The dust has not settled from our trip north when we reconfigure our daypacks and set out before sunrise, searching for transport to Cape Coast. There’s not much traffic in Accra before six a.m. on a Saturday morning, not the kind that grinds to a halt for 15 minutes at a time, gridlocked in noxious exhaust, as happens in the afternoons. No, the air is actually cool and the streets gray and empty as we go from the STC bus station to Kwame Nkumrah Circle, then to Kaneshie Market, until we finally find a westbound tro-tro and climb in for the 3-hour cruise.
With only two weeks and two-and-a-half weekends left in Ghana, Tay demanded that I see Cape Coast, that no visit to Ghana would be complete without the famous slave castle and nearby Kakum National Park. I am reluctant, weary from the road, but then we learn that the AJWS volunteer summer group will be there, on vacation from their work-site near Hohoe.
The next thing I know, Tay and I are walking across the Cape Coast Castle, looking down at a beach crawling with the activity of hundreds of fishermenâ€”there is ocean mist in the air, and the smell of the sea and human excrement (low tide makes the rocks below the walls one big toilet), and the heights (and odors) remind us of Varanasi.
Upon the ramparts, there are rows of cannon, rusted piles of ammunition, and of course, the dungeons: dark spaces with the old drainage ditches still carved in the mud and brick, places which once stank with the bile, excrement, blood, and fear of “millions of strong Africans,” as the tour guide calls the slaves waiting export to the Caribbean and Americas. It is difficult to comprehend, and Tay and I, having just read Alex Haley’s Roots, which paints this very scene, are affected. Differently, I know, than the African-Americans in our group, visiting from Atlanta. When we reach the “Door of No Return,” through which passed the strongest of the “millions of strong Africans” (the guide uses that phrase again), one of the Americans says under her breath, “I am one of them.”
Our trip to Kakum’s canopy walkway, supposedly the only one in Africa and one of five in the world, passes much too quickly. To be surrounded by living rainforest, to breathe that air, is a feeling without equal, and we have not had such an open, natural experience sine the Serengeti. But there is something poignant about visiting a small patch of protected parkland, a forest which once spanned so much further. One is reminded of Joni Mitchell’s “Take all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum/ then charge the people a buck-and-a-half just to see ’em.” Because we claim volunteer status, and the PPAG name is known in Cape Coast vicinity, we only pay 100,000 cedis to see ’em (about $10), half price for foreigners.
But the highlight of the weekend for me, is not the sights, but being among the AJWS volunteer summer group; we have a long seafood lunch with the trip leaders, Ilan and Ruthie, and spend the evening answering eager questions from the participants, all of whom, in some way, remind me of myself 15 years ago. Then we sit with them and sing during their Havdallah service (to end the Jewish Shabbat on Saturday evening), and the candle-lighting and spice-smelling session turns into a campfire circle, as someone passes me a guitar and cup of Schnapps, someone else plays a newly purchases djembe drum, and we sing the night away.