Big beautiful smiles, genuine friendliness, community focus, bright colors, hot sun and humidity, proud independent people, and mosquitoes are the immediate thoughts that come to mind when I think of Ghana.
InterExchange Working Abroad offers a Volunteer in Ghana program, and in March 2010 I had the pleasure of traveling to Ghana to meet with our cooperators and spend time with volunteers. I fell in love with Ghana and her people the moment I landed on her soil. Everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic; the good vibes were contagious.
All journeys begin with preparation and this trip was no exception. I had to secure a visa, receive inoculations, and purchase items I did not already have. Securing my visa was easy. We have a link to the Ghana Embassy on the InterExchange website. From there I found the section on visas and applied for a single-entry tourist visa. I followed the directions completely and submitted all documents requested and within seven business days, my visa had arrived in the mail. For my inoculations I went to see a travel medical doctor who asked me a variety of questions and gave me the required shots. I still had my yellow fever vaccination and my tetanus shot so I didn't have to get these again, thank goodness. I hate shots! I was prescribed a prophylactic to prevent malaria and Cipro, which I was to take in case I got sick from something I ingested (a good precaution and thankfully never used).
Since I was only going to be there for a short amount of time, I wasn't sure if I would need a mosquito net, but I bought one just in case. I made sure mine was pre-sprayed with permethrin. You actually do have the opportunity to buy the nets once you arrive, and they are sprayed, but I chose to bring one with me. I also bought permethrin clothing spray and insect repellent with a high concentration of Deet. Mosquitoes love me and I'm pretty sure that if vampires did exist I would be irresistible to them.
The day I was leaving for Ghana I stepped onto the front of my suburban lawn with all of my clothing and luggage and sprayed everything. I don't recommend spraying your clothing the same day you're leaving-it does need time to dry. Unfortunately for me, I didn't read the directions on the back of the bottle until that morning. It was a good thing I was leaving late in the evening, but I literally packed my bag within 20 minutes of when I was leaving so that my clothes would be as dry as possible in the bag. I even put all of my clothing in plastic garbage bags before putting them into my suitcase as an extra precaution.
I chose to pack a rolling suitcase as opposed to a large backpack–my "go to" travel luggage. This was fine because the bags were just going to the hostel, then to the host family, back to the hostel, and to finally to the airport once again. If I were going to be in Ghana longer and planned to travel around, I would recommend either bringing a backpack large enough to take on excursions or take the travel backpack that can hold necessities for several days. You can leave your luggage at the cooperator's main office in Accra if you need to.
There were a few things I forgot to pack and wish I had: a first aid kit (I sliced open my finger during the trip), a chemical treatment for the bathing water, like Germol, and hand wipes. I found a great site where I purchased all of my mosquito repelling items: http://www.travmed.com. See our blog "5 Tips for Staying Healthy" for more ways to stay healthy on the road.
All packed and time to depart! My husband drove me to Newark International Airport where I was to begin my journey, I kissed him goodbye and headed through the sliding doors. I was flying British Airways and had received a discount from Fly For Good (http://www.flyforgood.com) since I was going to visit volunteer sites. Fly for Good is an excellent organization to purchase your flight for volunteer and teach English programs in Ghana. My airfare was about half the regular price. I boarded my flight and planned to sleep through till my layover in London, after all I had been up since 7am running around getting ready for the trip. Seven hours later I was still awake and we were landing at Heathrow. I had watched three movies and drank way too much tea, which was the reason for my insomnia.
I actually enjoyed my layover at Heathrow. I had studied abroad in England a decade prior and hadn't been back since. Despite the fact that I was not technically on British soil since I didn't clear customs and was stuck in the airport, I was able to have a nice English breakfast, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, I didn't dare sleep during the layover. At this point I was up for approximately 20 hours. No worries! I planned to sleep on the next flight all the way to Ghana.
Boarding the flight I was one of the few non-Africans on the plane. From my perspective, but certainly not theirs, there seemed to be a lot of chaos amongst the Africans boarding the plane. Luggage was falling all around; people wouldn't stay in their seats. I helped a few people to maneuver their luggage in the overhead so more bags could fit. Babies were crying and some lady smacked me in the face with her handbag, completely by mistake.
I watched two movies on this flight, ate dinner, which was served with wine (yes, please!), and had more tea. I didn't sleep a wink! The queue to the toilet was long and so many people were out of their seats that the airline attendants had to ask everyone to sit down. The Africans on the plane were incredibly happy and full of life-it was infectious and gave me a huge boost of energy.
Needless to say that my journey to Ghana, while logistically smooth, was exhausting. I was so excited when I landed and my anticipation for what was to come could finally be put to rest. The remainder of my trip was to be filled with new experiences and meaningful exchanges.