The Vibrance of Ghana

Prison, Independence and Vision
- 10 March 2013 -

Turns out that dawn is the most humid time of the day, so waking up early to get the early light is not a good idea with regards to photography in Accra, especially when you staying in a hotel which is airconditioned. However I promised myself I would get photos of Independence Square, so I woke up, placed my camera on the balcony for an hour or two then ventured out towards Independence Square. Before I left I downloaded some maps of Accra onto my iPhone while I was still in the WiFi zone. This time I wouldn't have a guide... I would do this one on my own.

The preparation had worked, my camera was not misting up. 

As I had mentioned in my previous post "Pigs on the Beach", Ghana had won back it's Independence in 1957 from the British, making it the first African nation of it's time to be independent of colonial rule.

I like that Ghanian flag, I read up what it means (Wikipedia)... and I like the simplicity. Red for the bloodshed towards independence, yellow for the wealth of minerals in Ghana, and green for the rich agriculture. The black star is the symbol of African emancipation, so basically this represents freedom.

The Independence Arch is dated 1957, with inscriptions for Freedom and Justice, topped with a large black star.

Opposite the road towards the beach is Independence Square as labelled on the map, however, the official name is the "Black Star Square" and is basically a massive open area surrounded by seating designed for the 6th of March celebrations. Although we were still on route to Ghana on 6th, apparently the square was packed with Ghanian celebrators.

After I walked around the square observing the installations and people in and around it, I decided I wasn't ready to return to the hotel and needed more of Accra, so I set off with my final destination being the lighthouse (which I had also missed out on the previous day). I find walking more fruitful compared to driving when taking photos, so regardless of the distance I headed in the direction shown on iPhone GPS assisted maps.

On route there are many interesting sights. Mostly the building are falling apart and the streets are broken. This part of the city is mostly inhabited by the poorer class, and like in most cities, these parts of the city are given a smaller budget for upkeep. 

Although there are 11 languages in Ghana, English is the primary language. Christianity is practised by most people here, and Islam by the rest (largely, I'm sure there are some other religions, but would count this as the minority). This being a Sunday I passed many church services. My initial idea was to go to the market on Sunday, however I was advised that there wouldn't be much people, as most would be in church, I can see why!

Although the buildings are mostly deserted and disintegrating, they are still used by the younger community for games and get-togethers.

Most streets in this part of city are made up of older buildings and houses, with a lot of social activity happening on the streets itself.

The age of a city in most cases doesn't hamper the spirits if the individuals that occupy them. Between church, friends and family there is good moods and love in the air. This is a "living" community and the age of the city just emphasises that money and expensive new architecture is not what life is all about.

At this point I had been walking for quite some time and the heat had got the better of me. I had to stock up on some water if I wanted to continue further. I stopped off at a street side kiosk and bought two 500ml bottles. I was paying attention to the price and noticed the difference between the kiosk and the hotel.... reminding me not to judge a city by it's hotel prices.

While walking towards the lighthouse I was approached by an individual that offered to take me around, starting with the "James Fort Prison". I was sceptical at first but when I considered that I probably didn't know much about the prison or the lighthouse, a guide for a reasonable price wouldn't be a bad idea. We negotiated prices and set off to enter the prison.

Turns out that having a guide was not a bad idea. He opened a small door (made for midgets!) leading into the prison and approached a guard who let us in. Without this I would have never seen the inside of the prison. I searched the internet for some information on this prison, but didn't find anything conclusive. From what I can gather, the prison is +-400 years old and was originally built for slaves fuelling the popular slave trade of these time. Further I can deduce that the prison has was used in more recent times to house criminals, however the prison was abandoned due to it's condition and the volume of inmates, sometime housing 90 prisoners in a 10 man cell.

It's quite spine-chilling to walk into the prison. Although it is clear that the building is not in use anymore, there is still a presence of captivity. The floors still have the original pins used to chain prisoners / slaves to the floor and the cells are small and dark. I didn't bring my camera tripod with so getting photos in the dark rooms wasn't possible, but I was able to get shots of the shower area, toilets (dump holes) and kitchen.

The photo above is a timeout room where inmates were sent for days at a time. 

The photo below was my guide.

This passage way leads to the female prison, comparably smaller than the male one, otherwise pretty much the same. When looking out over the prison it is clear that the location of this prison was ideal for slave trade, within walking distance from the sea, where many slaves were sold to passing boats and ships.

I didn't spend too much time in the prison, firstly because I was still a bit sceptical of my guide, but mostly because... I just wanted to get out of the place... it saddens and scares me to think that my species is capable of the torture done onto others.

So we headed to the neighbouring lighthouse, which apparently has recently received a makeover.

The lighthouse is made up of the typical red and white colours and is still in use today. To gain entry to the lighthouse, my guide once again proved useful, after a short negotiation with the keeper and a small fee I was allowed to enter. I was asked to pay 5 cedi, but I only had a 20 cedi note, the keeper said to give him the note and he would supply me with the change when I returned. Once again I was skeptical, but reasoned with myself that the worst that can go wrong is I lose 15 cedi, which was still worth it anyway.

Originally the lighthouse was run by a generator situated in a room on ground floor, but when revamped the generator was shut down and replaced with batteries and a couple of solar panels.

To reach the top I had to climb a long spiral staircase, but once I was on the top (a little out of breath) the views were spectacular. This view gave a good idea of the dilapidated city from all angles.

It was strangely refreshing at the top, it almost felt cooler up there. My guide decided he needed a rest too, so he lay down on the floor while I took some photos.

Going down again, I snapped a shot of the spiral staircase, and then ventured down. When I exited the building the lighthouse keeper was waiting with my change as promised and handed it to me (this type of honesty I'm not accustomed to). It was at this point I decided, after having spent the last 4 hours wondering around taking photos, I wasn't exactly in the mood to walk all the way back to the hotel so I asked my guide to help me get a local taxi. I greeted my guide after he offered me some other services, like getting me a young lady for the night, which I declined explaining that it's not really my thing, paid and thanked him for his service and headed back to the hotel. I needed a shower again.

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