I know you all have been waiting a long time to find out the past month of the trip. It's crazy to think it's been a month since I was in South Africa, but it has! I've been quite busy and now the trip is coming to a close. We have just 3 days left on the MV Explorer before we arrive in Barcelona, Spain. As I prepare to post this, we are sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar. My apologies for the delay on posts, but to give you just a quick snapshot of South Africa, Ghana and Morocco, I'm going to post one about the time in each country. I have enjoyed all three of these destinations immensely and I'm excited to come back to them one day!
Ghana, April 6-10
After leaving South Africa, our next stop was Ghana. I had been so eager for Cape Town that everything after that seemed like an after thought, so I was totally unprepared with a list of things to do and see while in Ghana. We had 2 ports of call in this country, first Tema and then Takoradi. Both were commercial ports, although Tema was much more rural than Takoradi.
During my time in Ghana, I had the chance to experience culture, history and provide much needed service to a non-profit organization.
The first day included a trip to the castles and slave dungeons in the Cape Coast area. This was about 2 hours away from Tema, and had been used from the late 1600s until the 1800s as the last stop for slaves being sent to North America from West Africa. The slaves were horribly mistreated here, put into caves with no light, given almost no food and were provided no place to sleep or use the bathroom. It was not uncommon to cram 200 men or women into one of the dungeon rooms, while upstairs, above the ground the militia lived a life of relative luxury running the castle and making lots of money off of the slave trade.
It was gut wrenching to see where slaves were kept and how they were treated. Being from the south in the United States, we have taken field trips to plantations and learned about the use of slaves for labor, but being inside the dungeons demonstrated to me just how awful the lives of these people were. Life in the US (and other nations where slaves were used, including parts of Europe) was very different for these people, but I’m honestly grateful that the plantation owners, despite their cruel treatment and disrespect towards slaves didn’t force them to live in dungeons, chained at the ankles, standing while awake and asleep because there were too many bodies to lie down (and the ground was covered in bodily fluids because there were no toilets or buckets) and providing them no food or clean water.
Because the town of Tema was a commercial port and fishing village, and the temperatures were topping the 90 degree mark, I decided on the second day that I would hang out on the ship and take care of a pile of school work. It can be very difficult while in port to stay focused on academics, because it’s so enticing to explore. However, the heat was overwhelming and the work needed to get done before we left Ghana, so I was able to do two things at once- stay cool and finish my to-do list by remaining on the ship. I don’t regret the decision, because it allowed me to have less work when everyone else returned!
Day 3 brought our ship to Takoradi, a city more centrally located to the capital of Ghana, Accra (A-krah). The voyage provided shuttle buses for us into the city, so that we wouldn’t have to find taxis to take us the 1.5 hours. I traveled with the Allred family around the city, visiting the local craft market, eating traditional Ghanaian foods and visiting Independence Square. At the local market, we put our haggling skills to the test, trying to reach the best price for the item we wanted with the vendor selling. Out of all the markets I have been to in many different countries on this voyage, the people in Ghana were the most aggressive, grabbing your arms and trying to pull you into their stalls, or attempting to keep you from walking away. I had the most success in staying away from them by walking down the middle of the aisles and simply asking them to let go if they pulled on me. It’s amazing how if you use your words in a kind manner, people will listen. After several hours of bargaining, we were ready for lunch. The locals recommended a “café” in the corner of the market. We decided to check it out, and it ended up serving delicious foods, despite taking over an hour to receive our food (Ghana is a country that runs on it’s own time).
I even got to taste one of the local dishes, fufu, which consists of a dough ball, meat (we had chicken, although goat is also common) and a spicy, thin broth.
After lunch, we walked down to Black Star Circle, the location of a very large stage and square for political events, concerts and temporary markets. I’m not sure how many people could fit in there, but there was a lot of space! This is the site of all of Ghana’s inauguration ceremonies.
On Day 4, I went about 2 hours outside of the city to City of Refuge School and orphanage. The founders are from the United States and Kenya, and their mission is to remove children from human trafficking near the eastern shores of Lake Volta. Many children in Ghana are sold into human trafficking at a young age, with their parents believing the children will have a better life, while at the same time, the parents receive a monthly sum for their child’s labor.
The kids lead really terrible, hard lives being forced to work for other families, often in dangerous conditions. The mission of City of Refuge is to provide an education for children in the community, and also to take in the orphans they are able to remove from human trafficking. At the present, they have 35 children (18 boys and 17 girls) living on the property in separate houses, one for boys and one for girls. Plus, 100 children come from the nearby villages for school each day.
SAS had three days of service visits to the center, where we helped to repaint the lines on their basketball court, cleaned the exterior of the dorm buildings by hosing them down, painted the dining pavilion and helped teach school for the day. I opted to be in the 7th grade classroom (sorry, JSGS, another girl beat me for 6th grade!). Like Singapore and other eastern countries, the teachers rotate between rooms and the students remain. The whole school is "open air", meaning instead of windows, there are just slats in the walls of the building to let a breeze blow through. This made the building louder than most US schools.
Because Ghana requires all classes to be taught in English, I was able to communicate just fine with the 15 students enrolled in 7th grade. They spend time in class from 7:45 AM-3:30 PM and then head back to their villages in the bus that City of Refuge uses (I wouldn’t call it a bus, it’s really more of an open-air flatbed truck). Almost all of the curriculum they use is from the US, because their principal is from California. Also, the Ghanaian government has really low standards of learning, so the US material allows the kids to learn a lot more, even though they sometimes don’t know what things are…. Like snow.
When I was in the room and they were waiting to go to lunch, I told them they could ask me any questions about sailing around the world or life in the US. They wanted to know about snow, so I spent some time detailing the awesomeness of the fluffy white stuff, explaining how when it snows a lot of noise is muffled and when it sticks to your face, it’s not wet like rain drops, but just cold with an occasional sting as it lands. It was really interesting to describe this to them, because they have never seen real snow, only black and white pictures in their textbooks. I think the next time it snows, I will take a video and send it via email to the school so the kids can see.
Basically, it was an awesome day and I’m so glad I was able to contribute to the learning of some Ghanaian children. I know that over the 3 days SAS visited City of Refuge, there were about 20 people who expressed interest in returning at some point in the near future to volunteer with the organization. It’s astounding the connections we all felt after just a day there!
On Day 5, I had another trip planned, this time to a traditional bead “factory”, where Ghanaians make cedi beads. In my head, I imagined this would be a standard factory, where items are more or less mass-produced, except I pictured that here it would be done by hand.
Indeed everything was handmade, but “mass produced” actually meant about 300 beads at a time. In keeping with the weather (hot, hot, hot), the factory was more a series of open-air pavilions, not a big air-conditioned warehouse.
We were shown how to actually make beads before we made our own. When you actually make the beads they are made in small clay firing pots, but for the purposes of demonstration, he made his in a small, clear glass. Using glass from any kind of recycled bottle, you can use smashed pieces or ground glass powder to form the bead. The most elegant of beads are made with designs during this process, and then layered 4 or more times to create what is known as a “Queen Mother” bead, because it is worn by the female leaders in traditional Ghanaian tribes and villages.
All of us on the trip got to make our own beads after the demonstration, and they fired them for us to take home (soooo cool!). Since the pots were caked with a fine powder, by the time I finished making my beads in the molds, my fingers were coated! While we ate lunch, they fired our beads in this natural oven. One oven can fit about 50 clay pots, and each pot can hold anywhere from 1 to 13 beads, depending on the size of the bead.
We also visited a local bead market, which unknowingly, was housed in the very back corner of an actually functioning market for every product you can imagine—canned food, raw foods, plastic flip-flops, clothes, fabric, hair products—you name it, this market had it somewhere. However, since the beads were at the very back, we had to wind our way through the whole thing. Everywhere you looked, there were people, women carrying large baskets of goods on their heads and children on their backs, motorbikes moving through the crowds and plenty of children trying to play in the “streets” between the stalls. Since the whole market was outside, we were walking under the blazing sun in the middle of the day. It was hot, hot, hot!
While Ghana wasn’t one of my most favorite countries on the voyage, there were most definitely lots of highlights, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to aid an organization in need, as well as see some of the authentic culture by visiting the different markets!