back into shore, men must pull them from the shore, tug-of-rope style.
We used this photo in our writing at the AISA conference and one teacher observed that these people are all living on the edge, trying to subsist on what they pull from an increasingly debilitated ocean. When I asked stupid question number 1,067, "what is the unemployment rate here in Ghana?" a teacher's response was, "it depends on what you consider employment." Are these people employed? If you take coconuts from trees and try to sell them on the side of the road in order to buy a day's meal, is that a job? This is the way many or most eke out a living in Ghana. I remember how over lunch our red eyed cab driver told us that his father is a fisherman and how he had been up all the night before helping him. How his mother pounds grain and sells it beside the road. How he took my left overs from lunch home in a bag.
It takes a few days to notice that as you walk down the street, through the markets, you see very very few old people. For the most part, they don't exist here.
Thank you to Lincoln Community School and particularly Rhona Polonsky for helping us plan this side trip.