Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cape Coast

Even though I get to travel and see different parts of Ghana almost every day on my site visits to district hospitals, my trip to Cape Coast was something special.

The KNUST-SMS Medical Students Association Exchange Committee organized a Cape Coast trip for all of the foreign and foreign-exchange students two weeks ago. Cape Coast is a seaside city known for its beautiful beaches and castles that preserve the history of the slave trade in Ghana. We were truly an international group. There were about thirty of us with representatives from Ghana, the UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Greece, Austria, Poland, Spain, and me (go USA!). From Kumasi, it takes about four hours to drive down to Cape Coast, and a portion of the ride is extra bumpy due to bad roads. Since I was one of the smallest people on the trip, I had the honor of being squeezed between two seats since there were not enough seats for everyone on the bus. These conditions could have made the trip unbearable, but the good conversations and incredible barfroat (delicious fried dough) made all the difference.

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Our first stop when we arrived in rainy Cape Coast was the infamous Cape Coast Castle. Even though my family and ethnic heritage has no direct connection to the slave trade, as an American, walking through the Castle was an extremely profound experience. The staff at the Castle provided an excellent walking tour and the Castle is very well-preserved. Standing in a dark dungeon with one tiny hole for air circulation (its true purpose of construction was not to provide the slaves more bearable conditions, but to monitor the activity of the slaves within the dungeon), my heart fell to the ground when I heard that this tiny room was meant for hundreds of slaves—forced to not only sit In their own waste, but among the dead and dying as well. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to be an American—tied to this atrocity against humanity. I was very surprised to see the Ghanaian reaction to the Castle. Perhaps it is because most of them have visited the Castle before since they only seemed to react to my sullen humiliation: “It’s okay. This happened a very long time ago.” The Castle staff was very proud to say that President Obama and Michelle Obama came to visit the Castle when they were in Ghana. They were so emotionally touched that they cried. The Cape Coast Castle can really elicit those feelings. Even now, once you walk through the “Door of No Return,” your life is forever changed.

Erika's Surprise Birthday Party!

The Cape Coast trip was organized in conjunction with the University of Ghana Medical School in Accra. It was a great opportunity to meet some other foreign exchange students, but most of all this meant that I got to see Erika! Erika had moved from Kumasi to Accra for the second phase of her research. The timing of the trip was perfect because Erika’s birthday was that week. Shy and I tracked down a place (gas station “bakery”) where we could buy a birthday cake and we carried the cake all the way from Kumasi to Cape Coast to surprise Erika. I am happy to say that the cake survived the bumpy four hour journey with just minimal frosting damage thanks to Prince’s promise to guard the cake with his life. This small birthday celebration was the perfect way to end the day.

Edwin is shaking in his shoes while walking through Kakum National Park

As a contrast: Shy is so confident that he's trying out some fancy moves

The next morning, we set off to Kakum National Park, just outside Cape Coast, to walk through the rainforest at the level of the trees along canopies. Being a rainforest, it rained as we climbed, but the rain stopped just as it was our turn to walk on the canopies. Since the trees are so dense, the elevation was difficult to gauge and this should have made those afraid of heights feel better. However, in our international group the boys were unexpectedly the most nervous about the walk. It was entertaining to see these really tall Ghanaian guys inch their way across the seven legs of the canopy walk and even more fun to occasionally give them a little scare by jumping up and down.

Cocoa pod and cocoa seed

Even the cocoa pod is yummy!

Ever wonder where chocolate comes from? Usually, the sweet and divine burst of chocolate in my mouth overtakes my senses so all I appreciate and think about is the goodness in my mouth. But, since cocoa is one of Ghana’s major industries, and I’ve been unsuccessful in finding true Ghanaian chocolate in Ghana, I was very curious about where chocolate comes from. Just outside the canopy walk, several farmers sell cocoa pods. These pods kind of look a little like a yellow-colored cross between papaya and squash. Inside the pods are cocoa seeds. The seeds are covered in this white fruit that resembled and tasted like mangosteen. To make chocolate, these seeds are collected, dried, and ground into cocoa. Chocolate lovers beware: the fresh seed may look like a delectable truffle, but it is extremely bitter. DO NOT chew on them!

Mawsie and I enjoying the beach

We spent the rest of the day relaxing along the Cape Coast beach at Alberta’s Cottage (a small resort). Perhaps this will only be significant to east coasters…I was on the other side of the Atlantic!!! A short aside about Project Eva’s Tan. My skin complexion has always been a pasty, almost glow in the dark pale white. As hard as I try, I’m never able to achieve the much desired illustrious golden sparkle that all Floridians seem to have naturally. One of my ulterior goals this summer was to get some solid work done on Project Eva’s Tan. Unfortunately, that cloudy Saturday at Alberta’s Cottage was proof that higher powers were not going to make it easy for me to complete my project. Despite the overcast sky, there was plenty to enjoy on the beach. There were plenty of coconuts to eat and drink (50 peswas), mesmerizing green waves that’d make any surfer excited, and impromptu soccer games on the beach. I brought along a teeny Frisbee and much to my surprise, we got a good game of beach ultimate going! We continued our festivities into the night at a beachside outdoor club/restaurant called Oasis. Oasis is a very popular place, especially among foreigners. Though personally, I would have preferred singing to a ukulele around a bonfire on the beach.

Elmina Castle

We set off early the next morning to visit Elmina Castle. Elmina Castle is another vestige of the slave trade presence in Ghana. The Castle itself is much bigger than Cape Coast Castle and its exterior appearance is beautiful. I’m not sure if it was the sunny weather or the Dutch origins of Castle, but I was not as emotionally moved while touring the Elmina Castle. However, the atrocities that took place there are no different than what we saw at Cape Coast Castle. We had just a few hours after touring Elmina Castle and our journey back to Kumasi. We spent those last few hours a bigger and very obroni friendly beach resort: Coconut Grove Beach Resort. Because I grew up in Florida, I’m a bit of a beach snob. I have only been impressed with a few beaches in my travels (Hawaii, Santa Monica, Cape Cod) and I prepared myself to be disappointed in Cape Coast. But, I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I highly recommend the beaches in Cape Coast. Everything is almost exactly the same as the beaches in South Florida, including the shell-based sand. The only major differences are the water on this side of the Atlantic is green rather than blue and the waves are much bigger. With the sun blazing, I spent most of that afternoon working on Project Eva’s Tan. We tossed the Frisbee for a bit and just as we were ready to start a game, it was time to go.

If I have a few extra days to travel at the end of my work here in Kumasi, Cape Coast would definitely be a place I’d revisit.

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