Coconut Grove, Bridges of Death and Hungry Crocodiles

This past weekend, our fabulous director, Leslie Steeves, surprised us with lush accommodations at a resort called Coconut Grove right outside of Cape Coast on the beach. At home in Accra, our house is well equipped but very basic, lacking hot showers. But given the heat and humidity we deal with here, cold showers are often a refreshing treat in the morning. Three hours from Accra, Cape Coast was cooler and much less polluted than Accra. My first hot shower in over a week at Coconut Grove felt like a small miracle along with icy cold air conditioning, a delicious menu at their restaurant and a lovely pool. While in Cape Coast, we visited two different slave castles. Walking through the castles was an experience that I will never be able to convey in words but it pressed down upon me with sadness and horror at the conditions that people lived in for months before they had to endure the terrors of the trip across the ocean. The walls of the dungeons themselves held the memories of the thousands of people that passed through. There were literally scratch marks in the concrete from people reaching out in pain. Hearing about the rape of African women by British, Dutch and Portuguese soldiers was particularly hard for me. I hope that the period of history of the slave trade will never be repeated again and such injustices will always be fought against.

On Saturday, we changed pace and went on a canopy tour in a nearby rain forest. I am terrified of heights, but I prepared myself for the bridges above the canopy that we were warned about. However, I wasn’t ready for the bridges. No way. They consisted of a one foot wide board held aloft by ropes and a rope fence keeping you walking hundreds of feet above the rain forest floor. Each bridge was maybe a hundred feet long. I can not think of a worse challenge for someone terrified of heights. Luckily for me, one of my group mates sang to me as we crossed together, me hyperventilating, him chatting away happily. It was quite an experience. There were about seven bridges, linked together by small stands surrounding tree trunks and they all swayed with a vengeance. By the time I finished the last bridge, I was soaked in sweat and my legs felt like they might give out. But I finished alive and we all headed off to lunch in our Chinese bus.

Lunch was a whole other adventure. We went to Han’s Cottage, an eatery located above a crocodile pond. In my mind, I imagined eating and watching a few crocs swim by. In actuality, we were seated next to one of the landing strips of the crocs and then introduced to the one perched on the shore by an emotionless restaurant worker. She charged 1 cedi ($1 U.S.D.) to touch the tail of the croc. So of course a couple people do and at this point I am thinking this lunch was a really terrible idea. But in Ghana it takes forever to get food so we didn’t have anything else to do but stare at the crocodiles and watch as the crazy restaurant lady brought out raw chicken to feed the damn things.

Right at this point, almost as if the fates collided, a huge group of children arrived with only three or four adults in tow to watch the crocodiles. Things get worse. As the kiddies watch the woman feed the croc meat from her stick, a different crocodile lunged out of the water from behind the children and scared them all half to death as well as making me wonder if we had a casualty. With signs all around warning that the restaurant would not be held responsible for accidents, the children ran into our seating area, screaming, laughing and crying. But amazingly enough, the woman still showed no emotion and continued feeding the croc and for at least a half an hour, the children would push forward onto the shore to watch the crocs and then scream and run back toward us at the slightest sign of motion. I thought my poor heart would give up after all the stress of the bridges of death and the terror of those children. And to top it off, lunch finally came and it totally stank. Literally. The rice smelled like cigarette smoke. So with no food, little water and the noises of children’s screams reverberating in my skull, I climbed back into our bus and returned to Coconut Grove where I nursed myself back to health with a shower and a (few) beers.

Today is the first day of my internship at Public Agenda, a private newspaper focusing on sustainable development. I will be following reporters around and hopefully getting a chance to write a few of my own stories. The paper has features on women and gender issues, government policy and the environment to name a few. I think the process of learning how the media works first hand will be a great experience. Already, I have met all the reporters and we even went out to lunch together where I had Red-Red, a yummy dish of beans colored by red palm oil and fried plantains. I had not yet eaten at one of the many stands on the side of the road, but I got my Red-Red today from a little stand around the corner from Public Agenda and it only cost 50 cents, which is definitely the cheapest meal I have had so far. It was great too! Tomorrow is Republic Day, so our group is heading to Labadi Beach, where it’s rumored 100,000 people gather to celebrate. It should be a grand time. Now that I have internet access at work, I will hopefully be able to post pictures soon.

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