From the castles to the oceanic views: An African American review of a visit to Cape Coast

Jahlysa Azaret shares her experience and perspective after visiting the Elmina Castle in the Central Region

I eyed the coconut tree with great suspicion. A couple of coconuts lay scattered across the ground. I could only think, “What if I get knocked out by a coconut? What will the angels say about my getting hit in the head?”. I shook myself out of my thoughts. I had bigger issues than the coconuts. Still, I stayed far away from them.

The Coconut Grove Resort offered beautiful ocean waves and delicious plates of jollof rice. It is a great place to reflect on one’s thoughts. While walking along the beach, I considered the start of my weekend in Cape Coast. It sure was rough, to say the least.

Visiting the Elmina Castle

From Accra, the drive to Cape Coast takes at least four hours. I highly recommend bringing a pillow to keep yourself comfortable on the way there. Even with driving, it is great to have some cushion for your back.

I could not reserve my tears; I shook from crying. It felt like I could hear the screams from those that yearned freedom before being placed on a ship to continue experiencing the unspeakable. The support, from the group I arrived with, saved me. We felt each other’s pain. We cried together.

Myself, along with some friends, arrived in a bus. We sat for a little while observing the castle. Even from a decent distance away from the entrance, I sensed the evil from the place. I felt a great sadness well inside me. Horrendous actions took place here. It was a necessity to go inside more than it was to experience an interesting tour in Cape Coast.

There is nothing to truly prepare yourself for visiting Elmina Castle. As an African American, who has only scratched the surface of my ancestry, I knew I had to go to the castle to learn more. I needed to know what happened. On the tour of the castle, extensive detail is given about what the enslaved Africans went through.

I felt sick. From hearing about how women were defiled and tossed aside. From stories of men being branded like cattle. My stomach turned from standing in the room of confinement that was reserved for those that fought back. Anyone who fought was locked away, until they starved to death.

I could not reserve my tears; I shook from crying. It felt like I could hear the screams from those that yearned freedom before being placed on a ship to continue experiencing the unspeakable. The support, from the group I arrived with, saved me. We felt each other’s pain. We cried together. I made it through the tour and found hope in humanity by sharing my pain.

It is not a trendy list of what to-dos or needs, but what is necessary to keep one from breaking. If you intend to visit the Elmina Castle, make sure to go with a supportive group. Talk about what you saw and how it affected you. There is no way to erase what was seen or heard while touring the castle. Despite this, there is a way to begin healing and it starts with conversation.

Coconut Grove Resort

Back at the resort, I continue to thank my ancestors. In order for me to be alive, they had to go through so much. I am forever grateful. I talk with the rest of my group over dinner. I start to feel myself return to the present. In one day I got to see the worst in what humanity had to offer and then experience such a great part of it by sharing a meal with friends.

The food tasted carefully prepared. The blessed hands that prepared the food must have prayed over every grain of rice and each stew being prepared. The food provided comfort away from the atrocities of the day. I only knew the food of my grandmother to provide me such comfort. To experience the same feeling in the Homeland was an honor. The food truly enriched the trip.

From talking by the pool to walking the beach, there was a lot to do. For the artist, the views from the resort provide many outlets of inspiration. For myself, I sketched and journaled while I watched children run along the beach. Their laughter tickled the air as they tumbled into the sand. There were so many places to sit and observe. I greatly enjoyed these quiet moments to myself.

For the more athletic, the resort had other offerings. Some people chose beach volleyball as their mode of passing time. There were other guests at the resort who would join in to make an ultimate international team-up. I am not sure how, but I also saw groups of people playing football in the sand as well. For someone reserved from sports, I was amazed. I suppose if someone wants to exercise, they will find a way. Much in the way that if I find a dress I like, I will buy it.

A visit to town

Aside from the wondrous views, I also had the chance to meet so many great people. Close to the Coconut Grove Resort, I went to Zilla’s Hair Salon. I do not blend in with everyone in Ghana, but I believe this is a part of my charm. Obviously I am a foreigner, but everywhere I go I am fiercely welcomed. I feel more like a sister than a stranger.

That day at the salon, I was brought back to my younger years when my mother would do my hair. In the United States, not many salons have someone that can do African hair, especially in its natural state. I will not lie. Initially I was worried that somehow the trend would repeat overseas as well. I was completely wrong. Each beautician is careful to ask about your comfort while doing your hair. They are conscious of how someone would like their hair. That morning, I had two people working on my natural hair. The two women were almost done with my hair an hour and half into the process.

I felt overwhelmed with joy. My hair was gently dealt with. My purple braids were beautiful. In order for them to dry, they were bundled into a ponytail. I recently learned to braid my own hair. I am not even able to put my own hair into a ponytail when I braid on my own. My mother exclaimed that I had beautiful looking braids, when I showed her. I almost did not go into town, for I was tired from the experiences of the weekend.

I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone to explore what else is around. I explored town a bit to find my hair and then back to Zilla’s so it could be styled. Fear of the unknown could stop one from exploring different food or doing a small trip into town. I had yet to meet someone in Ghana who did not want to help me. The main point is to ask and explore. Ask for help when needed. Explore around the town, there are many treasures waiting to be found.

At the close of our trip, I felt that I was saying goodbye to my ancestors. I already felt a deep sense of respect and love for them. To go to the Elmina Castle, I felt those feelings deepen even more. As I said goodbye to Cape Coast, I knew I created a space in my heart to start to heal from the past. I had a life to live. Each day is a new opportunity to show appreciation to my ancestors. As we drove from the grand ocean views of Cape Coast, I was so thankful for my experience. I was particularly grateful for not being knocked out by a coconut.

Jahlysa Azaret

Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online
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