Posted by: kristinej | July 17, 2013

July 17th, 2013

For the 4th of July, we joined the other IPA interns for American-themed trivia at an expat bar here in Accra. Our team had a high percentage of Americans, so we fared pretty well and placed 2nd. Being in another country always makes you think more about your own country, and I like asking Ghanaians (or any other expats) what their thoughts are on America. Some reactions:
– Lawrence asked me why Americans are so proud of their country. I asked him if Ghanaians were not proud of Ghana, and he said that they were, but not in the same way. Martina (my Spanish friend) agreed that Americans are unique in their outspoken pride for the US (not in a bad way). I didn’t quite know what to say- I personally don’t think it’s so simple, and many people might say they are not so proud of the US. But overall I think we know we have it pretty good, and are proud of our country’s status and diversity.
– I’ve heard lots of praise for Obama, but most people just seem to like the US in general and they also appreciated the attention Bush gave to Africa. I’ve had many a taxi driver tell me that Americans are “their people!” They’ll tell me that the US is good because of the opportunity and wealth, whereas Ghana is dirty and people can’t find jobs (to which I would like to respond, “well, stop urinating in public places.”) And they are always shocked when I tell them how much better off Ghana is in comparison to Mali.
– Visas are much coveted, not just among Africans, but among people around the world. One of the other interns was describing the long process he went through, including the application, which has questions like, “Do you intend to bring chemical weapons into the country? Do you intend to employ child soldiers? Do you intend to commit suicide while in the US?” Most Ghanaians want to go to the US to find work, but others just want to visit on vacation, like my coworker Derick who wants to go to Nashville to see all of his favorite country singers! I told him I’m sure Andrew would be happy to host him (right?!). But it’s especially hard for men his age to get a visa even though he is well educated and is not looking for work.

But back to our travel adventures… our plan for weekend #2 was to visit Cape Coast and Kakum National Park, two of the major tourist destinations in Ghana. We again left very early in the morning on Saturday, and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in a tro-tro with AC (although it was actually too cold!). We were in Cape Coast by 9:30am and stumbled upon a wonderful little vegetarian restaurant run by a German nonprofit where we treated ourselves to a vegetable-heavy brunch. We then headed over to the Cape Coast castle, which is an old British fort that housed slaves before they were loaded onto ships to be sent to the Americas. It’s clear that tourism is on the rise in Ghana because the entrance fees everywhere we went were 3-4 times more than what was listed in my guidebook from 2010. We had to pay $10 just to bring a camera in! There were all sorts of people there – American exchange students, local school groups, and a fair amount of Ghanaian adults.

The fort itself is beautiful – a white structure right on the ocean with old cannons lined up against the walls and a small church enclosed in the grounds (shameful, really). But the story behind it is, of course, terrible and that became clear when we went down into the slave dungeons. Even on a cool day it was stuffy and hot in there, and I cannot even fathom the fact that they fit a thousand human beings in there for at least 6 weeks, sometimes letting them out for meals, sometimes not. There were no toilet facilities, and when the castle was renovated the excavators apparently determined that human refuse had reached about knee-level in the dungeons. People who died were just thrown out to the sea. When they were ready to be loaded onto the ships, they were led out through a door that said, “Door of no return.”

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Slave Dungeon

Slave Dungeon

Cape Coast

Cape Coast

After our tour of the castle, we caught a taxi to Brenu Beach, where we’d be staying for two nights. We chose it because it was off the beaten path and had hammocks, and when we arrived we were greeted by name (perhaps a sign that I had called too many times to confirm/ask directions?) It literally looked like one of those ads you’ll see on TV of a pristine, uninhabited beach. The riptides can be fairly strong, and with no lifeguards not too many people swim, but we did wade in a bit (Blake more so than me).

Brenu Beach

Brenu Beach

The next morning we had a taxi pick us up and take us to the national park. Along the way we stopped at multiple police check points, where the driver had to slip the policeman a small amount of money in order to pass. It was another example of corruption being present at all levels, and the driver lamented that while he was a polytechnic school graduate who couldn’t get a job, these policemen were skimming off the top. He also pointed out that we paid a substantial entry fee to the park, while the road leading to it was still riddled with potholes, despite the fact that it is one of Ghana’s main tourist attractions.

The main attraction at Kakum is the canopy walk, which is a set of rope bridges high up in the treetops. Kakum is a semi-rainforest, and most of the animals come out at night but even if they are out during the day, the forest is so dense that you’d be hard-pressed to see anything. Still, the hike through the forest was beautiful, and the canopy walk itself was really fun, though it wouldn’t be for someone who’s afraid of heights! We lagged behind the tour group so that we could take our time, look at the scenery and take pictures.

Kakum National Park

Kakum National Park

We spent the rest of the day at the beach, and headed back to Accra the next day. All in all, it was a great couple of weeks – it was so nice having someone to travel with and be a tourist with. Now I have only four weeks left here, which I’m sure will fly by. Maybe sometime before then I’ll write about the actual work I’m doing!



  1. National Park, beautiful, Cape Coast Castle, sad.

  2. Hey! Enjoying reading your blog. I have been to the Cape Coast Castle too:

    See you soon! Your small group misses you.

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