I used to feel funny about blogging when we went to the beach, like maybe there wasn’t enough interesting stuff to write about, or that maybe I was breaking some missionary/ex-pat code by disclosing the fact that when we need a break from the culture, we head to the beach. It’s not that Ghanaian culture is bad, it is in fact wonderful and full of surprises, but sometimes, it’s just overwhelming, and exhausting, and we want to take a break from having to think about it every time we interact with it.
So we took our friends Karl & Ashley to the beach. But after two full days of sand castling and great food, its time to head back. Along the way we stop off at the slave castle in Elmina, St. George Castle. I’m excited for our friends to learn more about this, Ashley’s father was part of a group that rebuilt a replica of the Amistad at the Mystic Seaport, where it now resides. (to read about the La Amistad incident, [click here]).
It’s been 18 months and four other castles/forts since we’ve been to this castle, so I’m wondering how differently my eyes will see it this time (read about our visit in Sept. 06, [Steve’s thoughts] [Suzanne’s thoughts]). The tour is shorter, less well organized, and the guide not engaged. I feel like I know the castle, even though we’re taking a different route through it. Last time there had been much construction on, getting it ready for Ghana’s 50th, and now there is a fresh coat of paint, and all the scaffolding is gone. About half way through I get that weary feeling and remember, “oh that is how these places of great evil make me feel.” Afterwards, I ask Maddie how she liked it and she says, in a way too perky voice, “I really liked it, it was great.” Who can really say how you’re supposed to feel after visiting a slaving castle, what I know is I feel weary, and sad, and want to apologize to someone. Again.
[last time-Oct. 2006]
The highlight, if you can call it that, of the tour is the “Door of No Return.” It’s an eerie room, with a small entrance and even smaller exit. As I understand it, in Ghana there were three castles, one British, one Danish, and the one we’re touring, Portuguese-Dutch. There were also 45 smaller forts which served as collection points for the slaves that were bought and sold. From the smaller forts, the slaves were transferred to the one of the three Castles, and there, loaded on the slaving ships which were docked there in the deeper harbors, readying for the transatlantic journey. This “Door of no Return” was the last one they went through before they board the ship, never to return to West Africa.
Last time I took a photo of Anna in that room, it too was eerie, and I was wondering if I could recreate that shot to show how much Anna had grown. Days later, as I was reflecting on it, I realized that she too has passed through a door of no return. Not into slavery, but womanhood, she came as a child and returns to the states, a teenager.
[Anna 18 months ago]
[Anna, last month] I don’t think we appreciate how many doors of no return we pass through. Life is pretty continuous, and then we do something to break the continuity, and then never can we return to life the way it was. Sure we can come back, but never return. I think about a friend of mine who helped manage Lebh Shomea, that Catholic House of Prayer and silence and solitude in deep south-coastal Texas I used to go to each year (thanks Alison!). After years of being welcomed by this white haired rascal of a woman (who reminded me of my sister Sheron), the last time I was there, she wasn’t. This was the trip where mid-week Suzanne learned that she had been named a Fulbright Scholar, and texted me the news. Little did I know then how much texting would become a way of life in Africa. Anyway, when I asked the Father what had happened to Janet, he said, “she resumed her life in Port Lavaca.” I was struck by his choice of words, resumed her life. At the time I accepted it fully, but now I wonder, was she really able to hit the play button on her life, and resume it? It’s the thing they warn you about on one of the Walk to Emmaus, that you may go back changed, but the world you were a part of hasn’t, you can’t go back, you can’t resume it, its one of those doors of no return.
Another thing that was different about revisiting St. George’s Castle was that Dennis, Eric’s brother, came along for the tour. I remember this same funny feeling when Emmanuel and I toured Fort Metal Cross last year [read about it]. Dennis, like Emmanuel was stoic in his reaction, or non-reaction to it all. Dennis seems unmoved, and I wonder if he has just grown up with the reality of what happened here, or now misses its significance. It is unnerving.
[Dennis, wondering if there is another way out]
[The view out the door, at a passing fishing boat]
After a quick lunch (ordered before the castle tour, as food often takes an hour to prepare once ordered) we’re off on a futile trip into the rainforest to do the canopy walk. When we get there, we find it closed at 3:30, and we got there 3:45. Considering the way things mostly run on African Time, it is a shock to us that they are enforcing the closing time and won’t let us in.
[Yes…its the Family Christmas Card shot inside a Slaving Castle]