This past May, I was fortunate enough to experience two weeks in Ghana. Pre-flight, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had previously traveled to South Korea, but nothing similar to Africa. Upon arrival in Ghana, after a connecting flight in Belgium, I was welcomed by incredibly friendly faces. The first night I stayed in Accra, which was incredible. I could not help but notice all of the hard-working men and women, who worked with children strapped to their backs. It was surprising to see many children take the role of a mature adult at such a young age. From the following day on, I met up with five other students and we took the two hour bus drive to a small village, Okurase. This village is home to around 3,000 individuals. Here, we stayed for around ten days, researching and financially planning out the expenditures on building a fish smoker. Previously, the school I studied for had created a catfish farm for the village. However, to increase the added value, we decided to build a smoker for the community. Seeing as around 70-80% of fresh fish is smoked in Ghana, due to unreliable electricity, or lack there of, a smoker seemed the best route. Regardless of the lack of money and material items, the residents here, children included, constantly greeted me warmly. Many of the children played with my hair and held my hand while walking through the village. Learning the names of the children in the villages, and them memorizing and shouting my name as I walked by is something I will likely never forget as they warmed my heart so much. On the tenth day, we were incredibly sad to leave, but were content with the completion of the fish smoker. Knowing after we visited the village, that we left the community with the opportunity to make a positive change was extremely humbling and gratifying. After the village, we visited a few other destinations such as: Mole National Reserve, Larabanga, and Cape Coast. All of these destinations were incredible, and we were able to learn so much about the country in the process. Our final stop Accra, even allowed us a visit to the U.S. Embassy to discuss what we had previously done in Okurase, and what Project Okurase wishes to do in the future. Academically, this trip has broadening my horizons tenfold. Previously, I have not had much real-world experience in terms of applying finance and marketing to specific projects. The goals of completing the smoker within the budget, achieving useful marketing information via surveys, and marketing the project’s future plans to raise awareness were challenging, but incredibly rewarding and educational. In fact, upon visiting the U.S. Embassy, the idea of returning to Ghana, not only within a year, but also after the completion of school, appears incredibly appealing. There is so much that can be done, and so many markets that can be reached in Africa, it seems a bit overwhelming. I believe it is important that many businesses start to slowly shift towards putting more resources into reaching these markets.
I, for one, burn horribly. If you think your skin is somewhat similar to mine, wear long sleeves and long pants with thin material. Although the weather felt like a couple thousand degrees, and the sun was incredibly brutal, I am pretty sure the long sleeves and long pants/skirts I wore saved me from turning my skin into leather.
I also want to throw out there that no matter how prepared you think you may be, visiting a country like Ghana (which is drastically different from the United States), will no doubt have you losing weight through one end or the other. I experienced sickness for around five days and I am pretty sure it is the reason I ended up losing around seven pounds in the two week trip. Try to bring multivitamins and antibiotics (use only in case of severe sickness), they will help tremendously. Although the sickness is likely unavoidable, I’m sure you’ll find that the trip is worth the pain ten times over. I mean come on, elephants a hundred feet away in no confinement? It’s nothing like going to a zoo.
Do not forget the required documents for entering the country. You will need a Visa to enter. Although my Visa did not take long to receive, ensure you have all the necessary materials and do not forget to include a return shipping label (I made that mistake). Ensure your passport’s expiration date is not six months prior to the travel plans (unless you plan on living in Ghana for a very, very long time). As previously mentioned, you also are required to receive the Yellow Fever Vaccine. Plan ahead because, as of now, there is a worldwide shortage and it is a bit expensive. Once you receive the vaccine, you will also receive a yellow piece of paper. You must bring this paper and present it with your passport upon entering and sometimes exiting the country.
Malaria, if you don’t take the medicine, you will get it. If you take the medicine, there is a 99% chance you won’t get it. Talking bugs, there are a decent amount of bugs, nothing to be too afraid of. Maybe some crickets that are a bit larger than they should be, or a few ants that are frighteningly large, but overall I noticed nothing too scary (which actually says a lot, seeing as I am frightened by just about any horror movie, especially Ju-on). Also, it is pretty important that you take the medication a few days before the trip and at least a week after the trip, in accordance with your doctor’s instructions and the medication you are taking.
Do no drink the water. The locals do not drink the water. Use bottled water and packaged water to drink and brush your teeth. If you plan on lengthening the period you spend in the bathroom, or have plans you’re trying to avoid, drink the water. (Don’t actually, it’s a terrible idea. No amount of vaccines and medication will make the water safe to drink, or save you from whatever you may contract upon returning to your home country.)
Bring bug spray by the gallon. Here, there’s a bit more to be worried about than mosquitoes bothering you. In my experience, most of the bugs came out at night, but even with all of my skin covered, the bugs bit through the fabric (totally unfair, should not be a thing). You can actually soak your clothing in the DEET liquid, and it lasts for multiple washes, have not yet tried. At least make sure your ankles are covered, because for some odd reason they seem to love ankles (maybe this is what our high schools were warning us of when they cracked down on dress code). In conclusion, yes, bring bug spray and spray your ankles and probably the back of your neck.
One last thing I should mention: The people here, pretty much everyone, do this crazy, cool handshake I have yet to master. Something along the lines of a regular handshake turned into snapping the fingers. I probably embarrassed myself over fifty times trying to successfully do it but failing miserably. Note to self: check out YouTube tutorial later.
Note: Be prepared to be open to seeing things you may not usually feel comfortable seeing. As negative as it may sound, many are not usually exposed to poverty at such an extreme level. And also, the culture, is just completely different. Be aware, be conscientious, and be accepting of these differences.