The sea swells with deep power. It speaks to my soul and moves me through the rhythms of my ancestors. The sea is calm, yet the waves swell with such force. Rolling in, slowly and deliberately. Right up to the shore the waves build and crash with a roar like thunder, breaking at the shore line. Spitting its beautiful warning onto the sand. Beautiful, yet danger seems imminent.
Angry? Are you angry Sea at the humans stolen and shipped worse than cargo? For hundreds of years white men rode your waves to ravish the black man, woman and child. An impassible anguish that led to more. How could it be worse than this? Africans thought each step of the way. And yet it was. How did they have the will to live? Because their story needed to be told. Their story is told from the sea.
You have every right to be angry Sea and the waves crash back at the shore. Deep rolls like the underbelly of a ship. Gargled with sweat and blood and dispare. The deep waves come from the depths where bodies lie and souls stir.
Dark beautiful African souls lie at the bottom of the glass topped ocean to vast to see across. To deep to see within. But those beautiful souls boil with injustice and hate, not felt but inflicted. Hatred so thick it stole black souls for a price. In Africa the price was tea and liquor and gunpowder. In the new world it was cold cash. Humans sold. Histories erased.
And the Sea cannot forget. It looks like glass but swells with the anger of the souls that lie beneath and it swells with rage as it moves to the shore and turns to batter the land to keep those spirits safe. Stay on the homeland it seems to say. Step away. Be safe.
It is anger or is it force? Is it a warning or is it a reminder? Is it restless souls crying with anguish? Or are those souls being released with every crash?
Will we head the warning? Do we dare to remember?
The waves break into a million pieces like the tears shed and those held in. 15 to 30 million people were taken from the homeland. Day after day the tears are still shed. Coming from the deep. Pouring into the shores.
They lull me to sleep with an African rhythm. Strength. Beauty. Rhythm. Sorrow. Horrors. Soul. It moves deep within me and stirs. Never forget. Connect. Be. Honor the ancestors. Africa is alive and well. Africans will not vanish. The ocean bears its soul.
The first drive through was not a western invention.
Rushing to the window to see what you need or what you might want or what they can convince you you can't live without at the moment: Street vendors in Ghana. Better than a billboard or the smells of popcorn popping. This temptation comes right to you. Virtually anything you need can be purchased on the side of the street, IF the traffic slows long enough to buy.
"Plantain chips," we call out and the vendors come running, jockeying for position at the window. The first one through the window gets the sale. Me. Me. Buy from me. They smile and crowd and display their wares. Moving up and down the street with product on their heads. When the traffic stops they move. But keeping up with the sale can literally mean running down the street.
A young man with a cooler box on his head chases us down the road carrying the fabulous flavors of fanice: Four chocolate. Three strawberry. Four vanilla and one orange we call out. We pull ahead and he runs to catch up juggling the load and trying to interpret our order as the traffic pauses. Traffic clears and we are off. Traffic stops and he is again by the window putting in product, taking out cedes and trying to make change.
This drive through dance happens again and again. The students anxious for their treat. The vendor anxious for his sale. Traffic works to his advantage for the first half the order, but traffic opens and there are no more stops. Be patient young people the second half will be bought down the road. And sure enough it is.
Fanice is the first cold thing we have eaten in Ghana. Really cold. And sweet. What a treat.
All around the world poverty looks the same. Tin roofs on piecemeal shacks. Litter in the streets. Garbage strewn. Pollution hanging from tailpipes and burn piles. Open markets like a maze of sights, sounds and textures. Chaotic traffic that defies logic. Men sit in plastic chairs outside of store fronts. Road side stands sell palm oil or baskets or petroleum. Produce and product carried on a head, over the shoulders, or across a back. Horns honk. Clothes and cloth dangle on a line. Naked children are bathed in the rain or play in the dirt. Dirt floors are swept. Students in uniform walk the edge of the road. Women and children pump water. Vendors run to your vehicle, knock on the window and sell sugar cane, white bread, bananas, and more. Animals roam.
But I do not see that poverty any more. I do not glance at houses half standing and wonder how someone can live like that. I look at houses filled with love and see a home. I see a community raising youngsters with eyes and arms that care for all. And tradition that drives a way that leads to a life lived. A life lived out doors and fully. I see mothers swaddling babies in slings or hammocks or on a hip. And children holding hands moving in peace and in safety. I see friends and I hear laughter. I see a spirit as rich as the land and as old as the generations. Elders. I see beauty in the color and style and the voice of a woman's clothes. I taste the sweetness of mango and the spiciness of red red and the love put into the homemade kiliwily made in the kitchen of aunty Eva. I see community and breathe into the space. I am greeted with sincere curiosity and friendliness. One. I see the natural world reaching for the sky in shades of green, dangling fruit from its branches. Nourishing in sight, spirit and taste.
Ghana is a drum beat in my world reminding me to be alive. The young people I travel with are a constant reminder to be open and be young. To embrace this world with eyes and heart wide open. Accepting. Experiencing. And knowing there is not one way alone. The ways are many. Those who accept the challenge are few. But here we are. Guided by our skillful and loving leaders on a quest to the beginning of time. Life birthed in the mother land. Stolen for the new world but never vanished. Spirit is greater then evil. Every time. And spirit we are here to engage because we know that riches can not be measured by convenience. They are measured in beauty. Music. And love
Good morning from Heritage Academy!
We cannot believe that this is our last night in Ghana. Tomorrow evening we will be boarding a plane for America, thinking about the great connections, learning, and experiences we have had.
All of us are doing well. We have been blessed with great health and open hearts the whole trip. Yesterday, students experienced Ghanaian school at Heritage Academy. They attended classes, took notes and even exams, and all completed their homework as well! Through the school day yesterday and this morning, students made friends, played football (soccer for us Americans), and participated in class by interacting with teachers.
After lunch, we went to the village of Mondo where Lateef, one of our Ghanaian guides on our journey, is working on a community library and computer café. We presented donations of books and money and then spent time helping clean shelves and organize books. In a short amount of time, we made it through many books and will help out even more today. During the late afternoon, students met with the Heritage Academy Leadership Program, an opportunity for high school students to work on presentation skills and curriculum beyond what is taught in the classroom. One of their projects focuses on cultivating sustainable agricultural skills through a school community garden. Our students and the Leadership students managed (in less than 2 hours) to dig up a new garden bed and fill it with moringa tree seedlings, enclose the space in a bamboo fence with, plant 250 moringa seeds in recycled water satchels, build the shade shelter for these seeds with palm leaves and bamboo, and plant numerous fruit trees. All was done cooperatively, energetically, and often with singing and laughter.
Today, students are attending classes again and presenting their posters. They are going to have great stories and photos to share! They have their homestays tonight which they are excited about.
Over the last few days, we also spent time in the beach area of Butre and Busua, We walked the land Christopher and Debra are developing into a home site, learned much about the fishing culture of Ghana as well as the impact of tourism on these areas, and interacted with Ghanaian children while swimming. Students also shopped the market area here. They were able to practice the fine art of price negotiation as well.
We spent time in the village Dintra, where Christopher and Debra’s family live. We were invited into their home to eat banku and stew that they prepared for us and to have discussions on the impact of the education of the slave trade/raid on both sides of the ocean. We also paid our respects to the Paramount Chief in a formal welcoming ceremony. Liam spoke well for our group, and we were able to ask and answer questions of the Chief and the heads of clans gathered for the ceremony in the palace. This was truly a unique experience.
I am writing to you, and I can hear the ocean in the background – the moon has risen on another spectacular day in Ghana.
I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of each of your children – they have risen to every challenge with grace, an open heart, and a sense of adventure. Each student is pushing their comfort zones, making friends, and thinking deeply about very important issues. Each student has given their thoughts and hearts to the group, and we are bonding and laughing and learning together.
I had no doubt, but I am so impressed with Debra and Christopher and their two wonderful girls – they are creating a magnificent experience for us held in a safe space that encourages and supports each of us in our own unique ways. The sights and sounds we see are deepened by the reflection circles and deep conversations that we have.
Yesterday we visited the slave dungeons. It was an intense and heavy experience that broke open the realities of this crime against humanity. The students were so engaged with the moment and so willing to learn. They are making connections to the United States (power, privilege, and civil rights) and to the ideas of development (what is progress and what impedes it?). They are gaining an empathy and a spirit of action that I believe will help guide their lives. In our reflection circle – each student talked about what they experienced and what it means. There are no easy answers, but they were all willing to express their feelings and ideas. We were all deeply impressed.
Anna is an eloquent and thoughtful observer that speaks with honesty. She is not afraid to try new things and she often leads the group in meeting new people.
Riley has a deep wisdom that is perfectly placed through conversations and it moves us all to a new level – he has gotten to play soccer with some new friends and has kept a list of jerseys he sees.
Liam is full of life and curiosity. We can count on him to ask good questions and lead the group into new areas of conversation. He is open to new experiences and shares a joy in each new thing.
Jasmine loves the children that she meets and sees and has an open heart to new people. She looks at the world with wide open eyes and takes it all in.
Samantha is inquisitive and friendly and a wonderful shopper. She too has shared deep wisdom. She has been daring with food choices and is always willing to meet a new friend.
Eva is indeed fearless – she is willing to try everything and lead us into adventure. She has an innocent wonder that is inspiring and a joy that is contagious.
Bethany has broken the mold. She is (literally) climbing to new heights, trying new things and engaged in every way possible on this trip. She has tried every new food and brings good heart to our talks.
And the team is coming together in ways that are supportive and encouraging. They are looking out for each other and believing in each other. It is a sight to see. I cannot tell you enough how amazed and impressed I am. Your children are safe, and they are being held in awe. They are also having a lot of fun and learning new things. Tomorrow we will walk the shores of the ocean, see Christopher and Debra’s land, and spend time in a small village. We are learning to expect the unexpected and finding hidden treasures around every corner.
We are staying at One Africa, a beautiful property right on the beach near Cape Coast. Today we are preparing for our visit to a slave castle and connecting our time in the interior region of Ghana with the death march to Cape Coast before the grueling passage to the Caribbean, Europe, and/or the United States. The breeze from the ocean is a gift, and a promise of rain is in the distance.
So far, we have experienced the capital of Accra and the history of the Kwame Nkrumeh, the man who brought independence to Ghana. From there we made our journey to Kumasi, the largest city in Ghana. Dinner was with Dr. Eva Farko, a professor of Geography. She invited us into her home to eat delicious food she had prepared for us. The real nourishment came from her words of wisdom about the complications of development in Ghana. She also spoke eloquently to the tensions between Christianity and the indigenous religions of Ghana. Ultimately they are advocating for the same values, but Christianity and other non-African religions can lead to people turning away from their heritage and roots. Both topics: development and religion, are very deep, and the students have been exploring, discussing and processing in such admirable and reflective ways.
During our Kumasi visit, we learned of the Ashanti people, the role of the king, and a complicated matriarchal lineage. The Ashanti region, in the center of Ghana, is a place of resistance and strength during the slave trade. We also spent time wandering through a cultural center, seeing skilled artisans at work. Students experienced the intricacies of weaving kente cloth, making brass in stone molds, painting, and fabric print making (called batik). This was a fantastic opportunity for students to interact with people, ask questions, and learn.
From there we journeyed further north to Techiman and its surrounding area. Techiman has Ghana’s largest market, and it was crowded with sellers of all types of wares. We spent one evening and much of the next day in to adjacent locations: Ghana Permaculture Institute (GPI) and the Sacred Grove of Tanoe. At the GPI, students witnessed a local, sustainable focus on farming that can be done on smaller pieces of land but can also help the environment and provide income for families and farmers who initiate these practices. Students learned of the moringa plant and the many solutions to farming and nutrition issues. I challenge you to learn of this plant so you can discuss it more with students when we return. Students participated in a workshop making the leaves of the moringa plant into a cream that can used to help all kinds of skin ailments. This is so in line with the purpose of GPI – a demonstration/education site for others to come and learn about sustainable farming practices to employ in their own lives.
The sacred grove of Tanoe, a God or Spirit of the area we were in, is a spectacular and beautiful rocky place unlike any other location in Ghana. With a local guide, we learned of the history of Tanoe as well as the modern role of Gods to villages in Ghana. We hiked a lush trail to a rocky outlook where we could see for miles. We also paid our respect to Tanoe before leaving.
Along the way, we have had some amazing food – jollof rice, red red (beans and fried plantains spiced and flavored with palm oil), kenke, banku, soups, stews. The students have loved every meal. Christopher and Debra keep us well stocked with wonderful snacks as well – breads, fresh fruits (pineapple, mango, apple, orange, coconut) as well as sugar cane, ground nuts, cashews, and even ice cream (fan-ice) and Ghanaian chocolate. The students greet each new food with curiosity and enjoyment. Much of our snack shopping is done right out of the car window as we stop in traffic in cities or villages. They have been adventurous eaters and are rewarded for this open-mindedness with great eats!
Speaking of Christopher and Debra, they have been incredible guides. They are not only opening Ghana up for us, but they are also opening us up for Ghana. Their gentle approach, great planning, and their innate ability to read the energy of our group and guide us accordingly have made this the journey of a lifetime – and we still are not halfway through the adventure. They get students thinking about issues deeply while still maintaining a level of fun.
The students have been fantastic as well. They have the most incredible energy and positivity as we travel. They also really listen and process as we listen to speakers, visit sites, and enjoy all Ghana has to offer. Please know that they are safe and all are having an incredible time. Thank you again for allowing them this journey. We have become quite the family and are having such a wonderful journey together.
Just in case you are checking here every day in the hopes of pictures and more blogs from the intrepid travelers, just remember that internet access is spotty! Keep checking and send those good thoughts across the Atlantic--I feel sure they are being received! Thanks, Janet ( Liam's mom)
We had a fantastic first day - lunch of beans and rice in traditional Ghana style, a walk on the beach, opening circle.
We made our way to the memorial for the first president of Ghana - Nkrumah, a beautiful space honoring the man who led Ghana to freedom. The tour guide was fantastic.
We also refreshed ourselves at a local stall where a man shelled and opened fresh coconuts for us to drink.
Dinner was eastern Indian food at a local restaurant.
The students are doing great. They are being adventurous, kind, and open.