Monday, August 30, 2010

West African Slavery - examining the Slave Trade Today (Ghana)

Slavery Roots In West Africa

Slave auction sign, look closely
African Slavery
Whenever man can impose his will on other individuals for his own personal gain he rarely hesitates. Slavery, in its various forms, has existed since the dawn of civilization, coupled with the needed dehumanizing measures used by those with the physical power to help morally justify their actions.
The blueprint for a slave ship’s design labeled them as “cargo,” On plantations, slaves were often made to eat out the same troughs as animals, families were broken-up and auctioned off as objects, derogatory epitaphs like “N” word were developed, it was made a CRIME to educate slaves,
Many of my compatriots had very visceral reactions to what they saw and felt, so I am going to keep this blog entry less tongue in cheek than usual out of respect for their experience. My group here is 75% black and all but one are older than me. I do not know what it was like to grow up black in the United States, and many of them remember the civil rights era, when racism was obviously much more rampant than in my childhood.
Cape Coast harbor/many fishermen

canons pointing out to sea at the castle
Our first stop was “The Last Bath,” where slaves, having been forced marched 300 miles on foot, chained to one another, unable to move their arms to even protect themselves against a biting insect, were given their final bath on African soil, to bathe, still chained together (in case the slave you were chained to decided to drown himself you went with him), and were finally fed and made to exercise to regain some lost weight (higher market price) before being marched the final 30 miles to the Cape Coast Castle where they were sold, raped, killed, etc. and possibly then brought on a dungeon like ship to the America’s.

young Ghanians by the river

entrance to the river
The Gas Chamber of Africa
We then went as a group to visit Cape Coast Castle, the last place the enslaved would touch African soil. Lined with canons pointing out to sea, turrets, and dungeons, the castle served the dual functions of short term imprisonment and fortress.
For those uppity slaves who dared to choose to fight for their freedom, they were set usually set free because it is just too hard to deal with someone with such crazy ideas.
“Look at Vernon,” (likely not his real name, but who knows) the slave merchant would yell at the rest of the slaves while Vernon was shackled and lead away with spear tips pressed against his neck, rifles pointed at him from all directions, “For his exemplary behavior we have decided to set Vern free.”
And of course by “exemplary behavior” the slave master was sarcastically referring to Vernon sneezing in his (the slave master’s) presence and by free, he of course meant, “dead.”
So what would happen to Vern, and up to two hundred other damned souls at one time is they would be thrown into a cell with no light, no water, no ventilation, and no Internet, packed like sardines, unable to see their own hands, with temperatures inside easily exceeding one hundred degrees from all the body heat and the African climate, amidst sewage and decay from the previous group. Some would die in six hours, some would last two days breathing in the stench of the rapidly decomposing bodies around them before they too passed.
At least the Nazi’s made it quick.
I can tell you that I was in the gas chamber with the entire group, who comprised less than 100 people, and the door was closed and the light turned off. Many people let out a yelp of fear. It was exceedingly hot, and it would be very easy to feel claustrophobic as densely as we were packed. Now put more than double that number, and KNOW that you face Death.
Many cried. For their ancestors, for the energy of the room, from the thought of what it must have been like, from their own fears.

Parting Thoughts
Without a system of agreed upon morals, society could not survive. It would be difficult to justify enslaving a neighbor and an equal, so we skew these morals by re-framing the way we see other tribes/races/etc if it gives us a competitive survival advantage. It further separates the ego from the pure divine love that is innate inside all of us.
the last bath river

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Going Going Ghana

Day #1

Young Ghanian boys
Equatorial Ghana has the luxury of spending zero percent of its budget on national defense, relying instead on its vast arsenal of nuclear mosquitoes, who carry the twin canons of malaria and yellow fever. I’m very much looking forward to meeting the national guard, seeing as mosquitoes treat me like a piƱata at a Mexican birthday party.
We arrive in Accra, Ghana at dawn. Immediately leaving the airport we get on a bus which will take us to Ghana’s second largest city, Kumase.
After an interminably long ride over unpaved roads, we stop at a stand where they sell Kente Cloth. Rural Ghana is quite poor, so the locals are naturally excited to see Americans and their money.
Everybody here is a hustler, but I feel a lot more warmth from the majority of those who approach me trying to eke out a living than I did in say, Turkey, where people will skin you alive if you let them.

Selling The Shirt Off My Back
Kente cloth shopping
Kente cloth is very colorful, and is generally made out of rayon or cotton, using looms to weave these strings into woven patterns.

There are some really wonderful artists here. I am currently in negotiations with one of them. Although the piece is nice, he wants more than I am willing to pay.
“I like your shirt,” he states, gazing at my basketball uniform from this year’s Sports Club LA League championship team.
“You like my shirt?”
“Yes, very much. I buy from you?”
“You want to buy the shirt I am wearing?”
I got the kente cloth, he got the jersey. At least he got a championship jersey, and not some loser jersey from some loser team like Dan Denham’s or Aaron Davis’s. (both of whom we beat in the playoffs)
Proud owners from the exchange
We get back on the road and drive the entire rest of the day before arriving in Kumasi late in the evening. The city center is crowded and bustling. Traffic is slow. We get to the hotel. I am tired. I am glad to be off the bus. 
Day #2
The most exciting thing that happened today was when our bus hit a goat.
We drive for seven hours straight with one stop. I have been traveling for six straight days. I haven’t exercised, much less played basketball. Nothing but buses and flights and waiting for other people. We saw NOTHING in Kumasi. We went there for what? This part of the tour is obviously incredibly poorly organized.
Ghana traffic and activity
We drive all day. Half the bus cheers when we hit the goat because at least something happened.
Arriving at our hotel on Cape Coast after dark, barely stepping foot off the bus, I wonder why I came and vow never to go on another big group tour again.

The only thing I have to console me is the brilliantly crafted trade I made for my basketball jersey. Beaming with pride at my outstanding negotiation skills, I become suddenly energized with anticipation, remembering why I really came to Africa.
Don’t be envious, but last year, Lady Luck smiled upon me like the Saharan sun at noon. I received an email from a Nigerian Prince (out of ALL the people on the Internet he chose ME!!!) requesting $1,500 to help him cut through the red tape on his fifty million dollar inheritance. One thing about me, in contrast to you, and why I get to be here in on Africa on the threshold of collecting my enormous windfall, when I see a business deal of outstanding value, I do not hesitate, no, I jump right in!
And to all you jealous haters out there, who are right now hollerin’ that Rich, merely, once again, got “lucky,” and how does this exemplify my "so called," shining skills as a negotiator, and that there is “no way,” as I have often claimed, that had I been Jesus’s lawyer, he’d still be alive today, let me tell you this-- originally my Nigerian Prince friend only offered me $250,000. Through the charm and charisma that you can only dream of, I bargained him up to a cool million. He barely even whimpered.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Genie Of Morocco

I recently was fortunate enough to ease drop on the following conversation between my friends.
Daniel: “Crazy Rich. Crazy crazy Rich.”
Andrew: “I wish I had time on my hands like he does.”
Albert: “Peter Pan.”
Cherise holds up a water melon in her left hand. “This the adventure part of his brain.” She holds up a single grape in her right, “And this is his intellect.”
Mom: “Richard, explain why I see Syria on your itinerary?! Are you trying to get yourself killed?!!”
Aaron: “Come on dog, three months, fourteen countries, twenty thousand minimum, moved out of your apartment, put all your stuff into storage, and have no clue where you’ll live. assuming you even make it back … And you left in such a hurry bro. I mean, what the hell were you thinking!?” …

That the arson investigation was getting too close.

My Life on the Lam
Thank God I was able to leave the chaos that is the United States behind and land in lovely, politically stable Africa. We were only going to spend twelve hours in Casablanca before proceeding to Ghana. Let's make the most of it.
My FIRST notable sighting while still descending the plane’s stairs was a beautiful palace surrounded by manicured palms. Literally, 100 yards from where we landed was one of the many king’s residences.

(the King's Palace on airport runway)

Here is an actual quote from the King of Morocco, which I am not making up, explaining the choice of the location: “Hey, an off-course plane will probably one day smash my house into a million pieces, and incinerate all my family in a fire hotter than hell, but that’s a small price to pay for avoiding airport traffic.”
My first question, to this so called ‘quote,’ from an obviously dubious source: “What traffic?” After exiting a nearly empty airport, where half the people walking around were secret police, our bus was seemingly the ONLY car on the road. Casablanca has seven million people, how are we the only frigging motorized vehicle in existence?

Islam in Morocco

The answer is Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. It marks the time during which the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. Muslims, which make-up 90% of Morocco’s population, are to abstain from eating, drinking (including water), sex, and any impure thoughts, from sunrise to sunset, everyday for the month of Ramadan.

‘Lame,’ said someone’s inner voice who shall remain nameless, but may be writing this blog. ‘I mean, the majority of countries that practice Islam,’ continues the silent voice, ‘are situated on sandy lands. Sandy because it is desert, and desert means it is normally so hot, that nothing grows. And it is August! And the prophet wants people, for the entire time the scorching August sun is in the sky, for his followers to abstain from sex … I mean from drinking liquid?!’

Finally I ask out-loud, ‘Why?”
“To know what it is like for the people who are truly suffering,” states our guide Hamid, who after only minutes of hearing interacting with him, I find one of the warmest, most knowledgeable people I have ever met. “Not only is it a cleanse for the mind and body, but when you are suffering of hunger and thirst, and you cannot under any circumstances eat or drink, you realize what many of the impoverished people deal with on a daily basis. You will understand them, and be much more apt to help them, for you know what deprivation is. It makes our society stronger.”

I am impressed with his explanation. The silent voice has no response. I remind myself not to judge that which I don’t fully understand.

It is immediately obvious that North African Morocco practices a much more tolerant form of Islam than the Middle East. While I see plenty of headscarves, I see only one or two burkas out of thousands. When I was in Egypt last year, at least 35% of the women walking the streets were in burkas, and Saudi Law mandates that any woman stepping outside her house must not have more than her eyes showing. The only way you’ll catch me in Saudi Arabia is if I'm closing an oil deal.
We visit a mosque, second in size only to Mecca. Built in 1991, and it is MASSIVE, and quite beautiful. I am impressed with the architecture and attention to detail. The Mosque was built in poorest neighborhood in Casablanca, but rather than displace any of the locals, it was built largely on top off the local waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Hamid says it is a source of pride for all Moroccons.
The Great Mosque of Cablanca
beautiful mosque, Casablanca
Customer Service

We go into a bank to change money. We are the only customers there. They are surprised to see us. Not much business takes place during the hours of fasting. They politely tell me that the person in charge of exchanging money is not currently there, and they will be unable to help us. Somehow, I doubt the explanation.

I see Hamid shaking his head as we walk out. “This wouldn’t happen in America,” I state to him. “This is why Morocco remains a third world country,” answers Hamid, who, while Moroccon by birth, actually spends the majority of his time in America, “It’s Ramadan, they see the long line forming, they are lazy. They tell us to take our business elsewhere, it’s disgraceful.”

We go to lunch at a local restaurant. Beautifully and artfully decorated. I note a couple giant lamps. I start rubbing one vigorously, in hopes that I will release a genie.

(The Genie lamp!!)

Murphy’s Law takes affect, the moment my camera ran out of battery, a Genie seeps out of the lamp in a large puff of blue smoke! He stood there, a hundred foot tall apparition, and told me he would grant me one wish!! Some of you goody goody’s out there would waste the wish on something like goofy like “world peace.” SO LAME … Use your brains! Being far superior in intellect to you, the reader, I asked for 100 more wishes.

I gazed certainly at the Genie, who merely shook his head, told me I was being greedy, and said he was going back to sleep for 500 more years. Frankly, I think he was just being lazy, it being Ramadan and all.

Rich's Funny sitcom