Semester at Sea: Going Ghana

A picture of a sign at the end of a trail in Kakum National Park, Ghana, that reads, "You survived. Please hand over your badge here. Good bye."

Editor’s Note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is on Semester at Sea this spring and has agreed to blog about her experience. Catch up with her previous entries here.

A picture of Ghanaian children.

Ghanaian children.

Coming out of uber-European South Africa, Ghana was a whole different world. Since Myanmar, the countries we’d been visiting – India, Mauritius, South Africa – had been getting progressively wealthier; but when we landed in a place where most people in the city are living in one or two-room shacks, you’re reminded again that most of the world doesn’t look like Europe.

Ghana is FULL of color. Women in bright clothes and bold patterns walk along the roadsides, balancing bowls on their heads with goods inside for sale. Kids are everywhere, too: babies slung around their mothers’ backs and groups of school-age children walking adorably in their matching uniforms. It’s tropical, hot and muggy, with wonderful, heavy food (I ate my weight in plantains). And everything runs on Africa time, i.e. the bus will get here …when it gets here.

A picture of a man seated at a table with colorful bowls filled with water for hand washing.

The first thing our waitress put on our table was a bottle of soap and two bowls filled with warm water – for us to wash our hands! I ordered fufu, a ball of dough that Ghanaians eat with their hands and then rinse at the dinner table.

People here love to sing, and as you can imagine, Ghana’s got the bongo-music scene on lock. But when Ghanaian guys discovered that I was from the States, they would immediately start throwing out American rap lyrics (“You know Lil’ Wayne, yah?!”). True cross-cultural bonding thanks to Weezy, check.

The most impactful part of Ghana for me was the day I visited the former slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina. It’s one thing to read about slavery in a textbook, but another to experience buildings that, at one time, were shipping 60 percent of slaves from Africa to Europe and the New World.

A picture of the "Door of No Return" shown in shadows.

The “Door of No Return” led to waiting ships on the coast, where enslaved Africans who had already spent months in the dark would be packed and transported out of Africa forever.


A picture of Elmina slave castle in South Africa.

Inside the Elmina slave castle. The castle acted as a depot where captured slaves from the African interior were brought and sold to Portuguese traders.

I walked through the dungeons where hundreds of African people were packed in and abused for months; saw the chambers where they’d be sent to starve and die; and climbed to the top of the lookout towers to see the coastline that was once filled with cargo ships. It’s hard to describe how haunting, and surreal it was to be in this place with this history, now empty and hollow.

The castles were powerful places to visit, but Ghana is definitely a different place today than it was 300 years ago. I also trekked through the rainforest, where, I enjoyed seeing this sign at the end of one trail at Kakum National Park:

I also spent a day learning how to drum and dance with a university performing arts troupe. My acting class is studying how other cultures use the performing arts to tell their stories, so in Ghana, naturally, we learned about music. No photos, but the performance that the troupe and my class put on for the shipboard community later on was packed and tons of fun, I promise. I love that for all of these countries we’re able to bring a little piece of it back with us, whether it’s a souvenir or a song!

A picture of a sign at the end of a trail in Kakum National Park, Ghana, that reads, "You survived. Please hand over your badge here. Good bye."

One Comment on “Semester at Sea: Going Ghana

  1. Lauren, I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog… Thanks for making the effort to include us. Having lived in West Africa for a time, I was prompted to write today by the caption of your Elmina slave castle photo.

    I think the U.S. general public is largely unaware that the slaves purchased by Portuguese and Spanish slavers, were captured and removed from their villages by other black Africans. “Black-on-black” slavery was prevalent throughout Africa in the 19th century. That doesn’t excuse the “demand” provided by the U.S. market, but I am not a fan of politically-motivated revisionist history.

    Of course, most people still believe (and our schools continue to teach) that Columbus was Italian!

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