Elmina Slave Castle: Ghana, Africa

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I recently returned back to the States after nearly three weeks in Western Africa. It was an absolutely amazing, life-changing time, and I’m still reeling from all that I learned and experienced there.

One of the places I visited was Elmina Slave Castle. Located right on the coast, the gorgeous scenery is sharply contrasted by the horrors of its history. Poems are not my strong suit, but I composed one, anyway, following part of my journal entry about it.

 

 

May 15, 2015:

I’m more than overwhelmed as I try to sum up my emotions and experience from today.

We got up at 4:30am to head to the slave castles, which was a long drive away; I’m not even sure how long because I ended up falling asleep on the bus, still tired from the bustle of the last few days. After a quick breakfast on the road, we arrived at Elmina Slave Castle. Dr. E had told us prior to the trip that visiting this place (as well as Cape Coast Castle, which we experienced later) would be on the same caliber as visiting concentration camps in Europe, and it was absolutely true. We stepped inside the fortress, admiring the beautiful structure and the waves crashing along the shore, but everything changed when our guide started telling us about the history. For nearly two hundred years in this beautiful castle, African men and women were captured, held against their wills in unspeakable conditions, beaten, starved, tortured, and shipped off as slaves to Europe and the Americas, with women left behind to serve as sex slaves.

There was a cannon ball on the ground, and our guide explained that “rebellious” women were forced to stand chained to that cannon ball for days in the beating sun, with no food or water, and sometimes ordered to pick up the cannon ball and hold it, a difficult task for a healthy man, but nearly impossible for a starved woman. Zarek picked it up and I extended my hands.

“You won’t be able to,” he warned.

“Let me try.”

He slowly placed it into my outstretched hands, supporting most of the weight still himself, and even then, my arms began to shake under the weight of it. I tried to imagine how these women could have done it, and felt a lump rise in my throat. “Take it back,” I whispered, and he did, setting it back on the ground.

As we stepped into the female slave dungeon, I immediately got goose bumps and felt the hair on my arms rise. I don’t know how to describe what I felt. It was as if I could hear the voices of all of the women who experienced the horrors here while the Portuguese and Dutch soldiers enjoyed clean, luxurious rooms and went to church—church! I’m embarrassed to be a Christian—above these hellholes. I could sense their souls crying out to me. Mariah walked over to me and whispered, “Can you feel their spirits, too?”

I nodded wordlessly.

Our guide then took us to a holding “room” (if it can even be called that) with a heavy wooden door and a foreboding skull and crossbones above it. We all stepped inside and then he shut the door, which closed with an echoing thud and left us all in complete darkness.

“This,” he said slowly, heavily, from the other side of the door, “is where the women who attempted to fight off their traffickers were sent, to be made as an example for the other female slaves. They would be shut up in here with no food or water until they died of thirst and starvation.”

My heart was pounding, and I fought against the panic rising in my chest as the voices grew louder and louder, calling out for mercy, for peace, for justice. Our guide unlocked and opened the door and I stumbled out into the blinding sunshine of the courtyard, gasping and utterly overwhelmed. The tears I’d been fighting against all morning spilled over, streaming hot and silently down my face.

 

Elmina

Here in this place

where souls were extinguished

and humanity forgotten,

the sun’s warm embrace envelops me;

She is scorched and burned.

I run my hands along the cool stone wall

as she is thrown against it.

The ocean breeze gently kisses my face and caresses my hair;

soldiers strip away her clothes and dignity.

Waves beckon, inviting me to enjoy their frothy playground.

They carry her to her death.

Akwaaba! You are most welcome here!”

“Filthy whore.”

And as her lost voice cries out to me,

I open my eyes and realize

the salt on my cheeks is not from the sea.

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One Holiday at a Time, Please

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I love the holidays. I’m the kind of person who goes all out when it comes to decorating and having a holiday spirit. I think my family resents me a bit once December 1st hits, because I turn into Cindy Lou-Who, throwing lights and glitter and decorations everywhere and sometimes I think I even start singing that creepy song the Whos all sing. (I’m not entirely sure what fahoo forays even means; that doesn’t stop me from singing it, anyway.)

But I turn slightly Grinch-like when I’m walking down the street, enjoying the autumn colors and weather just starting to turn chilly, when I’m suddenly assaulted by a giant inflatable snow globe with Santa and dancing reindeer. Some of my neighbors don’t even wait for Halloween to end before they start decorating for Christmas, so I turn into Dr. Seuss; only my message is slightly different than his.

I quite enjoy the holidays; this is a fact that’s true. But Christmas lights so early? What’s a poor girl to do?

We should just be enjoying each season in its course, but Thanksgiving gets trampled by the prompt Christmas force.

I stand on the sidewalk without any snow, puzzling at lights. How can it be so?

Maybe Christmas, I think, doesn’t come in December. With decorations up early, it’s hard to remember!

“They’re hanging their lights up?” I snarl with a sneer. “It’s only November! Winter’s not even here!”

But they have their ribbons and bright Christmas tags, while pulling lights out of their boxes and bags.

“But wait!” I call out. “We still have some time!” But nobody listens, so I write this rhyme.

‘Cause they pull out their wreaths and their bows and their holly, and hang them up in September, all Christmas-y jolly.

What happens then? In Rochester, they say, Katie’s warm heart shrinks three sizes that day.

Decorations are good, knick-knacks a wonder; but let’s not steal poor Thanksgiving’s thunder.

I’d like to turn Grinch-like and snatch lights away, returning them on the appropriate day.

A bare street with no lights till December! What then? But swords are not mightier than my little pen.

For we all saw what happened to our dear Grinchy friend when he stole the Whos stuff; he gave it back in the end.

So I sigh and put up with Christmas so soon, and hope someday, someone listens to my tune.

My friends, welcome holidays in its assigned term, ‘cause lights before Thanksgiving just make me squirm.

Seriously, guys; let’s take one holiday at a time.

The Solitary Creeper: Wordsworth From a Woman’s Perspective

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I can’t help but wonder what Wordsworth’s poem The Solitary Reaper would look like if it had been written by the woman’s perspective. (Click here for the original poem first if you’re not familiar with it. Or else, you know, this won’t be funny and you’ll just think I’m crazy.)

The Solitary Creeper

I stand here, single in the field,

A solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by myself;

I spot him in the grass.

Alone he sneaks—oh girls, beware—

And gives a melancholy stare.

O listen! Pining on on the ground,

The field overflows with sound

No nightingale did ever chaunt

More noisy notes to present tense

He believes that I don’t see him haunt

Poor soul. He’s so very dense.

A voice so grating ne’er was heard

From the peacock to the magpie bird

Breaking the quiet of the day

By stalking me. Oh, happy day.

Will he not tell me what he wills?

Perhaps he’s playing hide and seek

Or seeking something in the hills?

Get me far from this geek.

Why should he stand there, stare at me?

It takes self-restraint not to flee.

Maybe he’s lonely, or wants a wife?

Dude—no. You need to get a life.

What’er the cause, this maiden knows

Dating creepers means tragic endings

So I continue at my work,

Hope it’s bad signals that I’m sending

And breathe a sigh of sweet relief

When he slinks away like a thief.

But the creeped-out feeling I still bore

Long after he was seen no more.

Mary

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A big theme of my writing for my capstone project is the idea of heaven. I like to contemplate heaven because so many people I love are there. I miss them. I lost my Grandma (above with my Grandpa…aren’t they the cutest?!) when I was eight years old. A little kid can only fathom so much about cancer. I barely grasped the concept. Sure, Grandma was sick, but she’d been sick before, and she would get better.

I practically lived at my Grandma’s house when I was growing up. One of the many benefits of being homeschooled was that I could pack up my books and take them to her house while my Mom took care of whatever she needed that day. I’d sprawl out on my stomach on her living room floor, kicking my legs back and forth as I worked through science and spelling and math.

“Which picture do you think I should use to practice my handwriting on, Grandma?” I remember asking her one day.

She had paused for just a fraction of a second. “Well, why don’t you describe them to me, dear?” Everyone was “dear” to Grandma Mary.

I winced. It was hard for me to remember she was legally blind sometimes. She had a way of looking straight through you with those gentle, clear brown eyes that made it easy to forget.

“Sorry, Grandma.” I’d hoped I hadn’t embarrassed her.

“It’s okay. I want to know about them. You tell me what they look like.” She closed her eyes and waited.

I peeked up at her for a minute but when she didn’t move, I began slowly, “Well…they’re, like, borders, you know, around the lines where I have to write.” I faltered miserably.

“Mm-hmm.”

“And, so, one of them is zoo themed. It has elephants and lions and a monkey and…stuff.”

“What is the monkey doing?”

I laughed. “He’s hanging from a tree with his tail and making a funny face at the tiger, ’cause he can’t reach him.”

She laughed, too. “What about the other one?”

“It’s flowers. Roses and daisies and….what are the ones that look like little white bells?”

“Lilies of the valley?”

“Yeah, those.”

“Oh, those are my favorite.” She opened her eyes and smiled. “Why don’t you do that one?”

It’s funny, but I look back at that time and realize that’s where my love for describing things began. I wanted my Grandma’s approval on everything, so I became a storyteller focused on describing things to the smallest detail for her. “Grandma, Mom bought me this new sweatshirt, and it’s reversible. Which side should I wear? One side is just pure sky blue, and one side has lilac and pink stripes. Well, not stripes, really, but…they’re…” I stopped, frustrated.

“Keep going.” She was always encouraging me to find the right words when I felt stuck. “What do they look like? Not stripes?”

“No. Well, they are, but…they’re those really skinny stripes. That make boxes because they crisscross each other.”

“Lilac and pink plaid?”

“Plaid!” That was the word. “Which side should I wear?”

“Oh, the sky blue. It’s perfect for this spring day. Is it nice outside?”

“SO nice, Grandma. It’s sunny now but there are the best puddles out front from that rain storm. Your lilacs are blooming in the back and they make the whole yard smell wonderful. Your violets are up, too–the dark purple ones and the white ones with the purple streaks like whiskers on the flower’s face. And so are those….what are those yellow flowers that grow on your fence? You know, the ones that make a tunnel that I can crawl through and it’s so thick no one can see me.”

“My forsythia are blooming already?!” Grandma loved her flowers. She patted her thighs in excitement, her traditional way of clapping.

“Yeah!” I loved being her eyes. I wanted to do what she loved. I wanted her to be proud of me.

I miss her.

~~~~~~~~~

In a place where you’ve transcended time and space, where redemption has won, you are free.

Your name is engraved in eternity, the concept of sadness baffling; from there, I know you’re watching me.

In a place where you observe me, your loving eyes so clear,

With the brightness of the sun below you, no more pain. Not a single tear.

My life decisions occasionally arouse fear. Would you approve? Would you be proud?

Where the purist is given salvation, the symphony plays for you harmoniously. Loud.

Instantaneously, I realize my doubts are unfounded, my worries without cause.

For when I close my eyes and listen with my heart,

I swear I can hear your applause.