Saturday, April 18, 2009

The 174th good thing about Lagos: The beautiful country of Ghana is accessible for a long weekend visit

With a 4-day weekend over Easter, we decided to take the opportunity to escape to Ghana. We had a great time seeing some different sights and relaxing at a beautiful beach resort. We found it amazing that two countries, so similar in so many ways, can feel so different. The people in Ghana seem happier, even though many still live in poverty, and it feels much safer and cleaner. We took an early morning flight on Good Friday and our first stop in Accra was to see our church's beautiful temple and complex of buildings, very near to the airport.

We then drove to Teshie, a coastal town in suburban Accra which has become well known for its "fantasy coffins." We stopped at a couple of workshops -- the one pictured here is run by the grandson of the man who started the fantasy coffin practice in this area. People are buried in a coffin that represents their career or an interest or passion. The workshop was busy with many coffins of various shapes being made.

In the showroom in front of the workshop there were several fish, with many fishermen in the area. Behind the fish in this photo is a big Coca Cola bottle. We decided that Brent would be buried in this one -- except it would have to be a Diet Coke bottle. But ultimately we decided not to purchase a coffin as a souvenir.

Being the museum hound that I am, we stopped at the National Museum in Accra before a beautiful 2 hour drive down a coastal road with some really pretty scenery. Our resort was just outside the fishing village of Elmina.

At Coconut Grove, we enjoyed walking along the beach and swimming in the pool.

We ate our meals under the cabanas beside the beach.

And the resort had activities scheduled for the Easter weekend guests, like an evening cultural performance with drummers and dancers.

Saturday we went to Kakum National Park, where we went on a thrilling, but kind of scary, canopy walk with suspended walkways between trees high above the rainforest floor.

On Easter Sunday we went to church in a very nice LDS church building -- we saw many along our drive. Our church has quite a presence in Ghana. Then we toured the two "slave castles" in the area. These buildings were not originally built to house slaves, but during the height of the slave trade, they served as the gathering and waiting areas for slaves before they boarded boats to other countries. These castles are now UNESCO World Heritage sights.

Cape Coast castle was our first stop. It was originally built by the Swedes in the 1600's, then captured by the Danes and then the British. It was built as a defense for the trade in timber and gold before it was used for the slave trade.

The white-washed buildings of the castle led to beautiful vistas of the coastline.

But the tunnels and dungeons below told a different story. In this picture, our guide showed the depth of the excrement that had to be excavated when they cleaned out the slave dungeons, which held hundreds of men for up to 3 months while they waited for the boats to take them away. There were separate dungeons on the other side of the castle for the women.

This is the "door of no return" where the slaves were led to the waiting boats.

There are still boats and a busy seafront on the other side of the door, but now the trade is fish, not people. And on the other side of the door, now it says "door of return" after a symbolic ceremony years ago where African-American descendants of slaves returned to walk through the door in the other direction.

Our next stop was Elmina Castle, or St. George's Castle. This structure is actually the oldest European structure in existence in Africa below the Sahara. It was built by the Portuguese in 1482. In the 17th century, the Dutch seized the port from the Portuguese and continued with the slave trade. In 1871 the fort became a possession of the British Empire, until Ghana received its independence in 1957.

The slave cells were not below ground at this castle, but still weren't pleasant places. The punishment cell had an ominous symbol above the door.
This door led to a passage where the slaves were led to the waiting boats.
They were taken to this room and this was their "door of no return." On this Easter Sunday, ironically, it reminded me of the open door of Christ's tomb. But going through this door led the slaves to more captivity, not to freedom.

On the walls of both the slave castles was this plaque:
It was a memorable Easter Sunday, to be reminded of captivity and freedom and the sobering history of man's inhumanity against man. Christ came to earth that the captive (we sinners) could be made free -- and I am eternally grateful for what his atoning sacrifice means for me -- but that doesn't stop people from committing atrocious acts against their fellow men. I ache when I think of the millions who passed through and suffered in these places and others like them, and either died here, or went on to live their lives in enslavement because of man's selfishness. "May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this."


Lindsay, Steve, Spencer, and Austin said...

Thanks for posting some pictures-- it looks like you had such a cool trip! I'm glad you got to go and have a break from Lagos. What a memorable way to spend the Easter holiday!

Rachel said...

Thanks. If I start feeling gloomy about my circumstances, I only have to be reminded of the suffering of others. Mine hardly compares. Love you two.