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Cape Coast Ghana: Travel, Living And Volunteering

Learn German LanguageBy Hand

"Jamie, have you ever done laundry by hand?" my host sister Anita asks me as I watch her and my three host brothers fill up four huge plastic bins of water on the roof of my family's house. "Well, I have had to do it sometimes when traveling, but the clothes never seem to get clean enough, though." "Then, you are not doing it right." "Right? There is a right way and a wrong way to do laundry? how hard can it be to stick clothes in water with soap, and wash them?" "You will see, " Anita tells me. "Today will we teach you how to wash clothes properly by hand." "Neat, " I say with a yawn. It is 7 in the morning. The sun is already out and I have been in Cape Coast, Ghana for five days. I watch curiously, as my Ghanaian family line the four bins of water next to the mountain of dirty clothes. Anita hands me a child size stool to sit on and tells me to sit next to her. "Do you know why we have four bins of water?" she asks me. "Not exactly." "The first one is for the first wash with soap. We fill it with clothes, get them wet, and scrub the clothes with soap. then we transfer the clothes to the next bin and scrub the clothes again with soap. The third bucket is for the first rinse. then the fourth bucket is the second rinse." "Okay, doesn't sound too hard, " I say. I watch Anita and my brothers as they each take a bar of soap in their hands and begin the process. At first, it looks simple. "Can I try?" I ask after a few minutes of watching them scrub laundry. "Sure, " Anita answers. I pick up a shirt out of the water in the first bucket. I grab a bar of yellow laundry soap. I rub some soap on the shirt, then start rubbing the shirt together in-between my hands. My family starts chuckling. "What am I doing wrong?" I ask. "Here. Watch again, " Anita says. I watch her pick up the shirt with one hand and the soap in the other. She quickly and rhythmically rubs soap all through the shirt not missing a beat. She drops the soap in the water, then holds part of the shirt in one hand and then picks up another part of the shirt and rubs one hand against the other with the piece of cloth in between, while the other hand remains still. After watching her I attempt to wash again. "No, no, no, that is not right, " she says again. "Here, try doing the rinsing." I follow her down to where the fourth bucket, where there is some already washed clothes waiting. I watch as she picks up a piece of clothing, swishes it around in the water. She takes it out of the bin, folds the item in half, and twists it, ringing all the water out. "There, you try." I pick up a small shirt, swish it in the water, then take it out of bin and fold it in half. With all my might I twist it and ring the water out. I am about to go hang it up on the clothesline to dry, when Christopher, one of host brothers comes over. "Here, let me see it." I hand him the shirt. He folds it in half and twists the shirt. More water comes falling from the shirt. "There, " he says, and hands me back the shirt. I huff and give him a defeated look. "Don't worry, by the end you will be good at washing by hand, " he tells me.

The Crown Jewel of Cape Coast

For about 40, 000 Cedis or about 4 U.S. dollars a person can take a two-hour tour of Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana. I visited the castle quite a bit during my stay in Ghana, not for choice really, but, because my volunteer coordinator had his office within the castle walls. This castle does not present an up-lifting mood or fairy-tale history, due to the horrific past that plagues Cape Coast Castle, starting with the British.

Sam, my tour guide for the Castle, starts the tour off in the courtyard; a wide-open area surrounded by stonewalls. He starts off... "The British captured the town of Cape Coast, in 1665. they expanded the original Swedish fort, Carolusbourg, and in 1680s the slave dungeons were constructed so that they were accessible only from the seaward side of the fort. A second phase of expansion between 1760 and 1795 took place. By the end, the castle had assumed its modern pentagonal shape, and practically no traces of the original Swedish fort remained. Now, let's leave the courtyard and enter the dungeons."

The dungeons feel sinister or evil, a place many entered and never left. This is where the heart of the greatest involuntary diaspora in human history occurred. In the dungeons there is only one barred window to let in breezes and a rough channel down the middle of the cell, which is to carry urine and feces. There are scratches in the walls and floors from human hands, trying to claw their way out. As I continue looking around Sam starts talking again.

"There are three dungeons in all. The oldest was built before 1790 on the southeastern bastion. The later male dungeon was built below Dalzel's Tower in 1792, while the female dungeon is on the eastern wall, near the exit to the sea that bore the grim nickname 'Door of No Return'. Around 1000 male slaves and 500 female slaves would be stored in the castle at any one time, and most of them would be locked up in the dungeon for six to 12 weeks, waiting for the slave ships to dock."

The rest of the tour seems to be a blur. My mind still rests on the dark, dank dungeons. Towards the end of tour Sam tells us that a couple of years ago, a symbolic invitation was issued to two descendants of slaves, which saw them return through the door of no return, breaking the chain

Off to Work

The one thing I enjoyed about the castle was the escape it allowed me. Only tourists were allowed in. It allowed me to walk around without being stared or yelled at from the locals. As a white person, I really looked out of place, and attracted attention wherever I went, especially in the rural areas. My morning walks to the troj-troj station were never enjoyable. A troj-troj is a van, which should only hold six people but instead holds 12 with cargo. There is rusted metal jutting out in the inside of the vehicle, in some cases the only thing keeping the door on is rope, and they frequently break down.

On the walk I would encounter wildlife; goats and chickens wandering around the streets, all sorts of multi-colored lizards scuttling under shacks and into the bush, and unidentifiable flying creatures circling around. The roads had gutters in the place of pavements. Walking down the road in the heat while dodging hooting cars became a routine. The religious signs and shop names everywhere, such as By the Grace of God Beauty Salon and The Blood of Jesus Catering Services. Kids and adults yelled out in Fanti (the local language), "White woman" or ask non-stop, "How are you? I am fine. Thank you, " People touched my skin when walking by me. It was always a relief getting to the troj-troj station knowing half of my morning journey to work was over.

When climbing into the troj-troj, I greeted everyone with "Good morning" and a slight nod of the head after I sat down. I opened my window and leaned my head out, eager to escape the potent smell of the dead fish, but the essence of garbage, pig, goat, and feces awaited my nose. The troj-troj waited for about 30 minutes till it filled up with enough passengers to leave the troj-troj station. Once the troj-troj is full, it immediately leaves the station and starts the route.

I grab the seat in front of me and hold on because the seats have a tendency of to shift. My troj-troj raced out of Cape Coast and started its journey into the rural areas. There are several towns and a police check point to go through before my stop, Anasaptu. Every time when the troj-troj gets to the police check point I look to see if Harry is the guard on duty. I met Harry a couple of times while going through in taxis or other troj-trojs. Harry is a blunt person. The first thing he said to me after he introduced himself was, "I wish to marry a white a woman and have mixed babies." Not exactly the pick-up line most women like to hear. Since then, I duck down in the taxi or troj-troj to avoid having to talk with him. After about a minute of being stopped the troj-troj starts moving again, leaving the checkpoint. From the checkpoint it is another ten minutes to the orphanage I let my mind wander and take in the green rural scenery.

Suddenly the troj-troj screeched to a halt. Realizing it was my stop I politely asked the people next to me if they would move so I can get out. Anasaptu, is a small village 20 minutes north of Cape Coast in the middle of nowhere surround by dirt, tall thin trees, and tall green grass. It has about ten huts, where families live, a school for the local children, and the orphanage. There is no electricity, people live in mud huts, they got their water from the ground, they cooked on open fires, and there were animals everywhere. I walk down a small dirt road covered in ants leading to the orphanage.

The orphanage is made up of a small single cement building with six rooms, Madame Grace's room, the cook's room, the boy's room, the girl's room, a storage room, and the schoolroom. Also, there is a small garden, which the children tend to. The perimeter of the orphanage is surround by a wall made of bamboo, which one can see through. When I reach the perimeter the children see me coming and start yelling, "Efia, Efia, Efia!" The children know me by Efia, which is the female name for Friday born in Ghana, because it is easier to remember than Jamie. As I walk up to the six-foot tall bamboo gate there are about twelve eight year olds trying with all their might to pull the gate open. I help them by lifting the gate up slightly and slowly pushing it open. Once inside the children surround me hugging me. I squat down to their level and engulf their tiny bodies with my arms. Eventually, I get back up and walk hand in hand with the children into the schoolhouse.

Madame Grace

Madame Grace starts each day at 6am with the cane. However, this cane is not a cane how most westerns think of a cane, to help assist getting a person around. This cane is used for beating the 50 children at the orphanage. Once a person hears the sound of a long, hard, wooden stick hitting the flesh of a 10 year-old for not doing their chores fast enough they can never be the same. The sound of the cane-- the dry thump against the legs or back which will then turn into a wet sounding whack due to the thick red liquid streaming down the skinny body of the silent child, too afraid to scream for fear the walloping will last even longer.

Yes, Madame Grace does not deserve to be put into the nice category if she is capable of beating children till the blood and meat is exposed. There is nothing pretty, caring, or clever about her. Madame Grace likes no one, save for herself. She is 65 years-old, around 4ft tall (about elf height), and grossly obese, which is not surprising considering all she does all day is sit in a white plastic chair ordering 50 kids around. Her favorite phrase is, "They don't know nothing, " which goes to show how intelligent she is. I think we can conclude she's as bright as Alaska during December.

After she wakes the children up with the cane, she then walks outside to sit and reads the bible to herself and will occasionally look up to make sure the children are washing their clothing and themselves. Around 9am she passes the terrified children to the volunteers who are in charge of teaching the 50 clever, beautiful children. One day Madame Grace saw me working with Gifty, an 8 year-old who is new to the orphanage and has never been to school.

"She is stupid. She don't know nothing'. Don't bother with her." "Excuse me, but Madame Grace you know that she has never been to school. She is not stupid, she hasn't been educated before, which doesn't mean she is stupid." "Still...I doubt she will never learn." "Today she learned the sounds of the alphabet. Look...Gifty, what sound does A make?" The small, fragile, beautiful black girl hesitantly makes the sound "a" "That's great Gifty! Now what sound does K make? Responding a little faster Gifty makes a "ka" sound. I turn to Madame Grace. "See! She can learn. Someone just needs to take the time to teach her." "She is still stupid."

Hospital Visits

Amazingly with Madame Grace's permission Sojo, another volunteer from the U.S., and I took five year old Ajacko to the hospital twice a week for one month because he had five wounds on his legs, an inch deep, the size of baseballs oozing with pus. They were not covered because Madame Grace does not think it necessary to have bandages or gauze when taking care of 50 orphans. So, Ajacko's wounds, which were inflicted by the cane from Madame Grace, became infected due to flies feasting on his blood and skin. The doctor-diagnosed Ajacko's wounds as "serious" and blood tests would need to be done to determine if an infection has seeped into his blood stream.

Ajacko hated it and I hated having to watch him go through so much pain. Sojo and I would have to help hold Ajacko down, trying to calm him, as two assistants would take the old bandages off each time, clean the wounds, and redress them. The cleaning part was the worst because of how deep the wounds were and how badly infected. The assistants needed to get the entire pus out, making Ajacko bleed and scream out in pain. So, this was Ajacko's life twice a week for four weeks at five years of age. Although the hospital part of this trip was not Ajacko's favorite, what was his favorite part was when Sojo and I would take him to Hans Cottage to reward him for being so strong.

Han Cottage is a beautiful place with all sorts of flowers and a pond filled with crocodiles. The restaurant overlooks the pond, which has two large trees on two small islands. It is mainly for tourists, and locals only come here on very special occasions.

We sat on the top floor to watch all of the birds that were flying around. There must have been 500 small yellow birds living in the trees there. I was watching them fly down to the ground and pull out blades of grass measuring at least 1.5 feet. There were a lot of baby birds in the nest as well. All of sudden, we watched a baby bird fall from one of the nests and land in the water. It started screaming in its little voice and thrashing around the water trying to make its way back to the tiny island. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a crocodile start moving into the water and slowly swimming towards the baby. It gets closer and closer, and then the crocodile disappears under the muddy water. I watch the baby; huge jaws emerge from the water and WHAM the jaws clench tight and the baby bird disappears inside. I thought to myself, "That is Ghana. You can run for your life and leave for a something better or stay and get eaten."

By ELAJAS - Traveling and interacting is a way of life for Jamie by traveling to over 30 countries on the continents of North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. During this experience she learned what is...  

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