From there, we all squeezed into a much smaller cell, just barely large enough to hold all of us, which Cyprus said was for condemned slaves. Before anyone had a chance to really wonder about what exactly it meant to be a condemned slave, a heavy door slammed shut behind us, killing any small trace of light that had shone in through the doorway.
"Condemned slaves were those sentenced to death," Cyprus told us. "Ten were brought in here at a time. They were left here in cramped, complete darkness with nothing, until every single one of them died."
His words were followed by a stunned silence, broken only by the sound of a single sob that shot out from a student hidden in the darkness.
We emerged outside on the second level of the castle, looking down on the fishing boats and blue coast, everyone trying to regain control of their emotions.
One of the Ghanaian volunteers we were working with, Philipa, came over to me and said, "See what your people did? It wasn’t good. But we let you come here, we want you here even though it was very bad. We let you in and we also forgive, because we all believe in God."
I looked at her, stunned, and could think of no response other than, "But those weren’t my people, I’m not Dutch!" I was suddenly embarrassed. "Or Portuguese!" I added.
"Ah, it is the same, the white people," she replied.
The feeling of frustration with being merely a stereotype was new to me. I became very aware of the fact that after spending my entire life as part of the white majority, I was suddenly in a culture where I was very much in the minority.
Philipa put her arm around me and said, "Don’t be sad, now we are friends, good friends!"
The relationship between blacks and whites damaged to such an extent so long ago clearly hadn’t completely been repaired. Resentment and guilt reverberated down through centuries over the crimes committed. If Elmina didn’t prove that, plenty of other incidents did.
One night in Kumasi after the entire group had gone to a restaurant for dinner, we came out to find that our bus had been hit by a woman driving a car without a license. We got in the bus and sat there, waiting for the owner to come settle the issue. A crowd gathered around and the woman tried to leave. The owner finally showed up, very angry that his bus had been hit, and a heated argument ensued. We watched through the windows as the argument escalated, and more than once it looked as though a serious fight would break out. Starzy, Cyprus, and Franko all tried to keep the peace, but a man accompanying the driver made a comment to them in Twi that none of us could understand. Within seconds, all three of them who had been trying to calm everyone down were now themselves screaming and pushing, trying to get at the man who had in the meantime jumped in the car and locked the doors.
When everyone finally got back on the bus and we left, I asked Franko what had happened that made them so angry. At first he did not want to tell me, and simply said that "the man said something very bad," but after talking for a while he told the truth.
"Cyprus told the man that we needed to leave because you all need to get to bed," Franko began. "But then the man said that we, Starzy and Cyprus and me, were like your slaves. I don’t know why he would say that, that is an awful thing to say, but some people still think like that I guess."
One night in Jukwa, Starzy and I went down the road to buy egg sandwiches from a woman who made them on a table outside of her house. Her family and many neighbors were outside in their night clothes, talking to each other. As we approached, they stared at me and whispered in Twi, aware I could not understand them. Starzy noticed I felt uncomfortable, and grabbed my hand and introduced me to them. It wasn’t long before they were all smiling and introducing themselves to me by day-name. When I smiled back and pointed to my chest and said "Akosua," they grew even happier to meet me. One of the women, who spoke broken English, put her arm around me and pointed up at the sky that was slowly becoming more and more familiar to me.
"See stars? They same stars you know. Same stars you see at home."