Ghana is often considered one of the shining stars of Africa, with its achievements in democracy, peace, economic growth, and religious tolerance. It has a huge variety of ethnic groups and languages, not to mention geography that goes from coast to jungles. Sitting on the Gulf of Guinea, it’s also hard to ignore the heat and humidity!
Our trip began with a visit to Ghana’s coastal forts, not for the ocean views or salty air, but their disturbing history as home base to a slave trade that changed the world. Cape Coast had been the largest slave-trading center in West Africa, and the Cape Coast Castle (fort) has an imposing presence over the town and the sea. A UNESCO heritage site, it’s been restored to offer tours of the dark dungeons and cells, ending with a walk through the “door of no return”. A short distance away is another UNESCO heritage site, St. George’s Castle, or Elmina Castle, originally a trading post for the Dutch West India Company but later expanded to also hold and auction slaves. It was the worst day of the voyage, but necessary and impactful.
in business, land and healthcare decisions for their towns, and advocate for education, children’s welfare, and women’s rights.
Several meals in there included traditional Ghanaian dishes of fufu (pounded yam), cassava, plantains, taro leaves, jollof rice (stew with tomatoes, chicken and spiced), Red Red (bean and fish stew) and of course chocolate (Ghana is known for its cocoa!). One memorable lunch consisted of organic farm-to-table salads as well as plantains and a savory cassava chicken dish wrapped in a fresh banana leaf. Yum.
Another day, featuring a carefully planned bike trip, provided many stories to tell, both good and bad. The bikes were about 30 years old and rusty, but mostly functional with a few gears that worked off and on. Our request was a leisurely ride through villages for 2-3 hours then lunch. When we got our bikes our guide said he had a 23 km route planned out and it should take 3 hours. The first hill was so steep it took us 30 minutes to climb. Then steep downhill. Up, down, repeat - all on a rocky road with traffic. Then we reached the edge of town and turned onto a nature trail, meaning into the jungle, first on another dirt road then on a "single track" that is the width of the bike. Looking back now it's funny.
Finally, I had a field class in Tema for my Population and Food class, during which we have been discussing sustainable food production and habits all semester. We visited a local farm and got a personalized tour of their operation, which included environmentally-friendly planting, growing and fertilizing methods. On to a sustainable design studio that creates functional furniture, clothing and other items from repurposed rubbish, and uses its profits to promote education and literacy.
That takes me to my favorite question for my local hosts: What would you like Americans to know about your country? My Queen Mother companion answered without hesitation: “Ghana is a country of peace and beauty, and we are truly making an effort to improve our future by investing in education. If anyone wants to help Ghana or think about Ghana, they should know how much we value education and literacy”.
Education is neither eastern nor western. Education is education and it's the right of every human being.
– Malala Yousafzai
Next up: Morocco