Monday, September 28, 2009

Live Blog: Slave Castle Reflections

This is a live blog of the Slave Castle Reflection Explorer Seminar. Many of the excursions included visits to Elmina or Cape Coast castles, which were holding places for slaves before they were taken on the transatlantic journey to "The New World." These people were starved, beaten, raped and shackled at the castles, and visiting them can be an emotionally taxing experience. This seminar gave students the chance to process their feelings and reflect on how the seeing the castles has changed their outlook on modern instances of slavery.

7:58—The reflection’s going to start in a couple of minutes… there are roughly 25 students here so far, in addition to a few faculty and staff members. Living Learning Coordinator for Diversity Ana Barraza Gonzalez will be moderating the discussion.

8:00—Ana has begun. One of the counselors, Pat Larsen, is here also to help students process their emotions. One of the students, Ashley, has begun talking about her experience at Elmina Castle and how it made slavery more real to her. She spoke of the Room of No Return, so named because it was where slaves passed through to be loaded onto slave ships, never to step foot on African soil again.

8:04—Another student, Victoria, is speaking about how it made her feel more connected to her heritage as a black person… she said that while her family is from Barbados, and she has never felt connected to Africa, but when she arrived at the castle she felt her African ancestry for the first time. She said it was very difficult for her to go into the dungeons.

8:10—Global Nomad, Tonya Phillips, said when she walked into Cape Coast castle she couldn’t breath. It was such a intensely personal experience for her. She said the tour guide left her with this question at the end of her visit. ‘The shackles are broken, we don’t have slavery anymore, but is slavery really dead?’ She said there is still a need to talk about and deal with the ramifications of slavery, which she said are still felt today.

8:14—One student spoke about how overwhelming it was to find that the smell of death remained in the dungeons remains, centuries later. Ana has responded by talking about how difficult it is to grasp what it must have been to be locked up down there.

8:19—Victoria said it made her want to know what her real familial name is beyond the European name her family now uses; she wants to know where her people are from. She said she’s always had a bit of an identity crisis just from being black, but being there impressed the importance of finding out her families past. She said it made her wonder, "Am I Ghanaian? Did my people come through this place?"

8:20—One student had commented about how stunning it was that at Elmina the church was built right above the slave dungeons. He said the hypocrisy was impossible for him to understand.

8:25—A group discussion is going on about the treatment of the female slaves, who were often raped by the governor and soldiers in the rooms above the dungeons. If found to be pregnant before they were put on a slave ship they were freed, but if the pregnancy wasn't discovered until after the journey began, they were thrown overboard.

8:35—Pat said she reflected on how the people of Ghana are still so proud of their country even after centuries of exploitation. She said it’s really amazining that they are so hopeful even though they have only been under free democratic rule for only 50 years.

8:37—One student is talking about how she wondered if her family was involved in enslaving people. She talked about how she didn’t know, but she has to deal with the fact that it was a possibility.

8:42—The conversation has now turned to instances of slavery that exist in the modern world… namely human trafficking and child soldiers. They are also discussing how illegal immigrants in the United States are usually paid far below the minimum wage, and how that’s a form of slavery. It has raised the question about the extent to which slavery still exists in America, not just remote parts of the third world.

8:48—The students are now talking about what they want to tell their family and friends about their experience at the castles when they get home. The general consensus is that they think it’s something everyone should experience in their lifetime. They say no book can do justice to the era, and evoke the emotions that being in the castles did.

8:56—One student said that slavery was born out of rampant desire for comfort and luxury… subjugating other people to make their lives easier. She said that realization caused her to ask herself, “What are the ways in which my own desires are perpetuating bondage for people around the world?”

9:01—Ana is wrapping up the discussion now, and encouraging the students to continue to talk about this subject amongst themselves in the days and weeks to come.

A Visit to Buduburam refugee settlement

As one of the most stable nations on the continent, Ghana serves as refuge for thousands of people who have been forced to flee their home because of political and military turmoil in their countries.
On the first day in Ghana, a group of 36 students were bused to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ghana operations center. There the students were briefed about the refugee situation in Ghana by Lisa Quarshie and Nathalie Springuel, associate protection officers for the center.
The refugee situation in Ghana is dictated and regulated based on the international laws that govern all sovereign states, and national law, which includes the Ghana Refugee Law of 1992. These laws are in place into ensure that refugees human rights are respected while in Ghana. These rights include the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution, the right to not be forcibly returned to the country they are fleeing if doing so would endanger the refugee, and the right to an adequate standard of living.
The UNHCR plays an important role in helping countries, including Ghana, abide by these laws. The operation provides technical assistance, mobilizes funds, and examines camps to provide suggestions for improvements in living conditions.
In Ghana, there are four refugee camps in Ghana working with the UNHCR. Beduburam is the largest with roughly 12,000 inhabitants. This number has plummeted from over 70,000 refugees and continues to drop, mainly due to repatriation and resettlement.
After an interesting discussion with the UNHCR, during which time students were able to ask questions, the group piled back on the bus, and headed for Buduburam, which is near Accra and contains mostly Liberian refugees.
The students were given a tour of the camp, which provides the refugees with many essential facilities, including a police station, medical clinic, Harmony (a community center for children who are developmentally disabled), feeding centers and schools. The students were able to see all of this, along with the refugee homes, and were able to interact with some of the school children. Many of the students also brought crayons, paper, bookbags and books to donate to the school. Before the day was over, students were giving away items out of their boxed lunches to the children, who good naturedly fought for the sweets. The overall feeling on the bus as it headed back to the ship in Tema was one of quiet reflection.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Drumming and Dance Workshop in Ghana

Check out this cool clip of some students performing alongside their instructors from a Drumming and Dance Workshop that took place during the Ghana port. Students spent the entire day learning about African dance, as well as several routines, one of which is featured in this video. Enjoy!
Posted by Picasa

SAS has talent!!

Before arriving in Ghana, all Semester at Sea participants were invited to sign up for the Talent/No Talent Show.  In the end, 28 acts made the final program. Talents included playing instruments like guitar, bass and saxophone; reciting poetry, stand-up comedy, dancing and singing. The no talents, which were very popular, and got big laughs, included everything from skits and song parodies to eating a PB&J sandwich (a lot funnier than you might think). Below are a few pictures from what has been generally accepted on the ship as one of the best nights at sea thus far.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Evening With a Moroccan Family

One of the great things about Semester at Sea is the excursions. They provide a safe, hassle-free way to see the countries we visit, and, in some cases, provide opportunities that would be near impossible in independent travel or traditional study abroad programs. One such case was the evening a number of students spent with Moroccan families. Because SAS was in Casablanca during the Muslim holiday Ramadan, all of the families fasted during the day, and broke their fasts after sunset. Students were able to share this meal with them, and also the bonding and socializing that takes place.
Most of the students were shocked at how much food they were served. The families eat several times in the evening during Ramadan, so most groups were able to sample several courses during the three or four hours they spent with the family. They also had tea, which is strong, made with mint and sweetened with sugar. This was a favorite with many of the students.
Another thing students weren't expecting was how much of a social activity breaking the fast turned out to be. The families had many visitors during the evening, some coming even as the students were making their farewells.
Family, friends and food. As one student put it, "It's like Thanksgiving at my house!" Check out the pictures from one of the groups evening below.

One of the family sitting rooms.

A quick game of chess in between courses. Hide and seek was another popular way to pass the time.

A group of students with their family.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Adventure in Andalucia Slideshow up now

The voyage photographer recently finished up the Adventure in Andalucia slideshow. It is a wonderful mix of student comments, local music and, of course, fabulous photographs from student explorations of the Cathedral of Christendom, which houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the Alhambra. Check it out here.

مسجد الحسن الثاني (The Hassan II Mosque)

The city of Casablanca's pride and joy is the Hassan II Mosque. Built in tribute to the previous king (by the previous king), it is one of the biggest religious sites in the world. Just about everyone on the voyage took a tour through the mosque, even those who didn’t do it with the city orientation. It is stunning; designed with traditional Moorish influences on a mind-boggling scale, it fits 25,000 worshipers inside during prayer times, and another 80,000 outside. The minaret is 689 feet tall, making it the tallest structure in the country, and the tallest minaret in the world.
The mosque was actually designed by famous French architect, Michel Pinseau. As large as it is, it was finished in a surprisingly small amount of time. The project began in 1986 and was completed during 1993. It is the only mosque in Casablanca that permits non-Muslims for guided tours.
The controversy surrounding the mosque when construction first began centered on the price tag. It cost roughly $800 million to build, and took over 6000 master craftsmen to finish all of the intricate designs in such a short period of time. However, the beauty of the building won over many of it's local detractors once the mosque was completed.
The mosque has several features that make it stand out from most other mosques. During prayer, worshipers will kneel down on the mosques floor, so the mosque was designed with heated floors, which impressed the students. But was amazed them the most was that the mosque has a retractable roof. On special occasions the sliding roof is opened, and evening prayers are done under the night stars.
The students were also taken to see the Turkish-style baths below the worship area. This is where worshipers make ablutions, purifying themselves before prayer.
The last notable feature is the laser that sits atop the minaret. At night, it shines a green beam toward Mecca in the East, the direction Muslims face during their prayers. This light can be seen for miles, and many students gathered on the decks of the MV Explorer each night because the beam was visible from the ship.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cadiz Excursion: Flamenco Dancing

An excursion that was particularly popular with students was the trip to the Andalucian Flamenco Night. The trip was arranged by Professor Reyes-Torres, a native of Spain and one of the voyage's English professors. The show was a 30-minute ride from the port in Chiclana, and after light refreshments the crowd was led to a bullfighting ring. There they were treated to and amateur bullfight or cow taming with a young bull. The show was bloodless, and the students snapped many pictures while cooing over how cute both the little boy and bull were. After the amateur matador was carried out on the shoulders of a friend, a horse and flamenco dance commenced. This was one of the most interesting parts of the entire show because the horse actually danced with the two flamenco dancers. They tapped their hooves to the beat of the music, and hopped from leg to leg around the flamenco dancers, who twisted their arms in a serpentine fashion while performing complicated steps with their feet. The dancers also performed in the ring by themselves, matching their identical black and white dresses with fans that they threw and spun in the air, to the audiences delight.
After the conclusion of the dance, the students were led into a restaurant and treated to tapas or snacks, and something to drink. The dancers took to the stage and performed again, this time aided by a guitarist and singer. At the end of the show, the students got involved in the dancing as they learned how to do some of the simpler moves. One of the staff members, Danielle Jenkins, was celebrating her birthday and she danced with the flamenco dancers after they sang for her.
It was around 2300hrs. when the students were finally piled into the buses that brought them to Chiclana. After checking that all parties were accounted for, the group made its way back to the ship.

Friday, September 11, 2009

All About Cadiz (City Orientation)

The crowd of students at the fifth deck gangway was massive Saturday afternoon. Groups of new friends whispered excitedly to one another as they waited for the MV Explorer crew to swipe their ID cards, so they could disembark the ship. The numbers were impressive; they filled three tour buses, along with staff and a professional guide. The ship had docked in Cadiz just a few hours earlier, and for many of the students in the group, the orientation was their first chance to get out into the city. 
As for the city itself, Cadiz is beautiful. Full of history (it is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe), interesting people and fabulous beaches, the port is an ideal first stop for the voyage. The students that signed up for the city orientation were shown the city’s most memorable sites, including the town’s museum, which included paintings and sculptures by the city’s famous native sons as well as many of the ancient civilizations that once ruled the area. Both the Phoenicians and Romans governed the region before it passed into the hands of the Spaniards.
The orientation included a walking tour, and students had the chance to explore the cathedral that was finished in 1838, after 116 years of construction. Progress on the church was slow due to lack of funds, and the finished cathedral is actually a mix of the baroque and neoclassical styles, a testament to the two periods it’s construction straddles. They also got the chance to see the bustling residential area of the city towards the tour’s end. Many students made purchases in one of the many shops located near San Juan de Dios Square, which is located within walking distance from where the ship was anchored. The most popular purchase of the day? Ice cream!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Arrival in Cadiz

The sun got to Cadiz the same time we did. The MV Explorer pulled into the first port on its full itinerary at approximately 0800 hrs. Saturday morning, which turned out to be perfect timing; students that were milling about every deck of the ship in anticipation of our arrival watched the sun rise over a mountain range rolling along the Spanish coast. It was a bit chilly, not only because of the hour, but also because we were still on the water, so everyone was bundled in pajama pants, sweats, jackets and the occasional skullcap. Once the captain manuvered the ship to the port that will be its home until Tuesday, most of the students ran inside to escape the chill, and fill their bellies with breakfast (courtesy of the wonderful MV Explorer crew).
A couple of the overnight trips had early starts, and students picked up their passports and shuffled onto buses as shortly after the ship cleared customs. Others were eager to see the city although they had no official excursions planned for the morning, and they left around the same time. The rest snuggled into their beds for a few extra hours of sleep befor they ventured out or found a quiet place to congregate and discuss last minute plans.
The students have many options for port exploration. They can take advantage of the official excursions, which are plentiful, varied and carefully planned and chaperoned. The students that are feeling a bit more adventurous, or want to do something not included in the field program are free to travel within the country. To keep everyone safe and accounted for, students are briefed during cultural and logistical pre-port meetings about all aspects of life in Cadiz from politics to food, along with phone numbers for on-call staff members (who will be available 24/7 while the ship is in port) and Medex representatives. Safety concerns and procedures are covered in detail and students are given a page containing all of the most important items to take with them while off the ship. Also, there are independent travel information sheets that students can use to let the ship know where and when they will be traveling, as well as how to contact them. The students seem to be very comfortable with the ways they are choosing to see Spain, and it will only get easier for them as the semester progresses and they gain more experience.


The next couple of blogs will cover some of the interesting excursions the students have gone on, including a tour of Cadiz, flamenco dancing and a tour of a wind and solar power farm. ¡Que interesante!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Big Event

Just wanted to post a quick update full of pictures from the first big event of the semester-- the BBQ and Mashup Madness social. The first two pictures are from the BBQ, which replaced dinner. You can see students piling their plates (and faces) with hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and ice cream! Needless to say, a wonderful time was had by all. In the evening, students were invited to wear the most creatively mismatched outfits they could come up with, and meet in the Union for a night of Mashup Madness. The social was short and sweet, running from 2100 until 2300hrs (pretty tame, so everyone made it to class this morning!), and the students' clothes were the source of many laughs throughout the evening. Two pictures of the fun can be seen below.

The first few blog posts have been focused on showing how the students are adjusting to life at sea, as well as some of the things (like the BBQ and social) that the staff have organized to help ensure their social needs are served as well as their academic ones. In the coming days before the ship reaches the first port in Cadiz, Spain, the focus will shift a bit to look at some of the other aspects of ship life including academics.