*In no specific order, here are my top favorite moments of this incredible trip*
Visiting Cape Coast with my cousins and friend
Hugging my grandma for the first time in 14 years
Visiting East Legon Botanical Garden
Christmas night at Kikibees
Watching The Princess and Frog with my little cousin and getting to know her
Reconnecting with my first best friend from elementary school
Holding my 4 month old niece
Eating banku and okra stew with my mom and friend while sitting outside under the tree
Visiting the NICU at Korle Bu hospital
Watching my mom have fun with her friends of over 20 years and wow they are hilarious & fun to be around!
Sitting in the back of a trotro eating fan yogurt ice cream, minding my business and enjoying town views as we ride home
In addition to my time in Ghana, I truly enjoyed doing this travel blog and videos. Exploring places, whether it be a neighborhood in my city, a different state or traveling internationally, is one of my favorite thing to do, and being able to share these experiences is something I deeply cherish. Thank you for reading.
Today I’ll be sharing some old and new tips and lessons from my stay in Ghana. By all means live the best life that serves you, but I think it would helpful to keep these in mind.
Number 1: Get that hair braided.
If you like a low maintenance hair routine, or do not want to be worried about your hair from day to day, get your hair braided. I don’t know what it is about braids, but they can truly help withstand the heat. Maybe it’s because the hair doesn’t stick to your face and neck or maybe because you won’t spend time sweating trying to do it in the morning. You can just wake and go. So my best advice, unless you have some really nice lace glue or lots of patience, is to get braids or rock your natural hair. I wouldn’t recommend weave for a long stay.
Number 2: Pack efficiently.
Wherever I travel, I want to interact with the locals, kind of embrace typical daily lives, and in some places that means walking around a lot. Additionally, I like exploring for long hours, so one thing I always travel with is a purse in a bigger size. Not a huge bag, but something big enough to fit everything I would like to carry, use throughout the day, and most importantly allow me to walk holding nothing in my hand. This is essential in particular for safety and to avoid misplacing anything.
When I head out for the day, I usually have in my purse the following: a little pouch that contains my sunscreen, lip gloss, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, and a small deodorant (Uhm yes, re-apply that too, it’s hot out here and no one wants to smell that) and sometimes even a portable version of my perfume. In the rest of the bag I have an additional mask, a portable charger, my phone, my wallet, sunglasses, and sometimes a book when it’s a long drive.
Number 3: Be aware of “Respectability Politics”
I’m a firm believer in doing whatever you want (that’s not harmful to others) to feel good about yourself, including your appearance. It utterly none of anyone’s business but yourself. (I will always be appalled by people’s audacity to wake up and comment on others people physical appearance- who asked you!)
But one thing about some (older) Africans: they are going to state what’s on their mind. One friend told me “because of something (ie tattoos, piercings, length of your attire, anklets) people will feel like they can just approach you anyhow. What they don’t need to be saying, they will say.”
I think it’s important to also take into consideration the culture and environment you travel to, understand that there is a time and place for everything, and find a way to blend your personality with the culture if you can afford or care to.
For example, this stay was very family-oriented for me so certain things I would wear visiting my aunt’s hometown, would not be the same as something I would wear out with a girlfriend. Or if I’m going around town during the day (with someone who is not my mother) my outfit will be a little more conservative.
I remember being in this trotro (bus), and the man sitting next to me kept staring at my tattoo, then at my face. Then he would look at the tattoo again then at my face. The entire time he was riding. Whatever he was thinking, was not respectful.
Number 4: Pray not to be stuck in traffic.
Traffic is on another level in Ghana and it’s definitely took some adjustment to get used to it. Coming to Accra in December, unless you can fly, you will get stuck in traffic at some point. Sometimes you spend more time in traffic than at your actual destination.
I did not drive this time because it does take some skill to tackle the traffic in some Accra areas. Additionally, some roads are not the best and can be harmful to your car if not careful. So I just rather not drive.
However when there’s no traffic and you’re on a highway, driving seems fairly easy going. We have a long way to go and definitely need to improve the infrastructure in Ghana. It’s the inconsistency for me. Some areas are beautifully developed, while others you will cry for your car.
In addition to driving yourself, other forms of transportations include Uber or Bolt, local taxis and trotro (which would be a corresponding bus as public transportation). Ubers/bolt are cheaper than taxis, but if you can afford to support the locals, then take a taxis. Most Uber drivers have stated that they are underpaid, they are not even shown how much the ride is, or don’t get paid immediately. And also just do be aware that sometimes your destination may not have ubers there when ready for a return.
Like everywhere else, the trotros are the cheapest (but longest) options. Plus, I enjoy taking public transportation when I travel because I get to see a lot of places and interact with people. During the height of the pandemic in Ghana, they did place restrictions on how many can fit into one trotro to about 8 people per car, versus the usually about 15 people. Tip: sitting in front gives you a bit more room to move. Another form of transportation are the motorcycles but those are very dangerous so I’m not even going to discuss them.
Number 5: Figure out what’s the best way to get access to your money.
Don’t be like me and forget your pin to your debit card while you are traveling. Don’t be like me and think Discover works everywhere (that international is more like western).
Apart from that they are ATMs around you can get money out of when needed. Pay attention to the rates and your own bank charges for international transactions. In addition, you can use your card in plenty of stores, as long as you remember your pin.
Be like me and download sendwave. This is the best app I have come across so far. The rates are great, easy transfers, and no extra or transactions fees by your bank. However, you do need to transfer it to another person (who has a registered number), so choose someone you trust and go with them when they take out the money.
Number 6: Effort to learn the language goes a long way.
My parents refuse to speak anything but Twi to my siblings and I. No matter what country we found ourselves in, trust that my parents will allow speak Twi. At one point, my dad would not even respond if we didn’t speak Twi back. Well now I am very grateful for that because my Twi is still very good. But even with that I was still made fun of for the way I would say some words.
Nonetheless, many of my family were really proud that I still spoke Twi and it made my life much easier. It made it easier to connect with my family, less likely to be taken advantage of (sometimes) when buying something. I was kind of disappointed that I did not know the other dialects my family spoke. But knowing some everyday words like thank you, greetings, making an effort can go a long way.
Posts to Read: Check out & support my favorite travel blog by Ericka Lyn. She has been to so many places and has great “Tips & Tricks”
During my trip I got this wonderful opportunity to visit and shadow some physician-scientists at the University of Ghana and Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. I know nerddddd but hey I network wherever I can.
Please note that I will refrain from sharing specific details about my shadowing experience. Even if it might not be the case, I find it crucial not to invade a patient’s privacy more than necessary (being there to shadow). Nonetheless, I will comment on some general healthcare system aspects of the country that I have learned.
Students are the same everywhere, and there is a kind of comfort and solidarity in seeing that. I loved seeing so many women in a range of healthcare and STEM positions. The definition of teamwork, everything requiring a collective effort, could not be more valid in the settings I shadowed.
Here are some aspects of the collective effort I truly admired and enjoyed.
The atmosphere in a lab (which I visited at the Infectious Disease department at the University of Ghana) is much less lonesome. Usually, in the U.S., one typically works on their project on their own. You may share a space with someone, require a technician to assist you, speak to your PI, but you are pretty by yourself doing your work. However, in Ghana, students, technicians, postdocs tend to work in a shared workspace, exchanging ideas, helping each other, and actively keeping each other company. It feels welcoming and less like you are on your own. Which sometimes tends to be the atmosphere in an individualistic society like the States.
The environment I observed at the lab in Ghana also makes it less intimidating to approach someone (even in a higher position) with questions or ask for assistance. I honestly wanted to enroll immediately. It felt like an environment that promoted productivity without having you ignore socializing with colleagues until lunchtime or happy hour. Again it may vary in some cases, but this was my personal experience.
Another collective aspect I noticed at the hospital (particularly in the emergency room) that caught my attention was the necessary involvement of a family member or friend when a patient visits the hospital.
Due to a rather complicated system, I may say, a patient cannot obtain care without someone being there to help to retrieve scans, complete paperwork, and pay for services (each done in separate parts of the hospital). An individual can not do all of that while in a sickbed, so they need someone to help them.
It was quite interesting to witness particularly, compared to the “self-supporting” time one can have at a hospital in the States. I remember my own experience in the ER: I did not even tell my parents until the next day when I came home. Meanwhile, in the Korle Bu ER, every patient had someone with them.
Care administered does not happen all at once, obviously, so the fact that you need a friend or family member’s help, you complete the required paperwork, payments, and other processes before care can proceed, in some instances, can delay things. Nonetheless, with the current system, it is essential and comforting for a patient.
I have been curious about medicine and the healthcare system since I was a child, and it was great to learn about such a system in my homeland, no matter how short the experience was. This time provided me with an insight into how things work, the life of physicians and students, and the most prevalent health issues people encounter. Hopefully, one day I can work alongside these phenomenal healthcare workers and contribute to lessening health issues for many.
This post is going to contain a lot of unpopular opinions and it’s not meant to convince or persuade anyone to let go of certain views. This is just me expressing how some aspects within the culture that make me…cringe a little.
First, let me say I find it very shocking how many people I met during my travel that were concerned with the fact that I did not have marriage or kids on my mind. Especially at my “big age”. I’m 23, and apparently I’m closing in on my due date and time is running out. I tend to just smile at these unwanted opinions people felt the need to express out loud, because it’s like why y’all in my business? I’m not even in my business when it come to that.
Jokes aside, I honestly don’t care about this at all. What mainly concerned me was the fact that there are still many young girls (younger than me) in some parts of Ghana and many many other countries who are expected to be married and have children at age that’s not safe…mentally or physically. I have the privilege to have safe options in my life, a privilege to choose to not be bothered by these social expectations. I often wonder if my attitude would be the same if living in a place where such expectations were a rule or a means for survival.
I’m not going to lie, I am biased when it comes to marriage since I do have a more cynical view of it. But, I am trying to expand my view into a more realistic and holistic one. Nonetheless, certain gender roles expectations and characteristics of it…do not always make marriage an attractive or fair lifestyle for women.
First of all, don’t take any of these African men hitting on you and offering marriage seriously, I beg. If he really wants you he would pay your bills first.
….but not really.
My issue is what is really being offered? Hear me out.
Most of these men quick to “propose” are often the same to have quite some misogynistic views. Many are particularly bothered when a woman is not considering marriage (with a man). It’s like how dare you try to think you can make it without a man, how dare you think a man is an option!
For example, one night during my stay, sitting outside, enjoying the cool evening breeze in Accra, a conversation sparked around this topic with the guys and I was told by some that I wasn’t a real woman because I didn’t agree with certain views and wasn’t willing to accept a certain life as a woman. Views such as:
A wife who doesn’t serve her husband everyday is not a real woman. Serving means cooking, cleaning, you know the usual.
A husband can not do certain things (anything to do with household chores, that the woman is expected to do, rain or shine, after 8 hour job or not) solely because he’s a man.
Men are to control the wife because women don’t know how to take care of business… (For example a woman is supposed to hand her entire paycheck to the man, not because we are bringing money together as a couple to equally manage but just because women just can’t handle money)
However, when my life is full of brilliant, tenacious women who handle things exceptionally (on their own), it’s difficult to see men as a need rather than a option, a want. When my life is full of men who don’t depend on these toxic views for their masculinity, to define their manhood, it is difficult to see them as nothing but kwasiasem.
If this is the marriage they are so quick to offer, my already skeptical mind is definitely not considering them at all.
Also, don’t get me started on the fact that everytime I would be out with a guy, people would refer questions (even ones concerning me or both) to him rather than me…ugh I don’t recall wearing my invisible cloth.
Honestly why is Patriarchy a thing at all?
P.S. Gentlemen, if the shoe doesn’t fit…no need to be fake hurt.
Whenever I travel, I always have multiple books with me to read. It helps pass time at the airport while waiting to board, a great alternative for entertainment in case of a phone dying or a lack of internet connection, or during a long car trip. I mostly like the idea that as my body travels to new different places, my mind also travels to different worlds through books. During my trip to Ghana I finally finished up “The Handmaid’s Tale” and read “The Peacock Emporium”. Enjoy the reviews for each below!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Uhmmm…so no. I don’t know how I feel about this book. I’m not sure if it’s because I am already watching the show but I have watched something before reading the book and I have always ended up preferring the original work rather than the visual. This time that wasn’t the case at all. It was a hard read in the sense that I wasn’t intrigued by it. If I had only read the book, I wouldn’t have been interested in the show.
It is a well written book. Unexpectedly funny at times, the whit of the main character is definitely what makes the book interesting. Again I might be biased in this review due to exposure to the Hulu series based on the book. Yet I do have to say that the novel lacked something. Depth.
It gives little glimpse of the characters, and I do appreciate the subtle and grey transitions between the present and the past, however you are left starving. Not the good kind where you are craving more. But the one that leads to disinterest. In a way I had to force myself to pick up the book to read. When I stopped, I didn’t think about it. I guess that’s why it took me so long to finish.
I have purchased the recently published sequel, but I don’t know if it’s worth reading. Knowing myself, I probably will because I feel unfinished with this story and I don’t like not completing things. However if you are new to the Handmaid’s tale I would say just watch the series on Hulu.
Why did I decide to read the book when I was already watching the series you may ask?
Well…in my experience the book has always been better than the movie. Additionally with the sequel published and no idea of when a new season of the show will resume due to COVID-19, I decided to read it. I did not want to start with “The Testaments” (the sequel) because I didn’t know where the story was going to pick up based on either the book or show.
Well that’s all for this review. Hope my next read is better!
The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes
I’m not sure I could understand or relate to main character, Suzanna. She was particularly complicated, and one can’t exactly pin point what is rendering her so unhappy or what exactly she wants to be happy. I don’t think she herself knew, or maybe she did but felt afraid to make it a reality.
Nonetheless, it pleases me to see a character written with such depth because people are complicated, life is complicated and sometimes one can’t really know why or how to fix it.
A part of me (that I have bene working on through therapy) wanted the storyline to immediately find a way to fix her unhappiness. Usually characters would be on a journey to reach that “happily ever after”, but it was quite refreshing to see that wasn’t the case for Suzanna. And that’s very true to life. Sometimes shit is fucked up, you’re fucked up and there’s nothing you can or want to do.
I think that’s where her family was doing wrong as well, always trying to do something or make her do something to fix her unhappiness.
Sometimes you just need to be there that’s it.
I think the best part of this book was that it allowed Suzanna to be a complicated character in a way that made everyone (characters and readers) uncomfortable and at least for me, questioning why such discomfort takes place when life is not so perfect.
It is sad that this trip was brought about by a death in the family. However, Ghanaians have an especially extraordinary way to not only mourn the dead but celebrate their lives.
Ghanaian funerals are usually held on Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays are for viewing of the body and the burial service. Sunday is the thanksgiving service. Other days like Friday, is the “lying in state” when the body is transported and prepared for viewing. Monday and Tuesday, the children of the deceased meet with the elders for discussion matters unbeknownst to me. This is at least the simplest way my mom could explain to me. Feel free to read the following for more understanding and perspectives on Ghanaian funeral traditions.
This is the first time I have truly come to meet a lot of family members on my mother’s side. It’s weird because many would approach me asking if I remembered them and I, unfortunately, did not. Yet, there were faces that I had completely forgotten about but I would somehow instantly recognized when I saw them. It felt like when Raven would have those sudden visions!
There were names I remembered but couldn’t attach a face to and vice versa. Nonetheless, the welcome I received was extraordinary. I do have to say being able to speak the language (Twi) truly helped me assimilate and feel included.
Among the many eye-opening moments, was discovering that I had 29 cousins (just on my mother’s side). Meeting my cousins was exciting and overwhelming, I was introduced to many, and others I recognized only due to the identical cloth we all wore. There were moments where I wished I had grown here to have those closer relationships, many of them seem to have with one another.
I also came to realize how common blended families are in our community. All my siblings and I (and that’s only three of us) share the same parents, and that has often given me a sense of a tight-knit small family and misunderstanding that such was a common fate among many. But I got to see how truly extended families are, my own extended family is truly extended. An unexpectedly pleasant surprise. Will I get to know all of them? No. But I do intend to connect and build a rapport with some of them. Plus one of my great-nephews is hilarious! And that’s a plus.
As a child of immigrants, you are sort of always aware of the hard work and sacrifices your parents have invested into building a better life. It’s like a subtle knowledge that presents itself always in your life. You embark on a new journey or things get difficult, and you remind yourself to embody the same bravery your parents had or you tell yourself not to give up to make your (parents’) hard work in vain.
Stepping outside your own lenses, and traveling back home you come to realize truly how far your parents have come. Being born in Ghana, I still have small memories of life before, I remember my old neighborhood, remember being shielded from hardship but still being aware of its’ presence. Now to see the life my parents have built for themselves from their even harsher past, I’m incredibly proud of them. Seeing what they have been able to build, manage while handling the many responsibilities that come with being “the one abroad”, has truly opened my heart to a deeper sense of respect for my parents.
I had an interesting conversation with another passenger on the plane. Speaking to him ( and he couldn’t have been more than 5 years older than me), discussing how different his trip is versus mine, as him being “the only (first) one abroad”, made me realize how much having my parents had absolved me of certain responsibilities and given me the privilege to turn the other ear. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have the strength to do what my parents done for both their families. I don’t know if I would be that altruistic, be capable of successfully taking on such responsibilities that come with an African collective society.
To be able to upgrade the entire family, embark on a journey that has entirely transformed the trajectory of our history is my parents biggest flex.
All to say I’m proud of you, mom & dad.
PS. Day 2 without any internet connection and I hate to admit this but I’m going insane. Yes I could say I’m getting to appreciate little things, or pay attention to local television or be in the present etc. But let’s be real that’s bs, I want to also be social media etc. I miss Twitter.
During my lifetime (so far and I pray in the future) I have been blessed with the opportunities to travel to different cities and countries. My parents say I have a itch and can’t stay in one place. They’re right. Nonetheless in all the places I traveled I never thought about traveling as a person of color until my recent trip to China. All the previous places I’ve traveled to, have been exposed to and have people with a dark skin tone like myself within their communities. However in China, I realized that not every community has had interactions with black people before, if ever. Many times, I was stopped by people to take pictures with them, pointed at, stared at, touched (sometimes without permission), sometimes even followed. Some interactions were pleasant, others not so much. My other white companions did not receive the same treatment, not at the obsessive level I and other black visitors experienced. It made me realize that my black skin signifies something around the world. I may not have realized it before but there will be places where I travel to where my presence will generate a reaction. I will never be just another tourist visiting a place. My presence will be questioned, will marvel people, will turn some off, will be noticed… I can’t be invisible. In China when incidents like this would happen, I didn’t know what to make of them (I did get upset when one woman grabbed me without my permission and kept following me) but I was not annoyed by the incidents. I was mostly concerned about the ignorance and lack of exposure to black representation, knowledge, or people. I didn’t blame the individuals, I didn’t know who was at fault but it made me realized that there’s a different kind of wonder, or maybe prejudice surrounding my blackness. I mean black skin is beautiful, full of melanin and brightness I would want to (at a respectable distance) admire it too…
Regardless it does make me wonder what other places will I travel to that have never been exposed to black people? Will this ignorance/lack of knowledge lead to discriminatory actions? Unfortunately it wouldn’t surprise me if the answer is yes.