Thursday, August 9, 2012
Today we got back from our field trip to Cape Coast. We got to go to two Slave Castles, the Kakum Rainforest and a small village for some community service. We also got to stay at Coconut Grove, a very fancy place that was right on the ocean! I felt like I was a rich woman staying there, it was fun staying at a ritzy place like that.
The first stop that we made was at the Cape Coast Slave Castle. I personally didn’t know what to expect. But it ended up being a very powerful experience. Our tour guide gave us a lot of information regarding the castle and the time, who owned it, and what exactly went on there. The little that I learned about slavery in school, I heard all about the Middle Passage, but nothing about how the Africans were held in the slave castles before they were able to be placed onto a boat. The castle was big and beautifully constructed; it was interesting to imagine having that kind of structure back in the 1400s. We learned about how it was used as a trading post for the Triangular Trading system between the U.S., Europe and Africa and how in exchange for goods-Africans were traded. They were captured and brought to the slave castles. Their ankles, necks and wrists were shackled and immediately upon arrival they were branded with the initials of the company that had traded them. The conditions they faced were horrible. There were up to 200 men in a small room in the dungeon that our group of 20 barely fit comfortably in. They had to eat, drink, puke and go to the bathroom all in the same place. The floor was made of bricks but you could not see them because it was covered with all of those things. Many men died in the Slave castle and even more died during the Middle Passage. Many people have questioned why the Africans were kept in such poor conditions-wouldn’t all the deaths equal a loss of equity within the trading system? The answer is that it didn’t really matter because when the slaves got to America they were auctioned off at a very high price and it made up for the money loss in the trade. To go with that, the men were very strong when they were captured so they treated them that way so they would become very week and suppressed and would not be able to fight back. Our tour guide explained to us that the women had it even worse. Not only did they eat, sleep, drink, puke, urinate, and defecate in the crowded area they were forced to stay in, but they also had their monthly period there and were not able to wash up. So many, many women died.
It was a very sad place to be, but as we discussed more about the story of the African-it became clear to us that this story is not one of sadness-but of triumph. What other people were captured from their beautiful homeland, placed in shackles and sent to a slave castle for months where many of them died, survived the 6-8 weeks of the Middle Passage surrounded by death, germs and sorrow, auctioned off like animals and separated from their families, survived 400 years of slavery, rapes, beatings, deaths, suppression, humiliation, Black Codes, Jim Crow, segregation, lynchings, debt peonage, convict leasing, and racism? And through all that we were able to succeed, stand tall and conquer. To think that it was our ancestors who did all of this makes me even more proud. African Americans should be very proud of who we are and what we come from; we really are some of the most triumphant people in this world.
|We had to walk across 7 of these!!|
The Kakum Rainforest was amazing! We had to walk over seven big swinging bridges and it was very scary, especially for me because I am afraid of heights! It was good for our group because we really got to encourage each other and help each other out in hard times. It was a challenging but fun opportunity. I know that I was hanging on for dear life to the ropes, because the drop down to the ground was faaaaar away and I kept imagining what you always always see in movies whenever there is a swinging bridge-for a wooden plank to break and you to fall through-but luckily that never happened and we all made it across just fine to the end of the adventure.
|The children welcoming us to their school:)|
The last thing that we did was travel to a small village near Cape Coast to read to the children at their local school. In order to get into the many villages around here you have to go to the Village’s Chief and Elders to meet them and let them know of your intentions for your visit. I was kind of scared because I didn’t know what to expect, but it was very nice. We got to go to the palace and shake hands with the Chief and all the elders. They were so sweet and very happy that we were there to help the children of their community. One of the elder’s names was Rose, and when I told her that was my middle name, she fell in love with me and even gave me her address so I could mail her a letter. It was very nice. After we met with them, they walked us to the school and we got to meet some children and read to them. We also got to have a tour of the school, which was very small but very nice compared to many of the other schools that I have seen so far over here. This school even had a small library, and all the children said they loved to read. Before we left the Chief told us to make sure we spread the word about “the Chief who loved to read and help out his community”. They gave us drinks and a bag of coconuts as a gift for coming to their village.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
|Some of the girls from my class:) And Jamil.|
|Nelson and Emmanuel (one of my favorite boys) He is in 2nd grade but|
is much younger than everyone else because he skipped a grade or two.
He's so tiny and adorable!
|One of my favorite students, Jamil. This boy is a Trip!!! You gotta love him.|
For the last two days here, we have been doing community service with the Cheerful Hearts Foundation. We had to split up into three groups after our orientation last week. The groups were the Child Labor group, the Public Health group and the Teaching group. Although all of the options sounded amazing to me, I really wanted to teach so that is what I ended up choosing. I have taught Class 2 (2nd grade) English for two days and 3rd grade African American studies, which is a class that one of my peers and I came up with the whole curriculum for. It has been a significantly rewarding experience, being able to teach these kids. They are so wonderful and so adorable. The minute we walk into their school they are overjoyed! They wave and wave and wave and smile, they are so happy to see us and have visitors. And they are SO eager to be in pictures and then be able to see them. It is such a big kick for them! The main class that I teach which is the 2nd grade English class, has a great group of kids. School is out for all the kids this Friday so of course, they are all a little rowdy, just like anyone else would be on their last days of school before break. But when we aren’t playing games and I am teaching, I found that they are very very smart. Just as smart as any 2nd grader in America, and they live a far less privileged life. The biggest differences in my experiences between elementary kids here, and elementary school kids in the U.S. is that the kids have to wear uniforms daily, in most cases girls have to have very short hair just to be able to attend school, and of course, classroom conditions and technology throughout the school is not as advanced as in America. Another big difference I definitely noticed was that kids really hit each other in class, some of my kids were getting into fights! It was interesting, but at the same time-hitting is really a part of the culture here. For example, even the teacher has a small “whip”…I guess you could call it at her desk in order to discipline the kids. However both of the teachers I have worked with said they rarely use it. It sort of seems like its just for scare like the Trunchbull’s riding crop in the movie Matilda.
Since school is almost over, I got to see a little bit about the grading system in the school that we are volunteering at. First off, there is a difference in the classes the children take here compared to the U.S. Here the children take eight classes: English, a class in their Native language, French, Mathematics, Religion and Morality, Science, and Information and data technology, and social studies. It’s crazy to think that these elementary school kids know three languages while I am an upperclassman at the University of Washington and I really only know one!
Another difference is just how important education is over here. In Africa, kids are so happy if they are able to go to school because many, many are not able to. Either they don’t have enough money for their school fees, they have to help their families with work, or they live in a fishing village, there are many reasons why a child might not go to school. If you asked any child out on the streets, they would tell you that they wanted more than anything, to go to school. The value of education is huge. And that is a great thing about the Cheerful Hearts Organization. It helps fund children to go to school and get healthcare for families who aren’t able to afford it. So most of the kids I am working with are from extremely low income families. It is amazing to me how that doesn’t affect them though. In America, anyone who doesn’t think of themselves as rich complain and bellyache about how poor they are. And they do it A LOT. But here in Africa, some of the poorest people in the world live, and they are so happy. That part really gets to me. I keep hearing Ghanaians say that the poor people are the ones in hospitals who can’t talk or walk or eat by themselves. As long as you have life, you are rich with it and will be fine.
I am very happy to have this opportunity to work with the Cheerful Hearts Organization. It has been great working with the teachers and the students. Tomorrow is their last official day of school and then we will be helping out with Field day on Friday.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Wow...so we haven't had internet here in a few days, and it has been rough! But by the grace of God we got it back tonight and boy am I happy. Today we got to listen to a lecture by a dance teacher from the University of Ghana. It was about Ghanaian dances, and after the lecture we got to learn some dances! For those of you who really know me, you know that I don't have a lot of rhythm and that I am not a good dancer but I can do the dances over here somehow! They are really fun and all the dances tell some kind of a story. I just hope that I remember them when I get back home. In the last couple of days we've also had drumming lessons, listened to a lecture by an excellent professor about Indigenous Slavery, had a big discussion around the unfortunate death of Ghana's President, John Atta Mills and how it will affect the government now and how it will effect the upcoming elections, we've met in small groups and today we had our orientation for our community service! We are doing our community service through the Cheerful Hearts Foundation and the role that I chose was to teach. I am very excited about it! I am teaching 2nd grade English by myself and then I am co-teaching an African American Studies class with one of my peers, Fuadi and I think we are doing 6th or 7th grade. I really can't wait because I love children and I love helping others. We start Tuesday!
|Of all places, my car was in Africa.|
I barely saw it in Washington!
|The Beautiful kids of my dressmaker, Betty. I love them!|
|My friends, Gabriel and Bismark :)|
|A chocolate-banana milkshake|
we found. It was BOMB.
Had me in tears!
|Cute school kids we met. They wanted biscuits! (cookies)|
|My BEST BUDDY Latif and me! Love this boy!!!|
Sunday, July 22, 2012
I got my hair braided today!!! IT ONLY TOOK 3 HOURS. I once got this type of style done in NJ when I was young and it took 7+ hours! It was a great experience, I really got to know all of the beautiful women who took part in it. There was Aggie, Naneya, Adjua, and Susan. We talked about allll sorts of things, and a lot of interesting things do do with marriage and having babies, naming ceremonies and names in general :) I love them! And I love my hair, it looks great, but it hurrrts right now. Well, I guess beauty is pain sometimes. But they said it will stop hurting in about two to three days so yayy! Tomorrow we are working on our individual projects and getting to listen to a lecture by a Professor from Ghana. Good night all!
Yesterday we went on an all day field trip to the city of Accra. We got to go to the Kwame Nkruma Mausoleum, the Art Market, the W.E.B. Du Bois Center, and then we had dinner at a restaurant called Asanka Local.
The Kwame Nkruma Mausoleum was a very interesting place, and we had a tour guide who explained all about his life, reign as President and death to us. We learned that Kwame Nkruma was the first President of Ghana, he fought for and won Ghana's independence, he named Ghana, Ghana, and he was a socialist and believed in Pan-Africanism. All over the walls were pictures of him with prestigious people such as John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., the prime Minister of China, lots of other leaders, even Fidel Castro was at his funeral. We learned that he was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc and that was really cool to me because that means he is my brother, since I am a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. We learned that he had an arranged marriage and his wife was a beautiful woman from Egypt. They had three kids together, two boys and one girl and today his daughter is leading the political party that he started, while one of his sons is in a whole different political party. We learned that he was overthrown, unfortunately by a coup that got its support from the American CIA. The tour guide explained that America was seeing Ghana prospering and they still wanted to be able to use all of its resources and everything, so they decided to overthrow him. He was exiled from Ghana and moved to Guinea where he served as a leader there until he died. Today he is still a figure of importance and independence all over Ghana.
The Art Market was....very exhausting. Imagine going through the vendors at a State fair, add about 200 more vendors with much less space in between them and even more products. Now imagine everyone calling you over or coming and actually grabbing your hand and pulling you over to their shop. Being at the Art Market was difficult for me because I don't ignore people and I want to try and help every person that I come into contact with, plus it is hard for me to say no and I feel bad about negotiating prices....even though you kind of have to do that here. It was pretty stressful, and I spent a lot, but all my purchases I really treasure and everything is beautifully hand made, so it wasn't a waste by any means. However there were some really great parts to it. I made a lot of friends and learned a lot from the people. For example I didn't bring a ton of money with me so of course, I can't buy everything. Sometimes I would tell the person, "I'm sorry, I'm too poor". And they would say, "You are not poor! You are living aren't you? The poor are the people in the hospital who can't eat, talk, or walk". This was a good lesson to me, because I have been financially stressed a lot since I've started college and I sometimes complain about how poor I am, but they showed to me that as long as you are living, you are rich with life. Which is the most important thing. Another lesson I learned there was about the importance of family. At many of the shops I went to, the people working there said that they were brothers and so many actually said that that I was confused. I actually asked Yusef, (my friend in the picture) what he meant, because he was at another shop separate from his and encouraging me to buy something from this man who he said was his brother. When I asked he explained that they were first cousins, but in Africa they consider first cousins as brothers and sisters and they make sure that they are taken care of. He even said, "If I run out of money, this guy will take care of me. Or if he runs out of money, I will take care of him. If I owe him money I will pay him, and if he owes me money, he will definitely pay me". He went on further explaining that in this culture, it is all about taking cafe of one another. I told them how great I thought that was and how in our society competition is within everything. I even told them about how in Selah there are two separate car lots competing against each other and the owners are brothers and they strongly disagreed with that. I agree, with them. I think if families and people in general took care of each other more, the morale of people would be more happy and they would be taken care of for sure.
The W.E.B Du Bois Center was amazing. It was actually his home while he was living here in Ghana. I even got to hold a book that he has touched while we were in his library! We went through his dining room, living room, and bed room and we learned all about his contribution to the Pan-African movement, Civil Rights work and political work that helped those of African descent all around the world. The most interesting thing there was the pictures from his childhood. In college, I have learned a lot about W.E.B. Du Bois and I always knew that he was African American but I figured he was 1/16 or something because of how light skinned he was because all the pictures we saw of him in school was when he was in his far later years in life. There was a picture of him when he was four and he was very dark! I was surprised. The tour guide told us that he had a skin disease (probably vitaligo) that changed his skin from dark to almost all white. He then showed us an older picture of him and you can see the skin color variety in his hands and the lower part of his face. We learned about how because he was dark and people everywhere really did know that he was African American that growing up him and his family got made fun of and discriminated against which propelled his efforts in helping the Black Society throughout his long life.
|This statue is the very spot where he |
declared independence for Ghana
|One of my good friends I met at the|
Art Market, Yusef!
|W.E.B. Du Bois, age 4|
Saturday, July 21, 2012
A very beautiful person who came and spoke to us of identity and finding out who we are.
And not by what other people think we are, but what we truly know we are.
Brothers and Sisters after our drumming and dancing lesson!
A beautiful little girl I met who loved me!
Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois as a young boy.
The most energetic little boy I have ever seen!!! So cute!
Plaque outside W.E.B. Du Bois's house!
W.E.B. Du Bois's in-ground bath tub in Ghana, which made it easier for him to use because of how old he was.
One of my Brothers I met at the market, he was great!
Thursday, July 19, 2012
|Ashesi front lawn entry|
|A member of my group and I.|
|The Beautiful Ashesi School|
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Akwaaba means Welcome. Medasi means thank you. Those are two of the first words that I learned in the Ghanaian language upon arrival. As soon as you walk into the airport (after getting through immigration and the eighteen passport checks) you are greeted again and again with Akwaba. We all felt very welcomed when getting here, which is a great feeling, especially for those of us who have never been out of the country before. Entering the Kokrobite Institute was an amazing feeling. We all knew we were staying here and we had all seen pictures, but to actually be here is a whole different thing. It is beautiful! The staff was also very welcoming and kind. The view from where we eat and have meetings is right on the ocean. It really is such a blessing and honor to have the opportunity to be here. It feels great to be a part of the majority and not the minority, for once. I have not been in the Kokrobite Village for very long, but I have already learned a lot about the culture and its people. Today we went on a tour of the village and saw the Kokrobite Police Post, the Village Clinic, hair, fashion and beauty vendors, food vendors, Coca-Cola and Pepsi vendors, even more vendors, and many schools throughout the area. Everyone was welcoming, but the brightest part of my day was the children. Ghanaian children are so friendly and adorable. They always greet you with a big smile and a wave. I love children and am going to work with them someday, so I think that this is a great start to my future field of practice.
We also went on a wetlands tour. We traveled across the village in a "luxury van" (which was an extremely bumpy, but fun ride) to the beach. It was really cool. There was the ocean, and then an island and on the other side of the island was freshwater. We went on a big canoe in the freshwater and got to go on the island which was a home for the families in the fishing business. Today we also got to witness a performance by Chris Williams, an Australian Didgeridoo player. Not only did he play his instrument for us, but later in his visit he was joined by some Kokrobite drummers and dancers for an amazing cross-cultural performance.
Last night we had an evening performance by a small group from a city close by. After their small show that they gave us we got to do some hands on stuff and I played the drums! It was a different kind of drum than what you usually see, it sat on the floor and you hit it with your fist, or the palm of your had, at the same time hitting it with a small stick. The drummer and I had a nice rhythm going on! It was a lot of fun.
So far this trip has been amazing, and I am sincerely thankful to everyone who helped me out with it and gave me things like bug spray and sunblock because you realllly need it here! I especially want to thank my mom because she made sure that I had everything that I would need! And my grandma, because she bought me some beautiful dresses to wear over here.
Tomorrow we are visiting Ashesi University and traveling to the Aburi Carving Village. I can't wait to tell you about it!
Lovely Scenes from the beautiful, welcoming land of Accra, Ghana.
Group photo during our Wetlands Tour
A small fish that one of the local fisherman caught with his bare hands!
My glorious room :)
All the kids here are adorable :)))))
Our view of the ocean from where we eat and have morning meetings. Beautiful!
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
My name is Courtney Hernandez and I am a junior at the University of Washington. I grew up in Selah, Washington, a small town on the Eastern part of Washington state and attended Selah High School. I am so excited to be majoring in Social Welfare, because my passion is helping others, it always has been since I was very little. I am also majoring in American Ethnic Studies with a focus in African American Studies. I took this route because I wanted to gain a better understanding of the different people in this world, how they came to be here, what they went through and how they have overcome or are currently working on overcoming those things. I chose my focus as African American studies because growing up, I did not learn much about African Americans or their history at all and I was very interested. I am minoring in diversity so I can have the resources to be able to reflect on and critically think about how race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and age interact in regards to social relations. Some of my favorite things are spending time with family and friends, WATER PARKS, being able to attend college, and playing any type of sport. I also love planning things! I have a lot of younger cousins and sisters that I have to entertain so during the summer I am always planning barbecue's, sleepovers on the trampoline, movie nights, bonfire and scary story nights, and so on. We have a lot of fun:) Recently I've had an intense passion for cooking, and am learning as much as I can from my mom. Some interesting things about me are that I've had my tonsils and wisdom teeth removed (wisdom teeth removed just last week!), I can't dance, but I can step, and I have never been out of the country before so this is a really BIG and great experience for me!
Planning for this trip has been a little crazy. Since I've never left the US, I had to get my passport, visa, and a whole lot of other things for the first time. I have two jobs, but all these little things really added up, I even had to end up asking my family for donations. ~And thank you so much to all who gave to the cause! I really really appreciate it~ The thing that was the worst was getting my shots, I am a huge wuss when it comes to needles, but I got it done :) Now all I have to do is remember to take my pills and put on sunscreen and bug spray and I should be all set and stay healthy.
I chose this study abroad program first and foremost because my whole life, I have always wanted to go to Africa. But that was just the first part. This program is titled "Sankofa" which means "go back and take it" and is also often associated with the proverb, "Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi" which means "It is not wrong to go back for what you have forgotten". This program is also a self identity course. I am African American and Mexican American and my whole life I have embraced the Mexican American identity that I have and kept my African American identity on the back burner. I did so because that was all that I knew. At my school there was no African American people, we didn't learn about African Americans, and I did not live with my African American family. I believe that as and African American woman it is very important for me to connect with my history, my past, and my ancestors. That is where "Sankofa" sets in. I know that this trip will do wonders for my personal development. I have set out a list of things to do to ensure that I will come back a changed person. I know I will be impacted greatly, and I am so excited to meet and interact with our brothers and sisters in Africa.
On last thing that I had to add: one of our assigned readings for this experience is a book written by Dr. Joy Degruy Leary titled, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. I recently finished it and it was excellent. One thing that really stood out to me was a passage she wrote about her visit to South Africa:
"I was the first to introduce myself. I stood up and said, 'My name is Joy, I'm from Portland and I'm traveling with eight other African American women. We're hoping to build and sustain a positive sharing relationship with our African sisters. I am very happy to be here'. I then sat down. The translator began translating what I had said and the nine of us noticed that despite the brevity of my comments, the translator seemed to be going on and on at length. Soon the people in the room started to chant, and then they started to clap. "
After asking the translator why his translation took so long for the little that she had said, he replied, "I told them exactly what you said, but when I got to the point where I said that you were African American women, I needed to explain what that meant. You see, many of the people in the audience are from small, isolated villages with limited exposure to outsiders and they thought that all Americans were white. So, I had to explain to them that the eight of you were the descendants of the ones who had been stolen away. They were chanting back to you, 'Welcome home'."
This really touched me. I can't wait for all the experiences like this that I know I will have. Only 19 more days until we leave! :)