Archive for the ‘Faith in humanity’ Category

Faith in humanity

 It’s so soon since my last blog posting because I have to write about my day, share it with others. Somehow get it out of my system. I’m in Cape Coast, Ghana, one of the big tourist centers of the country. There is a beach and a national park, and most people visit the fort/castle. It’s a strange word, since it was a hub for the transatlantic slave trade for 400 years.

I psyche myself up for the visit, since I know it is going to be intense. As always, I make friends with the tour guide. He is wearing a shirt plastered with President Obama’s face. Obama visited the fort in 2009, and he was also his tour guide. I ask him what the President said to him and he replies, “Many things.” After the 2 ½ hour tour, I can’t even imagine what Obama said to him.

The tour immediately starts in the male slave dungeon. There are about 25 people in our tour group, including Europeans, Americans, Africans and Ghanaians. We feel our way through the dark, slowly edging along the bumpy stone paving. There are two small windows twenty-feet high, but they don’t provide much light. After groping our way through the dark for a few minutes, the guide turns on the light switch – he just wants us to get a glimpse of how people lived for many months. There are several rooms that housed thousands of slaves for an average of three months, while they were waiting for the ships to take them across the Atlantic Ocean.  They were kept in deplorable conditions, with feces and urine that would pile up one foot high.

The guide shows us a small cell for slaves that were troublemakers. And then he takes us to a room with no windows. It is a small room that they put the persistent agitators, a room that is deathly still. They didn’t feed people and just waited for them to die. I feel a shiver as I imagine someone sleeping on top of a dead person, waiting to die. Female slaves were kept in separate quarters, with a special entrance for soldiers to enter and rape them.

And above the dungeons, they built a Church. They sang hymns while thousands of people were beneath them. Unfortunately, religion and exploitation has a long and uncomfortable history in the world.

There were 38 slave forts in Ghana, and hundreds in West Africa. There were an estimated 12 million to 25 million slaves over 400 years in the Americas. One-third were sent to Brazil, one-third to the Caribbean and one-third to the rest of the Americas, primarily the United States. I curiously asked how much slaves were sold for, or how they valued a human life. I learned they didn’t deal in currency. It was the beginning of a transatlantic triangle – Europeans brought goods (gold, spices, used clothing) to Africa to exchange for slaves, slaves were brought to the Americas as laborers, slaves produced goods that were sold to Europe. The guide pointed to a young man, said he looked strong and healthy and he would be sold for 12 guns and gun powder. And then he turned to me, sized me up, did a quick valuation probably similar to being on the auction block, said I was young and beautiful and would garner six guns (women were worth half the amount of men).

There is a sign that states, “The point of no return.” This was the exit for the slaves onto the boats. We go out the door, and now it’s a thriving fishing port. There are men and women steps away from the door repairing their nets. They have all moved on.

After the tour, I feel like a total wreck. I stumble out of the fort, buy pear soda and walk down the street towards the fishing boats. Every few feet, a child or grown man asks for a sip of my soda. This just breaks my heart. To survive slavery, live in poverty and be demoralized into asking foreigners for a sip of soda.  

But then I meet a Rastafarian. We stand in the sun talking for a long time. He wants to start an NGO for street youth. So many children drop out of school to work for their families. We talk about politics, self-help and selflessness. He sings me a song about determination, helping others and not sitting around like a baby waiting for help. I feel renewed and inspired. Hours later, a friend’s co-worker’s brother calls me. He lives in Ghana, and has been trying to reach me for days. He wants to be sure I am doing well, and offers to have me stay with him and his wife, or he can travel many hours to come and see me. The perfect Ghanaian gracious host. Later, I am standing on the street waiting for a taxi. A car pulls up, but the driver doesn’t know my destination. He points up the road, telling me where I should stand to catch a taxi or tro-tro. He can see I don’t know where to go, and asks me to wait while he runs an errand. A few minutes later he loads my backpack into his car. Before I get into the car, I ask him how much the fare will be (taxi’s don’t have meters and you always want to agree on the fare in advance). He tells me not to worry, and I ask him a few more times but he says to wait and see. So I climb into the car. And it takes me a few minutes to realize he is not a taxi driver and I’m not in a cab! He is just another friendly Ghanaian wanting to help me. I am laughing at this discovery. An American would never drive a stranger on the street to an unknown destination. He drives me quite far to the next city, and refuses my attempts to give him gas money. He writes down his phone number, and I know if I call him tomorrow for anything he will be there to help.

This morning, I glimpsed into the total depravity of man. But this afternoon, I spoke with three Ghanaians gave me faith in humankind. I’m going to pick faith and hope every single time.

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