Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bushbuks And The Door Of No Return

I'm playing a little bit of catch-up here, so sorry things are a bit out of order.
The week of November 27th, Julia and I took off for a week of much-needed vacation after what I like to  refer to as my "Crash and Burn Week." Everything seemed to go wrong that week, both at here home and there home. When it rains, it pours, right? But of course I made it through and got to escape my worries for a week right afterwards, so there's something to be said for the timing at least.

Our first stop was Accra to see Laura off to the airport before heading further west (I still have to do the little "Never Eat Shredded Wheat" rhyme while I point my finger to figure out directions...but at least I can finally do left and right without really thinking about it now, so that's progress) to Kumasi the next morning.

Kumasi is one of the largest cities in Ghana.
We saw the Manyhia Palace Museum, which was pretty fascinating. Kumasi is where the King of the Ashantis lives. Since I live in Ewe territory, I knew barely anything about the Ashantis even though they're by far the largest tribe in Ghana, so it was nice to get another aspect of Ghanaian culture.
We had the opportunity to go to Mass in Twi at the St. Peter Cathedral Basilica before spending the afternoon at the Culture Center. For my Ann Arborite readers, the Culture Center is like the Diag but....cooler. I'll deny saying it, but it's true. It's a huge, quiet, grassy area with lots of nice paved walkways where university students go for study groups and moms take their kids to play away from the busyness of the city. It also happens to have some of the coolest artisan shops in Ghana and I spent a disgusting amount of money on presents.

On Wednesday, December 1st- my 3 month anniversary with Ghana! yay!- we took a 4 am bus to Takoradi. Shockingly it left on time! And by that I mean 4:15. From Takoradi we caught a tro-tro to Axim, a little run-down fishing village that we visited because it was (inexplicably) the setting for a book Julia had read. We ended up staying in this awful little hotel run by the sweetest old guy who we fondly refer to as "little old deaf naked man" because...well, he was short, old, mostly deaf and only wore a mid-thigh-length, mostly transparent wifebeater...

Axim's one tourist draw is Fort Anthony, the second oldest of Ghana's 29 forts and castles. I believe Osu Castle in Accra is the oldest, but I wouldn't swear to it.
Fort Anthony is a dingy, sprawling white fortress overlooking a gorgeous harbor and the lighthouse that sits about half a mile away on an island.
The Portugese built the fort, finishing it in 1515. It passed to the Dutch and then to the British before Ghana gained independence in 1957.

Our tour guide took us through the whole process the captured slaves underwent- from the small chamber just inside the door where the goods were traded for human beings, to the Door of No Return.
Fort Anthony held 100 slaves for 3 months at a time, the amount of time it took for the slave ships to deliver their cargo and return for more.
Many of the slaves regarded the Americas as a sort of Promised Land. In any case they had to be better than the cramped, dirty cell...right?
Several hundred years ago, the lighthouse island wasn't an island; it sat on the coast. Unknown to the European settlers and the Africans, an underground tunnel ran from the fort to the lighthouse, so slaves could be smuggled out and directly loaded onto the ship. Not a bad system- gave them better control over the slaves, minimized the possibility of interference and allowed them to conduct their business in relative secrecy. Unfortunately the slave traders were a pretty smart lot (with one exception, but we'll get to him shortly).
The Door of No Return is a five-step staircase and a ladder that lead down into the tunnel (which has since collapsed as the water eroded its way closer and closer to the fort). Once all the captives had descended into the tunnel, the ladder was pulled up, leaving a smooth seven-foot wall behind them.
There was no turning back.
Anyone who decided last-minute that the Americas might not be paradise after all had no choice but to continue on towards their miserable fate.
Staring down into the pit through the Door of No Return was like staring into a huge, gaping mouth. Perhaps an old mouth, toothless and powerless with age now...but sinister nonetheless.
I couldn't stop myself from wondering how many people it had consumed before it was finally satisfied.

Our rather intense tour did include a little comice relief though.
In the form of a grave.
In the early 1700's, the fort was in the hands of the Dutch.
The Dutch governor had been waiting months for his wife to arrive from Holland. So when he finally got the news that the ship was sailing into the harbor, he ran onto the staircase outside his quarters with his telescope to watch. The staircase, by the way, didn't have a railing until the British took over the fort.
The governor apparently got so excited at the prospect of seeing his wife that he forgot where he was, or forgot he was looking through a telescope or something - and stepped right off the edge, falling to his death on the stone courtyard below. Oops.
They buried him right where he landed, and Mrs. Governor turned around and went back home.
I probably shouldn't find that just a little bit funny, but it makes a good FML story doesn't it?

After seeing the fort, Julia and I went to swim at a resort beach, where we met Bambi the bushbuk. Bushbuks are a type of small deer, native to Africa and imported to Ghana as pets.

At one point I was petting both Bambi and the managers' dog and I had to laugh to myself. Probably the only time I'll pet a dog and a bushbuk at the same time!

From Axim we went even further west to an amazing place called the Green Turtle Lodge. (I didn't have to do the rhyme this time! I remembered from before.) It's actually pretty close to Coite d'Ivoire, so when we told people we live on the border we had to clarify that we meant the Togo border.
I'm gonna do a little shameless product placement here for Green Turtle:
It was started 7 years ago by this really amazing British couple named Tom and Jo, who are just some of the friendliest, neatest people I've met in Ghana. Green Turtle is an eco-lodge, which the happy little Ann Arborite tree hugger in me loves. It runs on solar power, has self-composting toilets, etc. It also has some of the best food (and cheapest cocktails) of all the lodges, hotels and restuarants I've been to.
The Green Turtle's biggest project is, not surprisingly, green turtle conservation. Guests can take a guided turtle walk in hopes of seeing some of the turtles nesting from a safe distance, and Tom and Jo have hired locals to begin patrolling the beach at night to discourage poachers. However more recently they have also begun a project to fund the Aqidaa school, the village the lodge lies just outside of.
After three days of lounging on the beach at Green Turtle, it was finally time for Julia and I to go back to dusty, ol' Aflao.

And you know what? I was actually happy to go home!
A week earlier I sort of kind of hated Aflao's guts and couldn't wait to get away...
But then...I sort of kind of found myself missing it. Worfa and Victoria, and Keta, and my Meerkats and my friend Charlotte were all so happy to see me and the feeling was very mutual.
Sometimes you can't appreciate something until you have the change to miss it a little bit.

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