by Tara Cavanagh, Working Abroad Program Manager
Part 3 of the Volunteer in Ghana blog series.
My first full day in Ghana consisted of orientation and spending time with the volunteers who had recently arrived. I was not sure about what I would be expected to wear since I was coming on business so I opted for a versatile Ann Taylor dress that could be either casual or business-like. It ended up being much more the latter when compared to what everyone else was wearing. I felt my American-ness shine through in a way I haven't felt for many years-it appeared I had stereotyped myself through fashion.
When we got to the main offices of our partner, all the volunteers were sitting and waiting. I had actually seen many of them in the hostel, but I wasn't sure if they were with the volunteer program or just traveling. I took my seat in the back of the class because that was the only available spot! It was very obvious that I was the only American in the room. The other partners were from Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK and the newly arrived volunteers were from Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland. Most of them were on a gap year having just completed their secondary schooling, but there were one or two people who were on career breaks and another who was on an extended holiday.
I was highly impressed by the orientation given by Tina. Tina spent 30 years welcoming Peace-Corps volunteers and acting as their Ghanaian representative. She is top notch in what she does, and prides herself in being a mother-like figure to the volunteers! During this first part of the orientation we discussed arrival, health and safety issues as well as tourist sites around Ghana.
As the orientation came to a close we were informed that we had to leave our passports in a lock box in the office. At first I was reluctant to part with my passport, but I understood the safety and security for both the partner organization and myself. Besides, I had made photocopies of my passport before I left and had given them to a trusted individual. I highly recommend that everyone do this before going abroad as you never know when your passport might go missing.
Next on our agenda was to take a tour of Accra on a nice air-conditioned bus. Unless you've been to Western Africa and know how unbelievably hot it is there, you cannot imagine how key it is to have air-conditioned anything. On the agenda for the day were the National Museum, Post Office, Makola Market, Nkrumah Circle, Arts Centre, Independence Square, and Nkrumah Mausoleum.
Most of these places we drove past and viewed from the comfort of the bus. We did stop at a few markets. Makola Market is a large market in Accra where locals go to buy food, cooking essentials, cosmetics, and clothing among other things. We walked through the market and I took photos of some of the items for sale. In Ghana, before you take a photo of a person or a person's possessions you must first ask to do so. It is considered very rude to take photos of people and their possessions without permission. We were also instructed not to pay to take a photo as it encourages locals to expect money from tourists. I wanted to take a picture of the very large live snails being sold at the market, but the lady wanted me to pay; so I declined.
The guys taking us around on tour instructed us on the proper way to bargain and were at our disposal to assist us with the first purchases we made. Of course, I thought "oh I've bargained loads of times in other countries." This attitude resulted in my overpaying for a painting-lesson learned! Although I had experience bargaining in markets elsewhere I was not informed on how much things should cost. I thought I was getting a good deal, but in actuality the seller won the game. However, a Rastafarian did give me a Casca, a musical instrument made from calabash, because my spirit was reaching out to them, so I was even by the time I left the market.
We sat down for lunch mid-day. By this time I was hot and drenched in sweat from head to toe. There were many delicious items on the menu, chicken dishes, rice dishes, vegetable dishes, but I decided that for my first lunch in Ghana, I had to try the local fare. I chose to have fufu, a traditional Ashanti dish made of cassava and plantain that's been mashed together. It was nice to try, but not something that I would personally seek out to eat again. My Ghanaian counterparts, on the other hand, were in heaven enjoying their fufu. See my next blog post for more traditional Ghanaian cuisine!
One of our last stops for the day was to the Nkrumah Mausoleum where Kwame Nkrumah and his wife are buried. If you're traveling to Ghana be sure to read up on Kwame Nkrumah, he was the first president of Ghana and responsible for liberating the country on March 6, 1957. Ghanaians are very proud theirs was the first African country to gain its independence and constantly remind themselves to be forward thinking; education is highly valued in this country. There were many interesting things to learn about Kwame Nkrumah. As an American I was particularly interested to learn that he graduated from Lincoln University near Philadelphia, and received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Another notable leader from Ghana who also received his university education in the United States is Kofi Annan, the 7th Secretary General to the United Nations and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.
At the end of the day we were all very tired. We went up to our rooms and took nice cold showers. The mosquitoes in Ghana are very bad and malaria is rampant so I sprayed myself with bug spray that was heavily concentrated with Deet before venturing back out. Our Ghanaian partners had arranged a nice meal for us at the hostel. We had a medley of different items consisting of rice, chicken, fish, yams, fruit, cole slaw, and vegetables-not too different from something you might see in the southern USA. It was delicious and we enjoyed sharing a few large beers between us. The brand Star is a pretty popular beer. It was the perfect end to a hot and exhausting, but thoroughly fun, day!
Visit the InterExchange Working Abroad website for more information on Volunteering in Ghana or other countries around the world.
A fan of independent cinema and proponent of the Oxford comma, Matthew began his career at a Miami-based tech startup before returning to West Virginia University to pursue his M.A. in Foreign Languages. He has worked at InterExchange since 2006 and currently serves as a Marketing Project Manager.