Monday, January 2, 2012

Accra to Cape adventure through Southern Ghana

"Afehyia Pa" -- HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Our first day of 2012 began with an early breakfast prepared by the staff at Fort Royale Hotel in Accra. Many of us were comforted by the familiar breakfast staples - cereal, toast, eggs and sausage. However, the subtle differences were charming. For one thing, Ghanaians eat their cereal with warm milk! Although confusing at first, it turns out that this gives cereal an oatmeal-like consistency, making it a much heartier meal. Little did we know, we needed the fuel for the adventures George, our tour guide, had planned for us.

We started our journey westward by heading towards the town of Cape Coast. Since this was going to be a long trip, George took the opportunity to further educate us about Ghana.

Ghana is the size of the U.S. state of Oregon and has a population of 24 millions. It is made up of over 35 tribes that belong to six different ethnic groups. The people of Ghana speak more than 35 different languages (Twi being the most commonly used language). English is also spoken by most Ghanaians. Accra, the capital of Ghana, houses many monuments like the Black Star Square, which was erected to mark Ghanaian independence.

As George took questions from some members of the group, others nodded off for the rest of the ride to Kakum National Park, which was about two hours away from our hotel. When we arrived, we found out that the reason why this park was famous was due to the seven canopy bridges that were situated in the middle of it. One by one, we put our acrophobia to the side, and took the strenuous hike to reach the first bridge. While some of us took the first steps onto the unsteady plank with nerves of steel, others found solace in the reassuring words of friends to inch onto the bridge.
It was over before we knew it! We all walked across the seven canopy bridges--some of us praying for our lives, while others were just walking as if they were taking their daily stroll to campus.
A sense of camaraderie was developing among the group as witnessed by many members stepping up to cheer on those who struggled with taking on this adventure. Collaboration, like that which was seen today, is essential to the success of any team that is working towards a common goal.

After we shook off the excitement of the canopy walk, we took a 20-minute ride to Hans Cottage Hotel for the next part of our adventure. If heights didn't scare you, then crocodiles will! We had arrived at a restaurant that let its patrons take pictures with crocodiles. Step right up. Get your picture taken with one of the most feared creatures that has deadly reflexes. All that was standing between us and this hungry beast was a strong willed Ghanaian business woman with chicken fat on a stick to lure him out of the water. Decisions, decisions. Finally, the brave ones amongst us went over to this young male crocodile and touched his back. The others watched carefully and displayed their own superb reflexes when the young croc made any slight movements.
With a few Ghanaian ice-cream bars in hand, the group eagerly boarded the bus after their first contact with African wildlife in Ghana.

On the way to our next destination, George and his nephew, Nicholas, taught us a Ghanaian church song that is well known throughout the country. Religion is at the core of Ghanaian society. From the edifices of buildings to common conversation topics among the natives, the influence of Christianity is evident everywhere in Ghana. As such, knowledge regarding hymns and other songs can be an essential tool to build rapport with the patients we see in Ghana. George used many strategies to help us learn this song. With frequent modeling, we finally got it! Soon, we will debut it with our patients and see what they think. Wish us luck!

Our final destination lied in the town of Cape Coast, where we toured the Cape Coast Castle. This castle was originally erected in the 1600s by Swedish traders but was later used by the English for the slave trade. With the peaceful sounds of the Atlantic ocean waves in the background, it was difficult to hear about the injustice carried on behind the white walls of this castle. With each succeeding dungeon, the stories brought greater sorrow in the hearts of all that heard them. Our castle tour guide, Sebastian, maintained a calm composure even as he saw the grimaces on our faces.
As he was concluding the tour, Sebastian brought to the Door of No Return. This was the exit that the slaves were forced out of, not towards freedom, but to see large vessels floating by the shoreline. These ships would take them away from the land and the people they loved to North America or Europe, where they would work without rest for the remainder of their lives. We all walked through this door and were amazed to see a vibrant fishing village on the other side, full of joy and cheer. While we adjusted to the sudden change in aura, Sebastian directed our attention to the other side of the door, which was marked as the Door of Return. He explained to us that while the events that took place at the castle where inhumane and troubling, it no longer limited the rights of Africans who left through that door. Their descendants were welcome and encouraged to come to Africa and trace their roots. This gave some members of the group great perspective--from every ending, there is a new beginning. With these thoughts, we bid farewell to Sebastian and went to Coconut Grove Hotel to recharge and have our first class in Ghana.

Posted by: Marilyn Sam

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