Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The History Tour

After three weeks of watching highly paid youngsters run around kicking a ball, I've gone all scholastic.

Went round Cape Coast Castle to see how they used to process people. The atrocities of the slave trade are well documented. And I thought that it wasn't really necessary to go and see where they started their voyage.

Well I was wrong. We went into the male slave dungeon and as we descended into the space, the guide, Morgan, turned the light off. Of course some of us lost our footing.

But he'd done it to lend authenticity to our fleeting experience. There was a small hole in the rock which allowed a fraction of light into the dungeon.

He explained the sanitary arrangements. They didn't involve power showers.

Once back outside in the blaring sunshine, we got a few anecdotes about the colonial executives who were overseeing the deal.

The relatively sad story of Letaetia Maclean who came out to Cape Coast to join her husband the governor but who died after a few months.

Was she poisoned by the African woman who'd become the conduit for Gordon's loins in her absence?

Did she kill herself because of raging jealousy?

Or did she die of yellow fever or malaria?

Well apparently it's one of those and not total guilt over what was happening to thousands of people around her.

The govenor's bedroom and hall were joyously bright; a stark contrast to what was transpiring just a couple of hundred metres away.

The cell where they sent recalcitrant slaves was especially grim. No light, no food, no water until they died. The cell was there pour encourager les autres.

Last days on earth in suffocating darkness.

It was back to the Castle for lunch. I could see the sea this time. Heat, darkness, light. The contrasts are powerful.

You know what you're going to get and you get it.

The Mighty Victory

Bizarre name for a hotel but it's got qa bed and a shower even though the light in the ceiling is a bit stark.

I went to a place called the Castle for supper on Monday night. Took the grilled snapper with chips. Sadly it was too dark to see the waves crashing against the rocks. The walk back to the hotel was a bit unusual. I went past people trying to sell salted eggs and other bits of paraphenalia. Some were sleeping by their stalls. I saw two small children wrapped in cloths on the floor snoozing away. And why not. In this heat it makes sense to sleep outside if you don't have air conditioning.

And the smells. Accra seems so antiseptic by comparison. I'm not sure about the chickens which hang out with the families. All I could think was clucking hell.

A phrase not far from that one came to mind when I was on the coach from Accra.

I started to prepare for my passage to the next world when a porter boarded the coach and began to put suitcases by the side exit door.

No-one seemed to think that this might be contravening basic public carriage safety. So why should I come over all sophisticated European.

I realised a few minutes later that my mouth was still open when a fly nearly got in.

When the driver introduced himself to the passengers I thought that's real chummy.

He said that if anyone wanted to to stop they should tell him and he'd stop as soon as he could.

Dressed in a long blue jacket, he seemed more like an avuncular lab technician.

He paused, raised his head skywards and boomed: "Almighty God - guide us to our destination."

There was a unanimous "Amen" from the passengers.

The fly nearly got in again.

I turned to the bloke sitting next to me and asked if this sort of thing happened regularly.

"Depends on the driver," said Joseph as he put the earphone of the MP3 player back in.

Mighty Victory was indeed the appropriate place to stay.