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Why Sweet Thunder? It was my Indian name given to me at a camp when I was a teenager. The counselor said that I had a huge, SWEET, heart, but I was also loud and boisterous like THUNDER! Still rings true to this day! This is my 12th year of teaching and I have been fortunate enough to teach in the US, South America, Asia and now Africa. This blog is my canvas for experiences, thoughts, feelings and memories. Read with caution!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

History, Heights and Hysterical laughs

So, I am a little behind in my blogging and this post was written at the end of September.  I have only changed a FEW things, because I still feel that my theme for my time here in Ghana is the same!

Over the past couple of months, the theme of my experience in Ghana is:  Get comfortable being uncomfortable!

It is not that every day is a challenge; actually most of them are pretty routine similar to 98% of the people in the world.  My issue is that it is very common that the obstacles within my week stretch my emotional and physical boundaries and leave me thinking two different extremes:  #1.  “That was so amazing, - I am so thankful to be living here in Ghana.”  OR  #2.  “What the hell was I thinking moving all the way to Africa?” 

At the end of September, we had our first 3-day weekend for us teachers at Lincoln Community School and since all of us FIRST YEARS have been thrust together and learning as we go, we decided to travel as a big group and experience more of Ghana.

When all the logistics were taking place and I heard that 17 of us were going to travel together with a tour group and itinerary, I thought, we would either bond as colleagues OR come out of this NEVER wanting to speak again! 

Saturday morning wake up call was 7am as we shoved our bodies and luggage into a cozy little bus.  One of the teachers is a bit of a health nut and his wife informed us that the Saturday we left was his birthday so we decided to accost him with HEALTHY gifts (green peppers, nuts, peas and corn, apples and grapes) as he boarded the bus!  He seemed overjoyed at his nutritious bundles of fruits and veggies on his first day of vacation. 


Greg and his bundle of heart-healthy gifts


We traveled through Saturday morning traffic for about 5 hours on a little blue school bus.  All of our belongings we strapped to the top, but there was plenty of room and ample time to take in some sights along the way.

The wheels on the bus go round and round....round and round


Sights on the drive
Traditional way of carrying goods in Ghana


Amazing the efficiency of the people who are selling the goods


Finally, we arrived at our first destination, Elmina Castle

The actual structure is very majestic in nature.  It is nestled among the sand and waves on the coast of Ghana.  The white walls give it an asylum-like feel as we saunter along learning of the history.  The castle was built by the Portuguese to trade for spices and is the first European building built south of the Sahara.  Unfortunately, even though it was meant to trade for goods, the most recent purpose of the building was designed to be a ‘waiting room’ for slaves.  For over 400 years there were slaves brought into this castle living in despicable conditions.  There were close to 200 humans in a small area chained to one another and fed once a day.  Most of the time the WAITING ROOM was 3 months.  Sadly, the governor of the castle would rape the slave women and any male or female that spoke up during this injustice was held in the cells that displayed a skull and cross bones above the entrance.  We were told that this signified the only thing that came out of the cell was a corpse.

There was a stark contrast between the beauty of the sky and the day and the history of this castle


They had clothes that the prisoners would have worn in the cells
There was some history about the bricks and how the Portugese laid the brown bricks in the cell









We went into this small room that was used to herd the slaves and take them away from their loved ones.  There was a small little hole where you could see out to the ocean and I found it bitterly ironic that the boat that was in plain view was marked FOR SALE.  Eerie to think about the history of the slave trade that was happening only yards away!










Panoramic view of the castle and the coast




Panoramic view of where the boats would arrive on the beach












This is a panoramic view of the city right below the castle





My mind was reeling from the images and information in my head as we continued on our journey.  Many times while living in another country you have to adjust to the stark dichotomy that exists every day.  Poverty and opulence are everywhere in Ghana and this trip was no different.  The morning was full of history and my heart was heavy, but we were on our way to lunch and there was little time to process everything.  We stopped at a VERY nice resort for some delicious Ghanaian food and a view of the beach then headed to our cabanas.  The Ko-Sa resort is very simple in nature.  We had no AC nor hot water yet seemed to possess all the important things in life.  As a large group we had dinner and bonded over questions on the beach and nestled in under our mosquito netting and the lullaby of the ocean waves.  

Sunday morning was reserved for ADVENTURE as we boarded the bus for the Kakum forest canopy walk.   On our way to the forest we learned about the fascinating world of cocoa in Ghana.  They are the 2nd largest producer of cocoa thanks to King Tetteh Quarshie who decide to swallow the cocoa bean and take it to Ghana and POOP it out!  True story! :)  We stopped to see a small cocoa plantation and taste the bitter bean.  LOTS of work goes into making that amazing chocolate! 


The cocoa tree (surprised me for some reason to see that the fruit is yellow)



Small little buds for the cocoa bean
Once the fruit has been opened, this is what it looks like on the inside
We sampled the raw cocoa - very bitter!




"Kakum" is the sound that the Mona monkeys make which created the name of the forest.  The national park is 360 square KM and 8 Ghanian men made the canopy walk in just 6 months.  There are 7 bridges in the forest, 600 butterflies, 300 birds,  4 different species of monkey and various forest elephants.  If you want to be REALLY adventurous, you can stay the night in a tree-top and see the nocturnal animals.   (That is of course, next on my list!)

Fresh out of my BOOT - hiking in the Kakum forest

Me and 2 of my 7th grade students.  Not sure they were happy to vacation with their teacher



You can stay in a TREE HOUSE at night and see the animals in the forest
EEK - thank goodness I am not afraid of heights







Nicole, Joe and I - on top of the world
The whole group survived the hike

The ledge you step on to go over the bridge
Bamboo trees



After our TOP OF THE WORLD excursions we headed back to the beach to relax.  The sounds of the waves and cool breeze were a welcome change to the fast pace of the city of Accra. 

The remainder of the day was spent swimming in the ocean, playing with some kids on the beach, watching sunsets and being introduced to the famous BIG BOOTY game (too many details for this one blog post!)  :)  

Kosa beach resort

All the trees were painted with different flags



Gorgeous beach




These two cuties came up to me while I was reading

Yup, I couldn't say NO - I bought bananas



Playing in the ocean


This was so precious, I was fortunate to capture a moment



Hard not to be when you are on this beach



Sally and her ENO!  Chillin' in style










Monday we geared up for our trip back home to Accra, but stopped at one more place.  Cape Coast castle was at the forefront of the triangular trade between the 3 continents of America, Europe and Africa.  






Cape Coast castle panoramic view


















Kids posing for a picture

LOTS of Ghana's livelihood depends on the coast



This was actually above the door where they led the slaves to the boats










"May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity..."


As I was standing in the dungeons hearing about the conditions that these people went through, I found myself getting emotional.  Feeling insecure crying in front of people I did not know, I took a break from the tour and began to process the magnitude of it all. 

My emotions ranged as far as the east is from the west.  I felt DESPAIR that we as humans could treat each other in this manner for well over 4 centuries, DISGUST that actions were not taken sooner to end this injustice, REVERENCE that I was able to step foot in history and stand where other brave people have stood and GRATITUDE for my own life and privileges and that I am able to become more aware and learn more about this heritage of West Africa.

Through it all, I realised there were parts of the 3 day weekend that were easy and convenient and there were other parts that were very UNCOMFORTABLE.   Sometimes it is much easier for us (me included) to stick our heads in the sand and pretend parts of history never existed. This was one of those times for me.  I know the reason this was all difficult to process is that LIFE isn't always pretty and it sure as heck isn't always easy, but I have to train myself to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  In EVERY area of my life. 

Again, I go back to the picture of that first step you have to take to cross the huge canopy at Kakum National Forest.  There are 7 shaky bridges that you have to conquer to get to solid ground.  You are high above the tree tops, but the bridges are very precarious. 



Here I am in WEST AFRICA.  Never in a million years would I have guessed I would be living and working half way across the world, but this is a bridge that I have crossed.  There are times when I am VERY unsure of this decision and others when I am excited and enjoying the heck out of this adventure!

No matter YOUR location or your path that you are on in life – there is always a bridge that you need to cross - sometimes several of them.  For some of us....our bridge will be solid and our steps are confident - – for others, it is shaky and there is a feeling of uncertainty in the whole process!

FOR ALL OF US – there comes a time when you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable!