Day 5 - Orphanage & Slave Castle

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thursday, March 15th

Thursday morning we checked out of our hotel in Accra and loaded the bus for the second leg of our Emerging Economies trip through Ghana. On our way to Cape Coast our bus got pulled over by a police officer for "dangerous driving" while we were driving 15 mph through a congested market area. The officer wanted to see our driver's license, but he only had a copy, since it's common for officers to take the actual license away and then it's hard to get it back. Our driver Lawrence and tour guides got out to argue with the officer, and then some locals jumped in to try and help, telling the cop to let us go. Basically the cop wanted a bribe but since we were in a busy area it was too conspicuous. After 15 or so minutes, he gave our driver a notice to come to the police station later, where he will have to pay a bribe to the cop so he can keep his license and his job. I was getting a bit upset thinking about Lawrence getting in trouble while he was just doing his job and helping make our trip safe and enjoyable. He didn't say much during the trip but I got a kick out of seeing him marvel at a can of 5-hour energy one of my classmates brought.

We drove through the central region of Ghana until we arrived at the Countryside Orphanage in Bawjiase (there's info at the website about donating). There are about 100 kids living there with ages ranging from infants to high schoolers and 6 university students. As we drove up the driveway the kids ran along side the bus waving and jumping up and down. The excitement didn't stop until after we left! We played with the kids and loved on them and they were quick to love us back. They especially loved using our cameras to take pictures of us and the other kids. Yun was brave enough to pass around her iPhone (which the kids surprisingly knew exactly how to use) and ended up with 300 photos and 100 videos. The orphans were full of joy and performed a song and a dance. Our teacher Kwesi slyly told the kids to get us to dance with them. All of a sudden a girl was tugging on my arm and pulling me up to the dance floor. They got a kick out of watching us attempt to mimic their moves. Our classmate Tim was the best dancer out of the group (other than Kwesi, who is Ghanaian and therefore was born dancing) and was doing a pretty good job keeping up with all the dance moves. The kids and the orphanage workers absolutely loved him.

please note the camera is upside down!

look at those cheeks! :)
they loved wearing our sunglasses
this little girl was beautiful!

Towards the end of our visit we distributed all the clothes, toys, books, and food items we brought with us from the states. Chaos ensued as we tried to pass everything out fairly and in an orderly fashion. A lot of the adults who work at the orphanage were taking some of the items for themself, so we tried our best to give everything to the kids. We didn't realize that there would be so many teenaged orphans, so most of our gifts were toys for the younger kids. There were a few novels in the pile of goodies, which the older girls were thrilled to receive. I'd like to collect a bunch of novels eventually and ship them to the orphanage. I imagine the older kids get left out a lot when they get donations. I was surprised to learn that some of the older orphans have Facebook accounts (Dcn Dom - it's a good thing you got Facebook recently or I would have pulled the orphans in Africa card on you)!! They go into town and use an Internet cafe. A few of the girls even friended some of my classmates on Facebook after we left. 

my little friend :)
When we had to leave there were lots of hugs and sad goodbyes, some children even tried following us onto the bus. This one little girl in particular latched on to me after I held her for awhile while we danced and I let her wear my sunglasses. She was so precious - maybe about 3 years old. I think visiting the orphanage was the highlight of the trip for all of was the most fulfilling part because we actually felt like we were helping a bit. There were a few German girls who were volunteering at the orphanage for a full year. I was overwhelmed after 5 minutes at the orphanage and kids pulling me every which way. I don't know how they do it for a full year. I would last maybe a week or two, max.

The kids were so normal, I forgot we were playing with orphans (other than a few who looked particularly sickly. Maybe malaria?). Not that being an orphan lessens their human dignity or anything...but I expected them to be different. My perception of orphans in Africa was what you see on commercials of sad, malnourished orphans that look something like the picture to the right. That was definitely not the case (though I am sure there ARE sad, starving orphans that are not as fortunate as the kids in Bawjiase). These kids seemed to have all their basic needs met and were exceedingly happy for being in a circumstance that at face value I pitied. I’ve heard from other people who have visited African countries that as Americans we visit thinking we are bringing help and hope to the people, when they actually give us far more in return than we could ever give them. The kids in Ghana actually reminded me a lot of my spring break two years ago. I went on a domestic mission trip to East Saint Louis, Illinois (hello most dangerous city in the USA) and we spent several days playing with kids at an after-school program in the projects. Kids are kids, and even orphans in Africa know how to play Uno :)

playing with one of their gifts - Uno!
somewhere in Ghana there's a kid wearing an Indiana shirt :D
From the orphanage we continued onto Cape Coast. We visited Cape Coast Castle, a former slave castle used for several hundred years in the slave trade. Our tour through the castle was rather sobering (reminiscent of visiting Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen), as we saw the underground cellars where slaves were packed in like goods for months at a time while they waited to board a slave ship. The famed "Door of No Return" leading from the castle out to the ocean and waiting slave ships is at Cape Coast Castle so we were able to walk through the door of no return, as our guide cheerily promised we would be able to return. As an American, I felt particularly guilty because of the role the United States played in the slave trade. One new thing I learned about the slave trade is how the traders actually obtained the slaves. Essentially, Africans sold other Africans to the Europeans as the spoils of tribal warfare.

Cape Coast Slave Castle
Kids playing on the beach beneath the castle
View as you pass through the Door of No Return
Fisherman untangling his nets
After the tour and some more shopping, we headed to Coconut Grove Resort. True to its name, we were given fresh coconuts to drink when we arrived! The resort is gorgeous with its own beach and cottages. We had dinner together overlooking the ocean and were treated to African drumming and dance during dessert. I can actually still hear the drumming as I write this from my room!

Fresh coconut juice! You can eat the coconut flesh too.
This was a "I can't believe this is happening... in Africa" moment



Lisa said...

Ah!!! Kiddoes :) Always the best part of any trip!

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