Dana knew it wasn’t.
The prize included airfare, hotel, ground transportation, a tour of Ghana’s capital city, Accra, as well as the Elmina Castles and Kakum Nature Reserve and other prizes. The Caywoods were told everything in advance, except for one important thing. They were never told how their African odyssey would touch their hearts and change their perspectives in ways that only Africa could do.
Dana, better known as Sue, was asked to keep a log of their journey for a feature in National Geographic and The Africa Channel. Her candid comments, along with her husband’s, made for a surprising adventure with a life lesson worthy of their journey. In her writings, Sue mentions many details — from their flight to Ghana to the cultural differences of a friendly and humble people who respect and welcome Americans.
When the couple finally arrived in Accra, a city of nearly 2.3 million people, it became clear to them this is the nation’s economic center of activity. Accra is also the center of culture and tourism, making it Ghana’s most populated city. Described as a sprawling city with a mixture of modern buildings, shanty towns and bustling markets, Sue wrote of her personal experience in Ghana’s traffic with their tour guide — stating candidly that the people are not the best drivers, nor is their traffic system highly sophisticated.
“Mondays is a busy day as so many people are going to the bank and markets, but the people drive terrible,” she said. “Cars pulling out in front of each other — I would never drive here.”
Although it was challenging to navigate through the traffic, the couple ended up touring the University of Ghana, the city’s oldest and largest institution of higher learning. What made thetour so unique is the realization that Ghana’s education system is unlike that in America.
“When we were at the University of Ghana we were standing at a certain place looking down at the city of Ghana,” Sue said. “Education is so very important to the people of Ghana, but it is very costly because you have to pay for your child’s education just like you do when you go to college. When our tour guide was showing us how we could look over the city I was thinking how these kids are poor and have to pay for their education from grammar school through college. School begins at 7 a.m. and is over at 4 p.m. The child has to pay to ride the bus. I then thought about how blessed we are in America to get so much for free. I was just humbled by it.”
While they were traveling to the popular Kakum National Park with its famous seven swinging bridges suspended over a magnificent forest, Terry said he noticed an unusual sight that he would never forget.
“We were about three miles out from Accra and the road was deteriorating into dirt with a lot of big potholes,” Terry explained. “On our way to the park we came across an 18- or 19-year-old male on the side of the road shoveling up dirt and filling these potholes. So I asked our guide, ‘Why is he putting dirt in those potholes? Don’t you put gravel or something in there?’ The guide said, ‘Yes, we do. But he doesn’t have a way of supporting himself and he’s doing that in the hope that someone will think what he is doing is valuable and give him some money.’”
Terry said, “We traveled over a mile where he had filled the holes. When we came back that evening he was still out there shoveling dirt and filling potholes! I told the driver to stop and I gave him some money. The young man just smiled and thanked me over and over. I said, ‘Young man I want to brag on you! In America, many people are looking for a handout. But you’re out her working and working in the hope of getting some money!’ You couldn’t pay most people to do that! His ambition was so great that it made an impression on me.”
The most lasting impression, however, came during their final tour to the town of Elmina where the couple visited the Elmina Castle — a structure erected in 1482. The Elmina Castle was the first European slave-trading post in all of sub-Saharan Africa and the oldest European building in existence. This is where slave traders held as many as 1,000 slaves for an average of two months under the most inhumane conditions, until a new group of slaves arrived. After touring the structure, Sue was moved to write, “This was the most horrible thing I have ever seen with my own two eyes. This place is called the ‘Door of No Return.’”
In this notorious castle, luxury suites for the European masters were on the upper levels, while thousands of Africans were herded like cattle into the stench of nearly suffocating dungeons below. The cells were cramped, filthy rooms of despair — without proper ventilation or light, no toilet facilities or even enough space for everyone to lie down. For Terry and Sue it was a shock to the system that words will never fully describe.
As the stunned couple entered one room after another, Sue said they saw the remains of a Dutch chapel upstairs with a Bible verse written in Dutch and the words, “Psalm 132, Slave Masters” hanging on a sign.
“This was the most emotional tourist site I have ever visited in my life,” she wrote. “I had no idea what my eyes would behold. I traveled across the Atlantic by plane and it was rough, but for these human beings to travel from West Africa to America in boats was horrible. I knew that there was inhumane treatment that was meted out on slaves by the slave masters, but nothing could prepare me for the reality of seeing it on the grounds.
“There were male dungeons and female dungeons where slaves were held in the most dehumanizing conditions for months before being shipped out. The chains that held the slaves are preserved for all to see and imagine the torture the slaves underwent while waiting to be shipped out. It is so heart-rending and a stark reminder of man’s capacity for cruelty beyond anything I could ever imagine. And to think the role the white man’s religion played in the whole setup.”
In spite of the inhumane treatment of their ancestors, it was hard to ignore the meek nobility of the people of Ghana who made the Caywoods feel welcomed and enlightened on their unforgettable journey.
“I told Terry, ‘If only we had the humility these people have,’” Sue said. “That’s one thing I noticed about them. They’re a very humble and peaceable people. We were treated like royalty. It was top class. It was a life-changing experience!”
As he reflected on a life lesson they would take from their experience, Terry, 68, summed it up by saying, “Don’t dwell on your adversities. Dwell on what you can do to change them. That’s the way the Ghana people are. They don’t dwell on their adversities. They look at ways to change them.”
Sue agreed, adding, “Terry and I went to Honduras and that was a real mission field there. But what touched my heart the most, I really feel it is Africa. I’ll never be the same — ever.”
The couple was given gifts of attire and, more importantly, a bond that binds them to something greater than they could have imagined. Married 45 years with four children and four grandchildren, Terry and Sue returned to the states a changed, more socially conscious and humble duo who share a swelling desire to raise awareness about embracing diversity, appreciating the values of a good education and the freedom that all people should cherish — be it in the U.S. or the faraway continent of Africa.