I didn’t hear the familiar “obruni” as I walked down the street in Accra. I didn’t get stares from passengers in trotros passing by and my white legs didn’t stick out of pragias. When we traveled this week, we traveled in a large group and as we went from place to place we all sat comfortably in our private bus with mirrored windows. I could easily see out of the tinted windows if I so chose but I could do it without receiving a stare back. I worry that this week I lost my critical lens that I had worked to develop in Kumasi. While in Accra, I was one of many obrunis and I moved through space differently because of it. It was hard to ignore how much easier it felt.
When we arrived in Cape Coast I had the visit to the Slave Castles on my mind. I imagined the experience being silent, still, and somber. It was difficult imagining myself inh an emotionally demanding situation as I watched the waves crash on Brenu Beach while enjoying a five-star dinner. I was ignoring the truth by expecting to transition from a comfortable tourist to a critical student as if I was not always both.
At the Cape Coast Castle, my emotions were more overbearing than anticipated. Being in the dungeons was breath taking in awful ways and hearing the number of people who had been held against their will in the same space I was standing in haunted me. All of my physical experiences were emotionally demanding but what truly shocked me was the surrounding community. The experience was not as silent or still as I had anticipated but it was none the less somber. I was so worried about the group dynamic and being respectful of my peers’ emotions that I failed to prepare for other social interactions I would encounter. When we walked out The Door of No Return a young child came up to us and asked for food. I wasn’t prepared to have a conversation, so I selfishly remained silent and stood there as if I had nothing to give. The vendors, the fishermen, the man sleeping on the dungeon wall, the young child asking for food… I had prepared for the experience as if I would still be behind mirrored windows. As if I would only see my peers and would only have to handle conversations after our shared experience. I was there to learn, to experience, to feel, and because of my discomfort I didn’t allow myself to engage. It felt as though the lively community and commercialism of the area reclaimed the castle. In Black Atlantic Visions: History, Race, and Transnationalism in Ghana, Holsey discusses the viewpoint of Ghanaians who do not encourage post-colonial tourism, specifically in the context of diaspora. Holsey explains, “[t]hose who shy away from discussions of this history do not do so because they feel that this history is irrelevant. On the contrary, they worry that it is all too relevant and that their nation might forever be viewed within the global arena as an “out-of-the-way place.” My intentionality in visiting these castles began to diminish in worth as I realized how unprepared I was to relate this experience to my presence in Ghana.
I left this experience with different questions than I expected to have, and it has taken me longer than anticipated to work through the answers. I am grateful that I have time left in Ghana to reconstruct my intentionality and reconsider what this opportunity will mean for me in the years to come.