My Experience at the Cape Coast Slave Castle

Visiting the slave castle was one of the main sites of importance that I was looking forward to experience. As many know, I did my AncestryDNA test a few months ago and I know the origins of my ancestry. While majority of my ancestry comes from Central Africa, going to the castle still meant seeing what my ancestors endured and somehow survived.

I probably could’ve stayed in the museum portion of the castle alone. I like to read every word of each description when I go to museums of historic importance. When I saw the shackles, ropes, and branding I was in shock. Those tools were just the beginning of what one faced during captivity. It was sad to see how the other parts of the Triangular trade reaped so much from slavery yet in the end and in the present, those same African countries face more challenges and economic struggles. One of the displays showed what was traded for humans, ivory, and gold and it was irons, glasses, and guns. It confused me to see simple things like plates and cups being traded for the valuable assets of entire humans and ivory. Plates and guns were way less influential in building an empire like America, but still the trade was in tact for centuries.

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I wish I had more of an emotional reaction going to the castle but it just didn’t happen. I think the constant conversations during the program in the efforts to prepare the few African American students for the castle, somewhat distracted from actually getting the experience. We were told to prepare for tour guides that may make somewhat inappropriate or joking comments during a matter we felt were serious. We were told that surrounding the castle, there would be shops and markets around. We were told that the same coast that was the last bit of Africa that slaves would sea, was now used for fishing and that there would be boats all around the coast. Apparently, Ghanaians had moved on from slavery in a way that African Americans hadn’t. And so being told this several times throughout the trip, somewhat took away from the experience for me to figure it out and process it on my on. I think that’s why I just went in without really being able to think about its importance, in an effort to not become upset at the way the site appeared to be treated. Maybe if I had visited the castle by myself, or perhaps the Elmina Castle, I would have had a different experience.IMG_5009.JPG

It still was powerful to step foot in the actual slave dungeons. It was dark, stuffy, and I immediately felt claustrophobic just after 5 minutes inside. Feeling claustrophobic was so minor compared to everything that happened in there. And people were in those dungeons for MONTHS. All of the things I take for granted now like being able to drink as much water as I want, food, water, and basic humanity were ripped away from my ancestors who had to endure slavery. I can only thank God that he gave them the strength to make it through such a long lasting nightmare.

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The castle is strongly beautiful with the waves rising against the shore, its wild to think so much pain and suffering happened in those premises. There was even a church built on top of one of the dungeons. People would actually worship right in the midsts of their own evil doings. They still thought they were holy. They saw nothing wrong with what they were doing. It made me think about the times we are in now and how there’s so much that society turns their head to. People really can be so dark and cruel but I just hope that the world will get better and learn from their mistakes.

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The Vivid Volta Region: A Warm Welcome

Volta Region

It was about a 3 1/2 hour drive and I made sure to load up on snacks and podcast downloads for the road. I had conducted my first interview in Ada, and I was excited to continue with my research. We stayed at Freedom Ho hotel, which was one of my favorite locations of the program. By this time during the trip, I was completely over eating chicken, which was the central theme of my dietary challenges for the following weeks to come. For the next few days, I was ordering tuna and club sandwiches, with a side of French fries.

Ewe Language and Culture Classes

In Accra I had daily language and culture classes for Twi. I was feeling quite confident with my ability to interact with people at the markets and for general greetings. In the Volta region, Ewe is the most common language and so I had to shift gears and attempt to learn a new set of words. In short, the main phrases I picked up on were “woezor” (welcome), “akpe” (thank you), “in dii” (morning), and “neon yen ye” (my name is).

Mafi Gborkope Village

Most of the time was spent in the village of Mafi Gborkope. When I got off of the bus, I was welcomed by the entire community. There were drums playing, and several people dancing in the center of the meeting. It was a welcome ceremony of over 100 people that were excited to welcome students into the community. Groups from our program had come to this village in previous years, so this community knew we were going to be doing interviews and other activities to learn about their culture. When we stepped off the bus, all eyes were on us and I was told that we would be dancing. I didn’t know what to expect but the atmosphere was very lively and welcoming. There was a village chief who sat directly across from my group. He gave a speech in Ewe, which was then translated by our guide for the trip. He prayed and gave thanks. A tradition of pouring out alcohol was then conducted and wen were officially welcomed by the chief.

One by one, dancers would pull people from my group to dance in the center. I wish I had a recording of me doing the dance but I was killing it lol. After the dancing, all 9 students received a bracelet symbolizing that we were welcome into the community at any time.

The village had basic resources for people to survive. Coming to this village was a different perspective of Ghana and showed me the drastic differences in resources that people have or don’t have. The houses were very simple, with an outside kitchen that I used when helping prepare a meal. The bathrooms were all outside and consisted of a concrete type room and a concrete ground with an opening at the bottom so things can just run down to the soil. Nobody was even checking for wifi. Yet everyone was just living their life and going about their day. The living conditions were very different to me but the people I saw were laughing with one another, playing games, talking, and still living. They still had what they needed and were a community that was there for each other.

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Greeting from community members
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Official welcome from the chief
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Jumped right in during pottery making class
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Look at my baby bowl!
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Homes

Volunteering

Our volunteer project was helping lay the foundation for a new community library. One of the hardest things I did was balance water on my head. I don’t know how people go back and forth between the lake and the construction site, but ya girl was TIDE. I’m pretty sure I only did 2 rounds, but that was more than enough for me lol. I was trying so hard not to drop the buckets. I think I was more successful at shoveling the rocks from the huge pile and putting them in the wheelbarrow. I had to stay in my lane. I also collaborate with someone to move sand from one area to another, and carry other materials to the site. It was hard work honestly.

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After a long day (a few hours) of work
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Just a lil break

Cooking

I helped (or so I think I did) prepare dinner for one of the families. It was a traditional meal called Banku with tilapia soup. The entire process was a lot of work. And to think, these women cook full meals like that every single day. First of all, just cutting the okra took me three times as long as the women who was guiding us. I was so used to a cutting board and didn’t want to cut my hand, but I look next to me and the woman had finished a whole handful of okra in the time it took me to cut one! To cook the food required the use of coal, a sturdy pot, and water. The cooking oven was made out of what seemed to be clay, and was mounted to the ground. It was very hot to be near the fire and took a lot of energy to stir the banku, which was a doughy type of food that needed to be consistent churned or else it would burn. I stirred with all of my might and my arms sure got a good workout. The crushed peppers and onions sure looked like it would be an amazing salsa, but it was mixed in with the chopped okra, and fish. It was a full meal that could feed a family of 4. It looked like a nice meal and it was cool to see the outcome look tasty and filling when tools were used that I had never used before.

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The kitchen

Batik Making

I saw just how intricate fabric design making could be when I was able to see the batik making process. Batik is the use of oils and wax to create patterns and designs for fabrics. I’m very proud of my headwrap that I made. Ir really just picked out a stamp design and the color, but it was still a success.

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At the Batik shop
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A pattern is created once a stamp is selected. The stamp is then placed in a hot wax. The hot wax dries up on the fabric and represents where the color won’t be able to show.

Yam Festival

We happened to be in Ho during the annual Yam festival.  It’s a festival celebrating tghe cultivation of harvests, particularly yam. Everyone in the Ho region came out onto the streets dancing and singing. It was like a Ghanaian carnival. I went to the nighttime celebration and they were playing all of the hits. By this time, I had a few favorite Afrobeat songs and could sing along a little bit. The fireworks were a site to see and it was just great seeing everyone hyped and dancing.

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Ho was an interesting place and I learned a lot from the people in the village. I wanted to share the academic part of my trip and so I’ve copied my field report below. A field report is basically to summarize what you did in each region and your findings.

What was your goal for the period? 

My goal for the interviews in Ho were to speak with several women entrepreneurs in the village. It was my first time working with a translator and with this new aspect, I wanted to strengthen my communication skills and ability to think on the spot.

Type of Prep Work?      

After my first interview experience in Ada, I prepared for the next set of interviews by revising my interview questions. There were several questions that weren’t useful for answering my hypothesis and so I cut those questions out. From my experience in Ada, I recalled that there were a few intro questions such as ” when did you start your business” that made the interview flow smother. I wrote those questions down to be a permanent interview question.

What I Actually Did

 I was surprised that I got to interview 5 women in one day. The questions that I had revised and prepared had to be reframed once I learned that that none of the respondents owned smartphones. Since smartphones were central to my research topic, I had planned several questions relating to what the smartphone was used for. I changed certain questions to find out what the women used to do things are normally the role of smartphones. My next step would be to write down the alternative questions to ask if a respondent doesn’t  own a smartphone.

What I learned about my research topic and research process      

I interviewed 5 women who were all selling food. 1 selling goods, 2 were cooking and selling kenke, 1 preparing fish, and 1 preparing various warm dishes. The use of mobile phones were present but not smartphones. These mobile phones were used to call and text customers. I also learned that word of mouth was used to market their goods and face to face interactions with customers and other sellers took place at the market. An aspect of my research is examining views people have regarding women entrepreneurs and in this community, the women said that what they produce is needed to feed and this necessity doesn’t allow for biases to be held against them as entrepreneurs. The women are the ones making food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The community wouldn’t have meals if it weren’t for these women who are taking the time to cook and sell what is needed. I learned to be flexible with the interview stage of the research process because some settings and situations may not be ideal. For example, about 4/5 women I interviewed were busy actually making the meals or selling to others as I was trying to ask questions. With the interviewee who wasn’t busy, I still had the awkward setting of about 10 other people surrounding me as I was asking questions. I tried to ask the most relevant questions and made sure I thanked them for their time because I could see how busy things were.

 

-POP

Study Abroad #3 to Ghana | Does Preparation Get Easier?

Eti Sen?

In 9 days I will be boarding my flight to Accra, Ghana for one month and reality has finally set in. For weeks I was kind of just chilling but then when writing out my list of things I need to get done, I realized I couldn’t quite chill yet! Since it’s my third time going abroad, the chaos and panic wasn’t on my mind the entire summer like it was last year when I was leaving to Italy for 4 months. After the rather swift and smooth process of applying for another visa, my planning consisted of writing in my journal on a page titled ” Things to do in Ghana.”If anything I have been counting down the weeks and days to get up out of here and be in a new place. Still proactive, and keeping lists, I wanted to check and make sure I had everything I needed to take off soon.

This check-in I had with myself 2 weeks prior was so important.

One thing I would tell myself 3 months ago would be to DOUBLE CHECK which vaccines are required. Three months ago I had a doctor’s appointment with a travel consultation allegedly included. I had 3 vaccines/pills ordered but didn’t remember what they were for. So I called in, because I’m supposed to pick them up a week or so before I leave so I can start start the typhoid pills. I noticed that other people in my program mentioned they got the yellow fever vaccines. When I called to check if what I was getting was for yellow fever, the people at the pharmacy told me they weren’t. The yellow fever vaccine is the ONLY required vaccine and a certificate of vaccination is actually required to get into the country. I had a mini panic attack when I realized I literally would’ve landed in Ghana and been stranded at the border without this vaccine. Suddenly, I was scrambling to find clinics near me that provided the vaccination and worried that there were other vaccines that I might need. I spent 3 hours comparing prices because the yellow fever vaccine isn’t provided by my regular insurance provider. I was so confused because after leaving my appointment 3 months ago, I was told that I was good to go. Irritated, confused, and in a panicky state of mind, I booked an appointment for a vaccine I would have to pay $377 out of pocket for.

The vaccine portion was the most chaotic part of preparation but I got it done and am officially vaccine prepared for my trip. Had I have known what I know now, I would have booked a travel consultation appointment with my school during Spring Quarter, along with my regular doctor’s appointment,  because the consultation would have been free. Now that its summer and I’m not enrolled in classes, the consultation isn’t free and I had to go offsite for a clinic open during times I wasn’t at work. I would also make copies of my vaccination history so I wouldn’t be confused as to if I needed other vaccinations. I probably could’ve saved money going elsewhere had I have known I only needed one shot.

This trip was different than others because of the whole vaccination process. It’s important to double check and allow some weeks to make sure you have everything you need to be safe and healthy to travel.

Moving left and right along, making packing and shopping lists ahead of time really help me to stay organized and not miss things! There are so many functional and small things I need to buy before I leave. I’m trying to slowly accumulate what I need so I’m not running around like a chicken with its head cut off the night before. I’ll do a separate blog post on things to pack when studying abroad, a natural hair specific post can already be found here.

School and work wise, there are some applications I want to submit before I leave just so I can be in the right space and mindset to apply for things. I’m trying to be as productive and proactive as possible so that next week I can spend time with my family and relax before flying/travelling for about 24 hours. I found a helpful checklist buried somewhere in my program’s drive that I’ll be checking off this week. For some reason, I was set on not taking cash with me and just getting cash from the ATM machines at the airport. Good thing that I am not the same today as I was last week and even yesterday because I realized I could just avoid anything weird happening with my card and me scrambling trying to find an ATM machine  by already having cash on hand. So I’m checking off the first two portions today and taking local cash with me by ordering it from my bank.

Things to do before leaving

  • Call credit card company and bank to make sure they know you will be travelling (so you can make transactions)
  • Get ATM/debit card if desired. Note: you may be limited in which ATMs you can get cash from
  • Scan passport and email copy to yourself and the program directors
  • Set up Skype/Viber/etc account. Add the phone numbers of family/friends
  • Send your travel itinerary to the program directors
  • Complete IRB training. Send copy of certification to the program directors
  • Scan passport and email copy to yourself and the program directors
  • Get all immunizations and medications (i.e. malaria)
  • Bring yellow fever vaccination verification

*Sidenote* I really need to try out these wigs I call myself trying to wear for the trip until I get my hair braided while in Ghana. Having a hairstyle I like is so important and if it requires braids, I need to have it done a few days ahead so that I won’t have a pounding headache on the plane. My ideal style, is to wear my wigs but if that doesn’t work I’ll go back to the Havana twists I loved so dearly.

Now that I’ve gotten the most essential thing out of the way (vaccines) I feel very energized to knock off more things on my to do list. Having prior experience is helpful because I know what to expect/ how I will react to long flights and new scenarios and therefore I am able to plan and pack accordingly. I’ve got some more blog entries planned in my head for pre-departure so stay tuned!

-POP