Ghana – Cape Coast and cleaning

We started the morning sweatily scrubbing 5 weeks of grit and grot off Aminah (the truck) and her kitchen equipment so she will be all clean for the next leg which starts in Accra in a few days. We all pitched in to scrub and mop. It is amusing to watch a bunch of overlanders ‘flapping’ the dishes to dry then, as tea towels are a luxury (and a hygiene risk) not permitted on the truck.

Cape Coast castle

Once the truck was clean, we headed off to Cape Coast to see the British slave fortress, allegedly one of the largest slaving holding sites in the world during colonial times. Interestingly, the custom of slavery was well established amongst the Ashanti tribes prior to the British arriving, but of course the British paid better and in alcohol and guns.   

School kids in the castle courtyard

The fort was similar to Elmina yesterday except, if possible, the slave chambers were even smaller. The chambers were ventilated with 2-3 tiny windows each and had no drainage…. apparently it was not uncommon for slaves to be knee deep in human waste.
Our bossy guide in the dungeons next to the shrine
The chambers were adorned with a shrine and bouquets from locals and the diaspora to remember their ancestors.   

The ‘door of no return’ has been widened here – it would have originally been person width size, and slaves were forced to turn sideways to pass on their way to board the ships. Symbolically, the door has been renamed the ‘door of return’ as some of the descendants of slaves have returned and passed through the door.   

The door of no return

Again, ironically there was an anglican church on top of male dungeon – they must have heard the singing in the dungeons. The governors quarters were at least the same size as the entire dungeon space.   

Original canons on the castle walls

We were invited to spend some time in the cell for the rebellious slaves who were left to die without food or water but I couldn’t bear the heat or the smell (I suspect some of it was from the 60 school kids who had just passed through), so I escaped to stand outside in the shade.   

Our mildly karmic tour guide – who was a bit of a slave driver – was very bossy, and herded us around like naughty cats.

View of the beach from the castle

Around the castle there is a bustling fishing community with all the associated smells, especially in the midday heat. We retired to the nearest place we could find that served burgers and waited on African time for burgers and fries – the fare of overlanders. We then made haste to the only store in town with a freezer to buy icecream.   

Fishing boats under the castle

After that back to the beach. A nice run as the sun went downalong the waters edge past the local fishing village, ignoring the calls from the locals ‘hey white lady – where you going?’. A few of the younger ones were more persistent and tried to run along with me but eventually gave up either when I sped up, or when I told them I was old enough to be their mama!

I am leaving the truck tomorrow, as they are headed to Kumasi and I am keen to continue on to Togo with my limited time left in west Africa. It will be weird not having 18 other people with me everywhere I go!   
Cape Coast, December 15, 2016

Ghana – slaves at Elmina

I had a sobering morning visiting the slave fortress – St George’s castle – at Elmina. I had the whole place eerily to myself. Originally built as a Dutch fortress it is the oldest colonial building in Africa.

St George’s castle

As expected it was grim, made more so by the guide’s descriptions. Mental pictures of 150 women cramped in any airless dungeon, unable to move, covered in their own vomit and excrement. Worse, the governor’s viewing gallery above the women’s area where he hand picked women to rape.

The gallery from the governors quarters where he could hand pick women to rape
The original floor the female slaves slept, ate and went to the bathroom on

The door of no return, which was the access to the ships, was harrowing. The death cell where ‘rebellious’ slaves were left to starve to death was worse. The irony of having both a Catholic and a Protestant church in the fort did not escape me – unfathomable to me how slavery could ever by congruent with the ‘love thy neighbour’ tenets of Christianity. The Ghanaians are pretty forgiving and like to talk about Elmina more as a reminder to humanity to not let similar events happen in the future.

The door of no return

The death cell
It was nice to be myself for the morning and to have the castle to myself. I had left my truckmates to go to Kakum national park for the morning without me, as I was not inspired by the reviews, nor of the thought of doing a ‘peaceful’ canopy walk with 15 others. Instead I caught a ‘dropping’ (shared taxi) into town and had a chat with a nice lady heading into town to sell her veges.

After the fort, I went for a wander around town. Elmina these days is a bustling fishing village with all the smells and activity that go along side that. People were largely friendly. A few kids shouted ‘Obroni, obroni’ (white person) at me, and when I responded with ‘bebeni’ (black person) they laughed. I went on a futile search for wifi and gave up to have a coffee with milk (half of the milk I shared with a persuasive cat) and watch the goings on at the market.

The persuasive cat

Like most places in west Africa the market was loud, vibrant and frenetic…. but cameras are not welcome – you need to come experience the smoking fish, frying plantains and ladies sales songs for yourselves.

It took me a while to find a cab back to the beach as the public trotros didn’t quite go that far (I would have needed three separate rides minimum to get close) and all of the offers were exorbitant for an individual taxi. In the end I hopped in a ‘dropping’ and waited for everyone else to get out and then persuaded him to take me back for half the lowest price I had been offered in town. Time for the hammock!

Elmina, December 14, 2016