17 February 2011

The Atlantic Ocean Meets the Indian Ocean

We are nearing Cape Town, South Africa and the spot where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.  The Cape is notorious for its violent seas, and we have definitely had a small taste of a rough ocean passage last night.  Right now, we are steaming in a holding pattern outside the Cape Town port, waiting for the wind to die down so we can safetly enter. 

This is the end of another long stretch of classes, and even a few mid-terms for some students.  Although we are not quite to our half-way point in the voyage, we are almost to the half-way point in class meetings.  This is due to the fact that there are several short stops in several more contries after India.  Then we have one more long stretch or courses, and final exams as we cross the Pacific Ocean. 

I promise more pics soon.

Last day in Ghana

My last day in Ghana it was slightly rainy. Although it was muggy, it made the day more enjoyable, since the Market I visited was much less crowed. The experience was pretty overwhelming so I just jotted down some words and phrases that came to mind during the day. By the way, Ghana is known for Ashanti Kente fabric, woven by the men of the Ashanti villages and apparently coveted all over western Africa. There is definitely some Kente fabric coming home with me.

Brown, dusty roads, verdant trees, green vegetation, palm tress, coconuts, streams, shoreline, beaches, crashing waves, the Atlantic Ocean, fish nets, long and stout, men pulling the nets ashore at mid-day, Port, Construction Zone, workers, shipping containers, metal, steel, colors, greasy, dirty, long hours, market stalls, Cedi, sellers, buyers, traders hawking wares, vibrant colors, post Cards, bags, fabric, cloth, instruments, drums.

John the Port Agent, ride into town, Market stalls, rabbit warren, small alleyways, twisting and turning, lost, found, backtrack, kitchen stalls, fabric stalls, shoe stalls, salon stalls, fish stalls, food stalls, bean stalls, corn stalls, everything stalls, music, people talking, rhythms, cadences, rain on aluminum, open drainage, food, fish, friendly faces, questions and answers, beautiful, yellow, red and green, shopping, noise, cars, trucks, largest roundabout, finding town, finding home.

Wednesday’s Adventures with Professor Nelson

Ghana (February 9th)

I love architecture, and I love field work. On Wednesday, a couple of the ships staff and faculty members traveled to a two remote Slave Fort sites with Professor Nelson. First of all, props to Professor Nelson for arranging the trip.

We head out of the port area toward the small coastal community of PrincessTown. Getting there is always half the fun, and on this trip it was more like all the fun. About 3/4th of the way there, our driver tried to traverse the wrong side of a mud slick. Needless to say, we were stuck. The 4 guys that were with us tried rocking the van and pushing it out of the mud, but we just didn’t have enough muscle. Luckily, a few locals walking by recognized that we were obviously foreigners in need of assistance. Upon reaching the next village, which was only a short walk away, the locals sent back a large group of young men to help us out. With their help, we got the van out of the mud, and then had some fun taking pictures with our rescuers. On a side note, the young men also seemed to have a huge amount of fun copying our accents; many of them could pick up our accents on the first try.

After getting back under way, we headed to PrincessTown, where after a short hike, arrived at the ruined remains of an impressive Slave Fort that was once captured and then run as a successful slaving enterprise by a local Ghanaian Chief named John Konie. It was great to stretch my analytical muscles and try to read the fort as architectural remains, something I haven’t done in a while. We also meet several of the locals who either work at or just hang around the Fort with the head grounds keeper. After looking around for an hour, our new friends procured some coconuts for us, and I drank my first full coconut and then ate the inner pulp. It was fabulous.

We then headed for lunch at another local resort, where we actually ran into several SAS students, faculty and staff. The lunch was excellent, and mostly consisted of grilled lobster, chicken, stir fry and a local corn dish.

Our last stop of the day was another slave fort in a town called Dixcove. This one was quite large, and had some of the most elaborate ornamentation in the original structure. I plan on writing more about this site later, once I get the chance to do a bit of research.

When we arrived back at the ship, we learned that the ship had just received our promised supply of fresh water. The port had been unable to provide the ship with enough fresh water earlier in the week, and we had been forced to enforce a few periods of water shut-down to preserve our reserve supply. However, with the new supply working, we all had the change to shower and scrape the mud off from our earlier adventure.

The Water Village

Poverty tourism really embarrasses me. Sometimes I get sucked into the experience and don’t realize until too late that a trip may be just that, poverty tourism. I want to make a promise now that I will strive never to experience a place through the lens of the complete other, taking pity on those who surround me. I will strive always to be connected to the experience and try to appreciate the richness of a differing or even opposing culture without judgment. I understand that this may prove hard depending on the situation. I also understand that this may not always be possible, but trying is paramount. Trying is liberating. Trying is what I will strive to do.

The needed preamble to this discussion is a visit we made to a tourist spot in Ghana called the Nzuelo Water Village. This village is strikingly beautiful, set amid the wetlands of coastal Ghana.  The village itself is totally suspended on posts and beams above the surface of an expansive lake. The only way to reach the village is to climb into a local canoe (seating no more than 5 people) and paddle for about 50 minutes through a maze of canals, streams and small swamps. On a separate note, I saw a cormoran – which in my opinion is one of the most exotic sounding birds.

After reaching the village we were lead through the main section to a small community center. We really didn’t have a change to speak with anyone but the chief and we were only in the village for about 40 minutes total. The experience was fascinating, but it really made me think about why I wanted to visit a “village” to begin with. Was it the architecture, the people or just the “village” expectations that I was trying to fulfill? I still don’t know, but I am trying to work it out.

After paddling back down the waterways that lead to the village, we heading to an embarrassingly great meal at a local resort.  It is striking to do such seemingly opposing things in such a short time.  We then got a change to walk down one of the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches I have ever encountered, and we were definitely the only white people for miles.  The local population was playing, traveling, working, fishing and hauling in their long shore based nets while we strolled down the beach.

Our walk ended at the Slave Fort of Apollinare, a restored structure that has wonderful exhibitions of local history and culture, developed and maintained by the local community.  All in all, it was a great day.  However, I have definitely seen some things that have made me re-evaluate myself and my motivations, which is what any successful travel experience should do.

Reflection on Ghana

We arrived in Ghana early Sunday morning.

On Sunday and Monday (Feb. 6th and 7th), I traveled to several castles and slave dungeons, as well as a unique water village.  The water village was interesting.  The village itself is several hundred years old, but it is constantly being rebuilt due to its location above the waters of a large natural lake.  The entire village is built on stilts that are sunk at regular intervals into the lake bed.  It was rather hard to determine the total population, as we only had a quick tour, but it is home to possibly a hundred or so people (maybe more).  We met the local chief, but it was strange to walk through this intimate village as pure tourists.  I am still processing the visit, and don't really know yet what my opinion of the whole situation will be.

On Sunday, we visited two sites that had formerly been slave dungeons and defensive coastal castles.  These sites were built and expanded by various colonial powers over a period of about 250 years.  I still can't put into words exactly what I experienced at the sites.  Even now, I am having a hard time processing the fact that these structures once housed hundreds and thousands of humans who were kept in such in-human conditions and treated as no more than dumb animals, then shipped over the Atlantic Ocean to unknown lands, never to return.  Along the very same course that we travelled from Brazil to Ghana, simply in reverse.

While at one of the slave dungeons, we walked out through the large set of doors known as the "Door of No Return".  We stumbled instantly from a quiet and somber tour through the fort into the heart of a local gathering of fishermen and their families, preparing their gear and boats along the coast at the foot of the structure.  It was a riot of color and sound.  We were surrounded by people shouting and laughing.  It was such a contrast, it was hard to comprehend.  Especially after experiencing the depths of the slave dungeons.  Both should be remembered, both scenes should remain as testaments to the resilience of the spirit.

04 February 2011

The Atlantic Ocean and Sea Olympics

We are now more than half-way across the Atlantic Ocean.  As we get nearer to Ghana, the excitement on board is definitely increasing.  It also may have something to do with the fact that we held our opening ceremonies for the Semester At Sea, Sea Olympics.  Everyone on board has the opportunity to be in a "Sea", which is pretty much the equivalent of a residence hall at a land university.  Each sea competes throughout two days of light-hearted competition, including events such as group cheering, dodge-ball, two on two volleyball, trivia, and the crowning event:  a synchronized swimming/comedy routine.

Sea Olympics allowed the whole shipboard community to come together in a great shared experience of competition and all-around fun.  The Red Sea won the Sea Olympics, and the right to disembark in San Diego first after we dock.  Apparently its a big deal to get off the ship first.  I will say, though, that I really loved the Yellow Seas Synchronized Swimming routine, and the Bering Sea's Limbo competitor was very gracious in defeat.  Also, the Aegean sea was amazingly gracious when they were announced as the second place sea.

After the end of competition, we had a wonderful dinner of grilled meats and bar-b-q cooked on the 7th deck by the ship's kitchen crew.  The ribs were delicious, and so were the hot dogs.  Everyone chowed down and probably ate way too much, but it was so scrumptuous, it was hard to pass up.  The evening was crowned with various flavours of ice-cream, chocolate sauce and sprinkles.  What could be better?

Dr. Bill lead the closing ceremonies, and after-wards I pretty much headed straight to bed.  It was an exhausting day, but well worth all the effort.  In retrospect, it is remarkable the amount of creative and organizational talent that went into making the Sea Olympics a success.  Julie, the LLC who facilitated and organized the Olympics definitely deserves a medal.  Without all her hard work, the Sea Olympics would have never happened.

After heading to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour, I was startled awake by an intense thunderstorm.  Although the ship barely rocked during the whole of the storm, the sky danced with curtains of rain and lightening.  It was so interesting to see a thunderstorm at sea.  Without all of the traditional reference points of ground, foliage and geographic features, it was strange to see the storm spread out toward the horizon.  It was also interesting to see lightning strike the ocean surface.  What happens to nearby fish?  Do they get electrocuted?  This is something I will have to research further.

I will leave you with a picture, graciously provided by Mary Johnston, our Voyage Librarian.  Here Julia and I chill under some palms in Dominica: