Thursday, September 8, 2011

End of Ramadan, Visit to Cape Coast

We've had a busy past 10 days in Ghana, beginning with the Ghanaian celebration of the end of Ramadan last Wednesday, August 31st. Originally we were told that the end of Ramadan would be on August 30 and it would be a national holiday, but then the Ghanaians decided to celebrate it on the 31st and so the students had their national holiday on Wednesday instead! That's just how it is here -- declaring national holidays when you feel like it!
In anticipation of this day, we arranged to go and observe final prayers at Independence Square in Accra where more than 350,000 people gathered to pray together. The people were dressed beautifully and communicated with us, even letting us hold their children. It was just a beautiful experience. One of my favorite moments is when we were taking group photos and many Ghanaians wanted to join our picture and take pictures of us too! It was hilarious and so much fun! Here are some photos and a brief video of our experience there:

After that busy time, we spent an hour or so at the Accra craft market, exploring, bartering, and having interesting discussions with the oh-so-pushy merchants!

In the evening, as we do every Wednesday, we celebrated with a dinner together at my flat. This week we had Mr. James Kofi Annan and Jeffrey Boyd as our guests. We learned quite a bit about James' work as he spoke to us about the problems of child slavery that his NGO Challenging Heights is working to end. Two of our students, Justine and Kristin, are working with him this semester in the field. It's an exciting and important job to rescue children from slavery and rehabilitate them and return them to their families. James has a holistic approach and works extremely hard to be sure that the child is rehabilitated and re-socialized in a good way.

After that lovely dinner, the students always gather in my flat to sing songs and to pray together, which they did and I must admit this is the most refreshing moment of the week for me, when I am just relaxing in my room and listening to the prayers and singing and fellowship. This is a great group who are truly supporting and loving one another in Christ.

Later in the week we departed for Cape Coast. The students got to spend time touring slave forts, visiting one of the most notorious slave castles (Elmina castle), petting crocodiles at Hans Cottage, exploring the rainforest and canopy walk of Kakum National Park, and then finally enjoying a relaxing afternoon at the beautiful and untouched Brenu beach where we ate lunch, walked, swam and played. Pictures of all of this are below.

I should add that it is always a major stress to visit a site like Elmina Castle. 12 million slaves were shipped from castles like Elmina along the coasts of Africa to the rest of the world, with some 800,00 brought to what is now the United States. In the middle passage it is estimated that millions died of disease and dehydration. We should think of Elmina like or even worse than a Nazi death camp. It should have that type of impact on our imaginations.

I took many photos of Elmina just to capture the horror of the place, where the governor would choose a woman to fill his "needs" and rape her in the upper chambers above the dungeons; this is a place where the Dutch protestant church is directly over the torture chambers. It's such a difficult place to visit.

This door in particular, is called the door of no return where slaves exited to the boats and never came back to their homelands. In general, I found the doors of Elmina haunting and couldn't take my eyes off of them. They seemed to signify separation, access, fear, closure, and so many other elements of colonialism and pure human exploitation that I just could not take my eyes off them. One of the most upsetting moments for me was in the church section of the castle where I found this interesting inscription above the door. The Dutch protestants who came to occupy Elmina after the Portuguese were responsible for hundreds of thousands of slaves passing through the trade of the castle.

Psalm 132

For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
14 “This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.
15 I will bless her with abundant provisions;
her poor I will satisfy with food.
16 I will clothe her priests with salvation,
and her faithful people will ever sing for joy.

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