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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Dominican Republic Adventures

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I’m spoiled.

If you aren’t constantly smiling around the children, something’s wrong.

Let your hair down (literally) and you’ll instantly have three little girls braiding it.

There’s no such thing as giving too much love.

We’ve been blessed with more than we can comprehend, and we’re still not grateful. It’s sad.

People are incredibly kind and tolerant of your Spanish mistakes.

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They will always answer when you ask for the 117th time, “Como se dice….?”

However, if it has been seven attempts and you still cannot pronounce “bracelet,” correctly, the little girl on your lap will throw her hands up in exasperation.

The joy is incredible.

The love for Jesus is incredible.

The contentment is incredible.

You’ll pick up Spanish far faster than you ever thought possible, but you’ll also soon discover the language barrier you feared is broken down with hugs, smiles, and the love of Christ.

The Caribbean Sea is gorgeous.

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The poverty is heartbreaking.

There isn’t enough nail polish in the world to spread on little girl’s fingers and toes.

People here are unbelievably generous. You leave with gifts. They give whatever they have.

It’s one thing to read Jesus say, “Sell what you have and give to the poor”; it’s another thing entirely to experience firsthand why He said it.

A small loaf of bread is $3.

Your arms are full. Another child comes running, arms outstretched so you try to set the two down so the three can sit on your lap, and they instantly panic, afraid you’re setting them down for good. And your heart will break.

There’s basically no speed limit in the Dominican Republic.

Traffic lights and one way streets are basically suggestions.

You’ll never be loved by another human being as much as you are loved by DR orphans.

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Gas is nearly $7 American a gallon.

The friendly bus driver who speaks little English will still have his fun by pointing near your foot and saying, “Ay! Tarantula!” and then laugh his head off when you jump up in a panic.

I need to pray more.

Don’t try to fix everything (American mindset.) Love them.

You can’t comprehend how huge a problem sex trafficking is until you see with your own two eyes.

The deep faith young orphan girls possess will put your own to shame.

Don’t take antibiotics for granted. You’ll realize how spoiled we are with American medicine when you suddenly spike a fever and are delirious. Thankfully, you have a healing God and amazing team who will cover you in prayer.

Also, don’t take electricity for granted. And clean water…Basically, everything we DO take for granted.

Americans are rude! (First observation back in the States).
You’ll still think in Spanish for the first few hours after you’ve landed in the States.

They need so much more support than we give (emotionally, financially, physically, AND spiritually.)

You won’t leave unchanged.

The faces of all of those babies will never leave you.

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Oh, the Places I’ve Been

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Let me be explicitly clear in saying that I believe that traveling is not only beneficial, but also necessary for people, especially writers. (I should also be clear in saying that the title of this blog post is slightly misleading. I have four stamps in my passport. It’s pretty underwhelming, but I like the sound of the title–thank you, Dr. Seuss–so indulge me, okay?)

There is no comparable experience for learning and being exposed to new material. I’m especially a proponent for visiting countries in which you don’t know how to speak a single word, and spend some of the time you’re there learning how to speak it. Words are beautiful in any language, particularly ones I don’t understand. I also recommend getting lost at least once. Wander around and take in the sights, smells, and sounds and marvel at being in a completely different country. Try a food you can’t identify. Sit in a park and observe people who belong there. There’s just something about sitting on a bench in a completely new country and writing in a notebook.

Recently, I had such an experience. I traveled through my school to Turkey for a whirlwind trip of sightseeing, learning, and visiting Turkish families. It was an incredible, life-changing opportunity that I will never forget.

I don’t remember much of our first night there; we had been traveling for 18 of the last 19 hours and we were all exhausted and bleary from jet lag. I remember sitting in a very nice restaurant and being served an abundance of food, all of which was delicious (other than Ayran, a salty, yogurt drink.) I remember smiling and attempting to say, “Merhaba,” and feeling welcomed by everyone I saw…but that’s about it.

We hit the ground running the next day and didn’t really stop for the rest of the trip. In one afternoon, we toured Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, Basilica Cisterns, and the Blue Mosque. We were all ready for bed by the time dinner rolled around, but then our translator suggested a night walk along the Bosphorus Strait and Rumeli fortress so we instantly shook off our yawns and rubbed the sleepiness out of our eyes. It was a little chilly since we were right on the water, but the air was crisp and the spirit of adventure won out over our exhaustion.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hippodrome

Hippodrome

Medusa head in the Basilica Cisterns

Medusa head in the Basilica Cisterns

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Remember what I said about trying something you can’t identify?

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SALGAM. Aka, the most vile thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.

My friends tried to convince me that it was grape juice, and, while I knew those unidentifiable objects in the basket were most definitely not grapes, I had no idea what they were. “Is it date juice?” I questioned.

There was the briefest pause before they all exclaimed in unison, “Yeah!…..DATE juice!”

It is not date juice, my friends. It is fermented black carrot juice.

When I finally discovered those tiny English words on the bottle and announced in loud horror what it was, there was such an uproar that our translator came in to see what we were doing. We asked him if he drank Salgam, and he took one horrified look at our faces and said, “With fish, sometimes; never by itself!” Anytime we visited a host family and our translator would be chatting in Turkish, we’d suddenly catch the word “Salgam.” He would look mischievously  over at us and everyone would laugh and say what I’m pretty sure is the Turkish equivalent of, “Never by itself!”

On the second day of our trip, we visited Dolmabacce Palace, enjoyed a boat ride on the Bosphorus, went inside Suleymaniye Mosque, and met our first family! I lost one of the slip on shoes they gave us to protect the Palace and didn’t notice until someone pointed it out to me, so one of my professors told me that basically made me Cinderella and I was totally fine with that.

Dolmabacce Palace

Dolmabacce Palace

Rumeli fortress, by day, from the boat

Rumeli fortress, by day, from the boat

Remember what I said about new experiences?

Suleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque

I have been in everything from Catholic to Pentecostal churches, to Orthodox and Messianic synagogues. I had never once stepped foot in a mosque. It was an enlightening and incredible experience, although I did have issues with my head scarf; do you know how difficult it is to have all your hair covered and still be able to retain your peripheral vision?!

The next day, we toured Fatih University, Zaman Newspaper, and went exploring. We found the best public workout place, one of many that we’d seen around Turkey. Since we were walking and not just seeing them from our bus, of course we had to try them out before we caught our plane flying out to Izmir that evening!

Fatih University

Fatih University

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Workout place with an amazing view of the Bosporus

Workout place with an amazing view of the Bosporus

In Izmir, we toured the ancient city of Ephesus, walked around the remains of the Temple of Artemis, toured a pottery place, and met with another family, where, as usual, we were welcomed with overwhelming hospitality, generosity, and food.

View of the Aegean Sea from our hotel room

View of the Aegean Sea from our hotel room

Celsus Library in Ephesus. INCREDIBLE.

Celsus Library in Ephesus. INCREDIBLE.

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

Pottery place in Ephesus

Pottery place in Ephesus

The next morning, we had breakfast with another family and headed off to the ancient city of Laodicea, where we walked among the remains and watched some excavations being done before we headed off to Pamukkale hot springs and visited a high school before flying back over to Istanbul!

Laodicea

Laodicea

Pamukkale ("cotton castles") hot springs

Pamukkale (“cotton castles”) hot springs

Back in Istanbul, we toured a former synagogue turned museum, walked around Taxim Square, toured the military museum, visited St. Antoine’s Church, and met another family.

Turkey is the only predominately Muslim country in the world that has a Jewish museum!

Turkey is the only predominately Muslim country in the world that has a Jewish museum!

Statue in Taxim Square

Statue in Taxim Square

Orchestra performing at the museum

Orchestra performing at the museum

Remember what I said about getting lost at least once?

St. Antoine's Church

St. Antoine’s Church

I guess technically, we weren’t lost; the church was.

Remember also what I said about just sitting on a bench in a park and just taking it all in?

Sunset on the Bosphorus

Sunset on the Bosphorus

Oh, man. Incredible.

The next day, we visited the Journalists and Writers Foundation (HEAVEN) and toured Samanyolu TV station, after which we spent the whole afternoon in the Grand Bazaar, where I learned that I am really, really bad at bargaining. We had dinner one last night with everyone in the restaurant we visited our first night there, and then headed home to pack up. The only thing we had time for our last day was breakfast with everyone, and then it was off to the airport. The flight back to the States was definitely not as thrilling as the flight there.

Loved this place (for obvious reasons)

Loved this place (for obvious reasons)

Turkish TV shows at Samanyolu

Turkish TV shows at Samanyolu

Exploring the park

Exploring the park

Grand Bazaar!

Grand Bazaar!

When I came home, people asked me the same question they asked me when I returned from the Dominican Republic last year: “Would you do it again?” I’m always amazed and slightly confused by this question. Why wouldn’t I? I guess because I love adventures so much, it’s a given that of course I’m going to travel again. Will my next trip be to Turkey? Probably not…the next places on my list are Italy, Israel, and Africa. Who knows where I’ll end up?

Oh, the places I’ll go!

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