“This White Woman Touched My Balloon!”

Week 12’s academic experience was about as thrilling as previous weeks.  However, I did learn that “moustache” in Twi is “mfemfem.” How adorable is that?!  Other than that, the main development of the week was learning that I’ll be presenting a group oral report on Ghanaian media a week earlier than expected (November 7), meaning I’ll have 2 weeks free for traveling before my first final exam.  Good thing we’re about 12% prepared for that presentation. Eh. (But seriously, uh oh).

My day at Beacon House on Thursday began once again with helping Ben work through a Ghanaian short story, one that was about as ridiculous as the last one about a slow-moving bus driver. This week’s featured 6 Ghanaian ladies traveling to a school to help teachers “work harder.”  Women teachers were taught subjects that had generally been instructed by men, like Math, Science…basically anything that isn’t home/baby-related.  Everyone was just ecstatic that women were taught how to “work harder.” Lord. If this story sounds ridiculous, take a look at what next week has in store:

Before lunch, and because I can’t go a day without something comical happening, I had to deal with removing a wild animal from the classroom.  This ordeal lasted for about 30 minutes (23 minutes longer than it probably should have lasted). The damn creature decided to hide in the corner of the classroom where all the 50+ pound rice bags were.  With the help of this beautiful Swiss lady, I hoisted away about  33% 66% of the bags before zeroing in on the target: a small moderately-sized lizard.

Look at this bastard

After almost shitting my pants when seeing how outrageously long the tail was, and after we she stopped hyperventilating, we armed ourselves with brooms and created a pathway for the little dude to escape outside through. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.  I just can’t resist hyperbole always sometimes.  The experience is pretty comparable to this video. Skip to about 1:52, or watch the entire thing because they’re British which means they’re perfect.

I made it back from lunch just in time to watch the conclusion of the original 1966 Batman film starring Adam West.  I had never seen this movie before, but after seeing the concluding fight scene, I think I will need to watch it about 12 more times. I’m not really sure what the purpose of the cat was, but I’m really glad he/she was an integral part of the scene. Bon voyage, pussy!

After the movie finished, and because the day evidently wasn’t jocular enough, I had to help blow up more balloons for the kids. Look. It’s wonderful that the simplest things like balloon sword fights can bring so much entertainment, but after everybody’s balloon eventually met its demise and with all the tears and demands for roughly 126 more balloons that followed, I was just not interested anymore. I decided to sadistically snatch some balloons just because I found their reactions to the slightest inkling of balloon thievery hilarious.

I can’t even with this kid

Is the loss of a balloon for maybe 4 seconds really worth screaming and bursting into tears over? Geesh. Anyway, the real thing to take away from this experience is the following complaint from 4 year old Michael to one of the house mothers: “This white woman touched my balloon!”

My life. On the bright side, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that day for perhaps the first time in a decade. It was fantastic.

My sandal met its probable permanent demise on the way back to campus that evening. I guess for a $0.25 repair, I shouldn’t be too saddened that it only survived 5 more days.  Rest well, buddy. Maybe we’ll resuscitate you back in New York.

I couldn’t go to work Friday morning because we all had to attend a “lecture” on slavery to “prepare” us for our trip to Cape Coast to visit centuries-old castles where the slave trade was conducted for hundreds of years.  Once the lecturer began by uttering, “The Jews were enslaved by Egypt! Have you heard about that?” I knew my time was about to be wasted. Things deteriorated fairly quickly, culminating in him advising us to not let ourselves be emotionally affected by our visit to the slave castles. He honestly couldn’t understand how people, even those with ancestral connections to the slave trade, could get to the point of tears when walking through the dungeons and seeing the conditions slaves were subjected to.  I could physically feel how offended the entire room was. Pocahontas understands.

Later that afternoon, after acquiring a new pair of sandals by the mall that I struggled immensely expertly bargained down to $12.50, I received a knock on my door. I don’t know what possessed me to open it, but I’m really glad I did because 2 friendly people had come to talk to me! They told me they were just visiting rooms checking up on people, which seemed harmless enough.  After more pleasantries were exchanged, the girl asked me if I knew Jesus Christ. Great. I know where this is going, I thought. “Oh, yeah. I’ve got him on speed dial” I replied in my head.  They didn’t seem too phased when I told them that I was Jewish, and that my Jesus knowledge wasn’t too extensive. “Savior, blah blah” is pretty much what I said when they asked me what I knew about him. After about 20 minutes and they had exhausted the usual nonsense about how nothing done or any accomplishment on Earth matters at all unless I accept Jesus as my Savior, they recommended that I read a book they saw on my roommate’s shelf entitled Hell Is Full of Good People. Yeah. I’ll add that to my damn reading list. They also told me that they’d return shortly with a Bible for me. STILL WAITING! Take it away, April.

We left at around 7:30 Saturday morning for Cape Coast, about 3.5 hours outside of Accra.  We visited Kakum National Park which featured a canopy-walk of 7 bridges, 100-150 (or more. Or less. Not sure) feet above the ground.  This experience was slightly more terrifying than I had expected; the guide told us not to worry if the wood creaked under our feet. I worried. By Bridge 3 my legs were less jelly-like and I was able to enjoy and appreciate the views and moment more.

Just a tad terrifying

The main highlight and real focus of the trip was the visit to Elima and/or Cape Coast Castle. I and a few other people elected to visit just Cape Coast Castle, the youngest of the Ghanaian slave trade castles, constructed in the mid-17thcentury. A reflection session was held after dinner to discuss the trip, and people were able to so eloquently and articulately vocalize their thoughts and feelings, in ways I have never been able to do. 36 hours later I’m still trying to work through exactly how I feel/felt about walking through one of history’s grossest blemishes.  The smells, seeing first-hand the rooms where hundreds of Africans were kept in the dark with no sanitation, hearing the stories of physical abuse and rape…it’s just incomprehensible. The juxtaposition of the beauty of the Castle’s exterior/its location and the understanding of what slaves experienced as they were led through the “Door of No Return” was particularly jarring.

Slaves were led through the Door of No Return, the last door they’d walk through in Africa.

The last view of home the slaves would have.

The beautiful, shiny exterior of Cape Coast Castle.

I don’t know. I went to the Castle having no idea how I would react, or how I would feel. Some experiences take time for its significance to become apparent.  I might not have any direct connection to African slavery, but on a human level, this is an aspect of history that is universally important.  It needs to be understood what drove humanity to conduct these atrocities to help acknowledge or recognize what’s being done today that, while not at the scale of the slave trade, is comparable to the exploitative, power relationships that still exist throughout the world. Oppression didn’t start and end with the Atlantic Slave Trade. My family by virtue of being European Jews suffered through the Holocaust. Minority groups find themselves struggling daily in a society where difference is often equated with inferiority.

I maintain the belief that people aren’t all good or all bad, that seeing and recognizing our own flaws will allow for the acceptance of others.  But acceptance of others can’t come without first accepting and loving yourself. I’ve realized that part of why I have trouble relating to others is because of my unwillingness to let people really know me.  For whatever reason, (fear, I suppose), I came to the conclusion that aspects of my life needed to remain hidden in order to maintain any of the few relationships I have with other people.  While there’s been some progress this past year with self-acceptance, I’m still hindered by lingering distrust and poor self-esteem.  I’ve come across people whom I would love to be open with, but still find myself fearful of them not liking what they see. Them seeing nothing at all has been my preferred solution for so long and breaking from that mindset is something I’ve only recently begun attempting.

If anything, my trip to Cape Coast Castle has helped me recognize the progress humanity has made but also the reality that much more still needs to be done.  It’s helped me recognize this progress in myself and the issues I still grapple with.  It’s helped me appreciate the flawed-nature of humanity, and our privilege that allows us to choose whether or not to overcome these flaws.  Mankind’s unique ability to choose has been humanity’s most detrimental trait. It’s up to current and future generations to make this ability positive, powerful and valuable.

Alright, hope I didn’t lose all of you towards the end there.  To lighten things up, enjoy this scene from last week’s Parks and Recreation. The fact that I cried while laughing during this is a good indication of where my maturity level is:

To my New York/Washington, D.C. family and friends, stay safe and make good decisions!