Travel: Ghana On the Job

I’ve lost track of whether this was my first, second or third trip to Africa. I do remember having to get umpteen vaccinations before I went for the first time. I hate needles, but I hate typhoid, yellow fever, tetanus, and hepatitis more, which is a pretty good way to put it into context. (Travel tip #15: even if you’re just going for a few days, aching arms are better than dubious medications prescribed in a language you don’t understand.) I enjoyed working in Africa, but we didn’t get everything right the first time. Here’s a summary of the things we did well and the things we could have done better. (For total tourist stuff, see my other blog on Ghana.)

Travel tip #33: Enjoy (African) time. (Note, I could have easily said Jamaican time here!) We landed in the capital, Accra, a large African city where the traffic was horrendous and the city was crowded and dusty. We just wanted to cross the city and continue up the coast. I think it took us 3 hours just to do this (including a stop). But it was a great way to see the city.

We went with a local so I’m pretty sure we didn’t visit the tourist areas. Business has a spirit of entrepreneurship that gives the city part of its character. People were selling services and goods everywhere – like the guy selling pipes where the store is a bare, dusty room with a counter and a chair and the supplies are piled high outside on the strip of land between the road and the narrow walkway in front of the store. All the stores looked the same and lacked the bright neon lights and window displays. You had to know where you were going and what you wanted. Instead of parking spaces, there were spaces where noone walked or no supplies were lying – so you put the car there. There is no sidewalk – there is space where the cars can’t go – you walked there. And if cars were everywhere, you walked in the road. Business always finds a way!

Travel tip #1: ALWAYS carry a roll of toilet paper with you. There were poor areas of course and sanitation is always an issue. I didn’t know women could a) pee standing up and b) do it without hiking up their dress off. It is well worth the space in your suitcase. Also, even at the company, indoor plumbing doesn’t always mean soap and water. Travel tip #1a: Also carry hand sanitizer and, corollary, try not to dwell on it too much because you just know that not everyone else carries it.

Travel tip #34: Adjust clothing for climate because that Canadian wool suit is just NOT suitable everywhere. It was hot. And humid. Because it was for work, I brought business clothes, but my suit was lightweight silk and my shoes were dress sandals (not dress-y). Oh, and I didn’t move around much. And because I knew developing countries, I shook out my shoes every morning for assorted bugs and lizards. The little baby ones were kinda cute and I hated stepping on them because they squished soooo easily.  The adults in my pillows were not so cute. (And WHY were the blankets heavy and furry?)

Travel tip #17: Be prepared with a gracious refusal. And, of course, local customs and foods are always great conversation topics (another topic is wildlife: “Is that what a tse-tse fly looks like?” as long as you can do it in a casual tone of voice) and it’s always good to approach things with an open mind. However, even though you think you’re ready to try the local delicacy of giant tree snails, be prepared when faced with large pieces of mollusk cooked in a green broth that you eat with your hands to have a backup plan. I think it was the green colour and the large size of the pieces that made me clutch in the end. And, no, I didn’t have my backup plan ready.

I hope these tips will make your travel for business or for pleasure go smoothly! For pure tourist stuff, see my other post about the slave castles, tree walks and frozen yogurt. Ghana after Work.

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