March 30, 2010

Winner! Guide competition and Ko-Sa Beach Resort, Ampenyi, near Elmina, Ghana

We have a winner for the find the song title in the Ghana guide competition. Our winner hails from Canada and is arriving in Ghana shortly to visit family and friends and enjoy a stay at Ko-sa Beach Resort on us! I'm hanging out for photos from her stay. I shall post the winning song titles and her extraordinary list shortly so you can see (and stop wondering about oddly worded phrases in the guide).

For those readers near Cape Coast, Elmina or Takoradi this Easter Break, you may wish to pop in to Ko-sa Beach Resort in Ampenyi to experience drumming and dancing performances over the Easter weekend by groups from the region. You can call them to find out exactly what times the performances will be held on + 233 (0)244 375432. I believe they may be fully booked so if you wanted to stay, please also call ahead to check for room availability.

It's a fantastic location to spend the day swimming and sampling their excellent menu. We recommend lobster in tomato and garlic sauce and yam balls with stew! It's all fantastic though. (Godwin sitting next to me just said: "Mmm yam balls!")

All photos are courtesy of Ko-Sa Beach Resort. Go check out their site to see more.

Download a Ghana guide and see inside the guide before buying.

March 29, 2010

Ghana housing project: design and construct sustainable home

As the site says: Open Source House (OS-House) is a non-profit organization that aims to provide better, more sustainable housing in low-income countries.

Designers, architects and those interested in modular and sustainable housing may be interested in this design competition at Open Source House.

The design competition starts on January 15th, 2010 and is open for team or individual participation. The challenge is to design a sustainable, flexible and locally embedded family house for a specific location in Ghana. The modular construction should be suitable for local implementation and affordable for its future owners. The winning design(s) will be built in Ghana. All information regarding the competition will be published on our website on January 15th.

4. Deadline and submission format.

May 17th, 2010. Before this date all designs must be submitted digitally. The design case, which will be published on the 15th of January, describes the format and drawings to be delivered. Contestants are asked to deliver designs considering all house components -foundation, structure, floor, facade, roof- and its set of connections

5. Pilot

The winning design(s) will be built in a pilot project in Ghana, to test the technical and economic feasibility as well as the social perception. Joining the competition is your chance to establish your name as an architect while witnessing your design being built and used by its new residents.

6. The Open Source phase

To generate content for the OS-House platform we start with the Ghana design competition. However the aim of OS-House is to provide knowledge and choice. Therefore all submitted designs are published on the OS-House platform after the competition.

After this first competition and pilot project OS-House will continue to promote the implementation of more OS-Houses, challenge platform members to improve available designs, organize new competitions and stimulate local parties to take designs and adapt them to their local conditions. Our goal is to realize a 100.000 OS-Houses before the year 2020.

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the travel guide before buying.

March 24, 2010

Godwin talks: 6 Ghanaian Obsessions

We have a new site where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Godwin talks: 6 Ghanaian Obsessions there.

I have created a new column called "Godwin talks" to provide a Ghanaian point-of-view on Ghanaian issues. Godwin will be sharing his thoughts on all sorts of topics from cross-cultural relationships, to life as a young Ghanaian, to positive and negative aspects of culture in Ghana.

So, in Godwin's words, here are the top 6 things that Ghanaians obsess over. (Feel free to add your comments--whether you agree or disagree!)

Number 1. Football (aka. soccer): Ghanaians will abandon everything—including dates with girlfriends or boyfriends and important work appointments—to watch a football match, especially if it’s the national team: The Blackstars. Almost every political speech contains a football analogy. When the President did his appointment of ministers, there was a feeling within the NDC that certain bigwigs whom people were expecting to be nominated for ministerial appointments were being excluded. In an attempt to explain the decision, Presidential spokesperson, Mahama Ayariga, said that President Mills, as the coach of team Ghana, decides “which player plays at what time. And since this is the first half, they should give the President leeway to bring the set of players he wants to play this first half.” He said that it’s possible that those who others think should be appointed in the first half will come in the second half. “The game has just begun.” So, I have to say next…

2. Politics: You find Ghanaians passionately discussing politics all day and night long—from the family sitting rooms to trotro stations and on trotro buses.

3. Funerals: When someone is alive and needs assistance to buy food, no family or friends come to help, but when the person dies the same people will find money to organize a grand funeral for the person. It might sound negative, but that’s the truth, to the extent that we have a booming business in funeral contractors. But these people take time from their work and also spend their life savings on funerals. How are we, as a nation, to develop if our people spend everything they have on funerals?

4. Music: Every Ghanaian young and old, literate or illiterate, loves music. You will find Ghanaians jumping to the least sound that resembles music—in the street to the church or even funerals, which are supposed to be solemn.

5. Religion: Almost every Ghanaian belongs to the three main religions in Ghana: Christianity, Islam and traditional religions. Ghanaians are passionate about their individual faiths. On Sundays you have Christians flocking to church in their numbers and on Fridays you have Muslims flocking to the Mosque even during work hours to observe Friday prayers. For the traditional believers, who are mostly in rural areas, every now and then they perform ritual activities especially during festive periods and funerals. We clearly understand that there is a freedom of worship where even in the family you could have three family members belonging to the three different religions. We haven’t reached that fanaticism level where the father will say, “You are either a Muslim or an Infidel”, with no middle ground. No, you have parents being Muslims and the children being Christians. Or one brother being Muslim and admiring his Christian pastor brother for succeeding. We have almost no religious conflict in Ghana.

6. Patriotism: Ghanaians are very patriotic in the sense that we ourselves first as Ghanaians before anything else—I think this is because Kwame Nkrumah united Ghana when he became the first President. He himself was Nzema but he saw himself as Ghanaian and he was able to rally everyone as Ghanaians. Though we come from different ethnic groups, the word “Ghana” is something we are easily identified with, so our tribal groups are less important when it comes to national issues. We have this common Ghanaian expression: “We are first and foremost Ghanaian, then Ashantis and Fraras, and so on, and then Christian or Muslim...” So we see our affiliation to various ethnic groups or religious associations and political parties as an expression of that “Ghanaianness”—celebrating the diversity of the Ghanaian society—which is a reflection of who a Ghanaian is.

Godwin is the Programmes Director of Young People We Care——and a passionate believer that we can change our circumstances if we believe we can. He grew up in Bolgatanga and Bawku—the poorest regions and towns in Ghana—to illiterate parents who believed he deserved the education that they were denied. He completed his studies in population at the University of Cape Coast. His obsession is tea drinking. Oh, and football and politics and music and, fortunately, not funerals.

You can download a sample of our Travel guide to Ghana (good for expats too) at 

The brilliant football stadium image is courtesy of manbeastextraordinaire at Flicker. The excellent image with the buttocks above is also from manbeastextraordinaire. Thanks for sharing!

March 22, 2010

Another great blog and photos for those heading north

I stumbled across "Tim in Tamale" , the blog of a former VSO volunteer when hunting around online. He has some fantastic photos of Ghana across the country at this post "goodbye trip photos - 4" and you'll see another excellent set under "goodbye trip photos - 3" and other sets there. There's also some helpful tips for travel with reference to Tamale, which is his specialty. It's really an enlightening blog and has me hooked, even though he finished his VSO experience last year. We hope you like this blog tip! If you know some good Ghana blogs, let me know.

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the guide before buying.

March 19, 2010

Cape Coast, Ghana, a photo journey

This is an old favourite from last year. If you're traveling to Cape Coast or Elmina, check this out. By the way, that's an STC bus in the picture directly below and this picture shows the corner of Hotel Junction off which Elimax's place lies.

When these women carrying beams of timber on their head passed me this morning I decided to chronicle the journey to work in pictures--it takes about 20 minutes in a share taxi (when it doesn't break down, take a detour, or get pulled over by police at barriers)--so join me in 20 minutes in the life...

...of my journey from home to work that starts here, on the side of the highway, where I flag down a share taxi and still catch myself awed... the women (it's mostly women--and they usually have a baby wrapped on their back to boot) who carry heavy loads on their heads because there's no other way for them to get it from A to B: these women have Pure Grace, the slogan emblazoned on the mini bus's rear windscreen, as they are on almost every vehicle in the country that...

...stops to set down passengers who need a break...

...and almost exclusively have windscreens that look like cystallized spider's webs...

...with side mirrors to match... it's best to gaze out the side windows to see the fishermen carrying nets for mending....

...where piles of Gari--ground cassava--sit in neat stacks on tables across the highway from the Ewe fishing villages...

...and fishermen's pirogues (for fishing is a male domain) sit awaiting their next dip into the ocean and nets sit stretched for mending...

...for several kilometres along the highway...

...and children sell "pure water" from aluminium basins on their heads by the highway where the Atlantic waves pound the beach...

...and billboards advertise the ubiquitous game...

...before you come upon the village where pirogues set the scene...

...and lone fishermen take stock...

...and communities of fishermen participate in a communal hand-over-fist dance to haul in the nets...

...before coming upon the lagoon at Bakaano where a thin strop of sand separates the lake from the sea...

...and you shortly find yourself entering Cape Coast proper where you can buy a timber bed frame on the side of the road...

...and avoid falling in the open sewage trenches...

...and buy an onion from a street hawker and mind the firewood that will soon become charcoal that most people use to fuel their small coal braziers over which they cook almost everything, including...

...pancakes that will soon be sold from that little green shed by a lady who piles them up in a glass case and wanders along the road until they're "finished"...

...and do a spot of chair shopping before the day gets going...

...and make a call for 25 cents from the yellow umbrella stand...

...and stop at the blue painted shop that sells stales like milk, of course, and sugar, rice, single tea bags, and other food stuffs in small portions from 5 cent sizes to $1 or more...

...and a bite of wakye (wah-chy), a dish of rice and red beans and sold in those large silver bowls along streets all over Ghana... you can fill your stomach for a day at the office!

That was a 20 minutes in the life from Elmina to Cape Coast...

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the guide before buying.

March 18, 2010

Are you MaD: All about fair trade!

This week's Are you MaD post focuses on fair trade. There is so much happening in that field, Are you MaD: Fair Trade. Click and check out the full post at You'll see reviews of four excellent organisations and experience a relity check about the chocolate you're tasting too. You can read about one Ghanaian's terrible trip to the Ivory Coast in Facing up to an Ivorian gun runner to get a sense of how children and youth end up slaving on cocoa farms today.

This image which shows fair trade coffee is courtesy of william.neuheisel at Flickr.

This image on the left is of a Chinese/Mandarin language poster advocating fair trade by Oxfam. That's certainly one of the markets to target as far as lobbying for better working and trading conditions is concerned.

To read what four excellent orgnisations are doing, go to Are you MaD: Fair Trade.

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the guide before buying.

March 17, 2010

Trotro mate for a day: Photo

This slogan speaks to my directional decisions. That's me in the sunnies outside my old house in Elmina and my friend and former volunteer buddy. We were trying out being mates for a day, even though we weren't going too far in that old rust bucket. Kind of like many a trotro trip...!

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the guide before buying.

March 16, 2010

AIDS is looking for you on this highway in Ghana

An image along the highway on the outskirts of Bolgatanga. There was a political logo in the centre that I decided to remove since it just doesn't look too crash hot. Ghana has a serious dose of the funny signs, although there are very few in Bolga--this was my first. Incidentally, we don't believe AIDS is funny. The sign, however...

"Only in Ghana" as Mr KSM would say!

Hey, you've been warned!

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the guide before buying.

March 15, 2010

Food and vitamin supplements for life and travel in Ghana

Supplements can really help your energy levels and boost your immune system when traveling in developing countries. Here are a few of recommendations based on my experience. Let us know if you have some favourite strategy for keeping healthy on the road and which products or supplements you prefer.

Acidophilus powder.
This is “good bacteria” for your digestive system. It is excellent to prevent upset stomachs whether traveling or during normal life. You can buy it by the bottle as loose powder to be taken by the spoonful or in capsule form. Some require refrigeration is it’s a live culture but others have been formulated so as not to need refrigeration. It can also be found in some yoghurts, but my naturopath in Sydney explained that the powder form is way more effective than yoghurt from the supermarket (and she wasn’t selling the powder). In my experience, those designed to be chilled are more effective. I carried mine wrapped inside a freezer bag (like you use to chill beer) when I first came to Ghana and this kept the bottle chilled for a good 40 hours between home and my final destination.

Protein powder.
This helps ensure you get enough protein each day to support travel-weary muscles. Unlike acidophilus powder, this doesn’t need refrigeration, but it’s still important to get a good brand. Protein powder has little taste and you can add the recommended spoonfuls to plain water or juice or to oatmeal or a shake. Protein bars are also popular alternatives.

Liquid iron.
Iron gives you energy. When you don’t get enough of it in the diet you can really begin to feel tired. If you get malaria, your iron levels will drop even more.
Fortunately, you can buy liquid iron in pharmacies in Ghana for between 2-9 Cedis. It’s called “blood tonic” and the more expensive, I noticed, the more effective. One good brand is called “Feroglobin”.

Chewable Vitamin C
If you take these in combination with liquid iron, the iron is more easily absorbed into your bloodstream. Incidentally, calcium inhibits the absorption of iron into the blood so don’t drink dairy before taking iron supplements (which is why I thought it was weird to see milk with iron supplements added to it—as a selling point!) You can also buy these in pharmacies for about 20 pesewas a strip or bring your own.

Top quality multi-vitamins
If you can get hold of a good all-round multi-vitamin you will also strengthen your immune system for the down times and maybe even avoid serious illness. I advise women to get tablets especially formulated for women to help during the monthly cycle.

I’ve been out of the developed world loop for several years now and would love to hear of any new health products for improving well being while traveling. Thanks in advance.

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the guide before buying.

March 13, 2010

Photos: Volta, Akosombo, Beads, Ghana

These brilliant photographs are courtesy of Raysto at Flickr. He has developed a brilliant folder of Ghana photos taken this year.

The transparent blue and blue-green beads in these photos are made from recycled glass bottles which are first pounded, then melted and set in moulds. The colourful, dot beads are individually hand-painted by beadmakers too. This tradition is focused in the Eastern Region between Accra, Koforidua and Kpong in a kind of triangle. You can visit bead makers and watch them at work. We have a lot of information about this in our post Ghana Highlights Part II: Eastern and Volta Region

This is a stunning photo of Lake Volta from around, I think, Akosombo Bridge or somewhere high in that vicinity. If you stay at Aylo's Bay you will be privvy to this amazing landscape and you can also paddle a canoe along the river for a few hours if you wish!

I want to say thank you to Raysto for making his photos available to share. If you want to sneak a peek at something brilliant, but a little naughty, check out this very African lady.

Download a free sample of our Travel Guide to Ghana see inside the guide before buying.

A-Z of everything I wish I'd known about Ghana before I left home

Like your average trotro journey, this list went on forever…and here it is.

Akpetushie: Pronounced “Appehtooshie” is the local moonshine and could forgivably be confused for nail polish remover mixed with pure alcohol. Drink with caution. It will give you the best/worst hangover of your life.

Books: There was a good second-hand bookshop in Cape Coast called Blackstar Bookshop near the castle (and next to the Baobab Café which, by the way, has great banana bread and supports a good local café.

Birkenstocks: You can find original ones in Accra Mall for the usual price, second-hand ones all over the country for about 10-20 GCs, and rip-offs for about 10 GCs.

Caning or “beating” students: Caning students is common practice at schools. Many Ghanaians still believe this is how you “correct” poorly performing students. I was not warned about this when I went to volunteer at a school and it was quite shocking. The caning was quite violent, not “soft”, as if teachers were acting out some kind of abuse they’d experienced themselves (which they probably had). If you protest against it, Christian teachers will invoke the Bible: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Worse still, parents might urge you to beat their children. If you want to oppose it, you have to remain strong. Ghanaians have virtually no knowledge of learning disabilities. Dyslexia is almost unheard of. Consequently, struggling children (much as they have been elsewhere) get beaten and verbally berated and made examples of for not being able to complete some task that requires reading and writing. The teachers have no idea that their violence doesn’t help. So, brace yourself for this if you plan to teach as a volunteer. There are a handful of schools where teachers don’t beat: the difference is startling. A teenage girl died recently after a beating at school which put the issue on the national radar for a few weeks. Opinions were roughly divided between for and against. I was very against. I shall write a separate post on my experience as well as potential strategies you could use at school to stop or reduce beating. Look for “caning” as a key word.

Clothes (second-hand): Obruni wawu means “dead white man” and is used to describe the prolific second-hand clothing sold everywhere. There is a myth that no citizen of a developed country would wear the clothes of a dead person, so it’s dead obrunis’ clothes that are sent to be sold as second hand clothes—they couldn’t possibly be from the living. This, often very good quality, second-hand clothing is a bargain: T-shirts for 2-5 GCs, gypsy skirts for about 10 GCs and new jeans for 10 GCs. Trying them on over sticky bodies beside open sewers is another story…

Condoms: Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant. While the rate of HIV/Aids is about 2.9% across the country, it’s much higher in urban areas. Use condoms. You can buy them in pharmacies, supermarkets and gas stations from 10 pesewas to a few Cedis.

Drinking Water: You can buy “puuure watah!” just about anywhere for 5 pesewas—look for the blue ice boxes sitting all along the streets. Just how pure it is, however, is anyone’s guess. You can buy bottled water at shops everywhere too for about 50 p.

English: It is the official language and is spoken almost everywhere, except in the most remote villages. And, while it’s the official language, it has its own idiosyncrasies. Written standards are pretty poor, even at university. If you’re coming to teach, anything related to literacy or the basics of grammar for the level you’re teaching would be helpful. Children love colourful story books. You can buy mass produced ones here or bring your favourites from home.

Feminine Hygiene: Tampons/tampax are not widely available other than in supermarkets in Accra so bring your own. Pads are the norm and are available everywhere. Due to environmental conditions and some malaria medication, a few women suffer from longer or more painful than usual periods. Ensure that you’re prepared for this. Due to humidity and antibiotics, it’s not uncommon for women to suffer from yeast infections. Fortunately, treatments are available in pharmacies everywhere. Don’t be shy asking for personal items in shops or pharmacies—Ghanaians are not embarrassed by such things.

Flip-flops/thongs: called “slippers” in Ghana. You can buy them everywhere for one GC or so. Still, having one good quality pair to support tired feet is worth it.

Food: In a nutshell, the standard dishes are heavy on the carbs—yam, plantain, cassava, rice—and light on greens, if at all. There is usually pépé (chilies) in dishes, but you can avoid it. I have IBS and was super cautious of everything, but I have had less stomach troubles here than at home—possibly because most food is unprocessed; it’s a challenge to find “junk” food. I’ve eaten salad everywhere except off the street. Sunshine Salads in Osu (just ask anyone near Koala supermarket) or in Labone are heaven sent if you’re craving great salad. You can buy all the basic garden vegetables at most markets. Bean dishes are plentiful. It’s easy to be vegetarian or vegan—ask for soups without meat or stick to the non-meat dishes.

Football: You know how Canadians are with ice hockey; Aussies/Indians/Pakistanis are with cricket; Kiwis with Rugby; and North Americans with basketball? That’s how Ghanaians are with football. Chelsea, Manchester and Liverpool are the teams of choice. Some also support Barcelona. Kids, especially boys, love anything football related as gifts. You can buy footballs and team paraphernalia on the streets everywhere.

Friends: It’s easy to make friends with Ghanaians. However, quite a few Ghanaians I know could talk all four legs off every donkey on the African continent. So if you approach someone for a chat, make sure you have time to kill because Ghanaians almost always live up to their friendly reputation. And they always ask for your number. Be selective about handing out your number unless you don’t mind two a.m. phone calls. Ghanaians like to take advantage of free or hugely discounted calling rates and call each other at all hours of the night without a second thought, and you will certainly not be denied this honour.

Fruits: Oranges (green in colour and the tastiest ever), pineapples, bananas and coconuts are abundant all year round, but coconuts and pineapples are grown in the south and trucked up north. Mangoes are bountiful in season too (now).

Gifts: Aside from football and stationery mentioned elsewhere, people love colourful stickers. Also, several friends brought bubble liquid and blew bubbles to the delight of children and adults everywhere, and handed out bottles out to the kids. Old clothes: many Ghanaians value clothes you leave behind or clothes from home you no longer want. They’re good to give to family/friends when leaving.

Greetings: (also see Language). Ghanaians will spend the first few minutes upon meeting asking after the other, then family, health and work, before getting down to the issue that they have come to discuss. No one ever responds in the negative and says they are not fine (or I am yet to hear it anyway), even if they’re clearly suffering. Ghanaians make the best of it, which keeps things moving and people smiling, no matter what. If you need to approach people to ask for help, it’s more appropriate to say, “hello, how are you?” and wait for a genuine response and then ask your question, rather than walking up and saying, “how do you get to…?!” without first acknowledging the person.

Hair cuts: The last time a hairdresser cut my hair was early 2007 in an excellent tiny salon in Phnom Penh. I cut it myself now. I usually use nail clippers—I figure I can’t do too much damage that way. When I’m feeling brave I use sewing scissors. If you’re not ready to take that leap of faith, there is a woman at Labadi Beach Resort in Accra who cuts Caucasian hair. Ask for the “Madame”. If you have African hair—lucky. There are salons literally everywhere! Braiding is relatively inexpensive and costs about $5 for a head of braids. Extra if you want fake hair braided in! (Although I cut my own hair, I’ve never had it braided…pain!)

Hospitals/clinics: It’s very hard to find quality medical treatment outside of Accra. In fact, it’s not easy to find it in Accra. You can get some kind of treatment in other cities, towns and villages, of course, but I’ve had many issues with doctors defaulting to malaria, no matter what you present, and just not caring. If you’re coming for more than three months, have all important check-ups before leaving. Cocoa Clinic in Accra was probably the most organized and reliable clinic I’ve been to. You still have to wait, of course.

Jeans: Contrary to recommendations, jeans are OK in Ghana. They are nothing if not sturdy, comfy, and you can wear them for a week without washing…if you have to!

Kokrobite Beach gets a special mention as it’s notorious for robberies. While Ghana is very safe overall, everyone I know who visited Kokrobite, bar one person, got mugged on the beach or their room was broken into—or it was attempted. Usually a group of young boys surround you on the beach and demand your backpack. Most people hand it over. So, if you go, don’t take anything you will mind giving up.

Language: The official language is English, but most Ghanaians speak the language (or two or three or four) of their home area. Learning simple phrases in the local language of your area will create a connection with and respect among local people. Ghanaians place great stock in greetings, by the way, and it’s a safe bet to always greet everyone when entering a room or vehicle and always return a greeting, wherever you are.

Laptops: It’s safe enough to bring one, but exercise caution. Don’t carry it around in a flashy laptop bag; use a backpack with a laptop compartment instead. Always unplug them when not in use to protect them from power surges. (See: Power.) Finally, the environment is harsh on laptops: salty and/or humid and/or dusty. Keep them covered when you’re not using them as they sometimes protest and just stop working.

Malaria: It’s so common that it’s “like catching a cold,” as Ghanaians say. Unfortunately, this is true. It is common but avoidable. I recommend bringing mosquito spray to prevent bug bites and always sleep under a mosquito net. Certainly obtain one of the standard anti-malarial medications from your health provider before coming to Ghana and take it as directed. The various medications have their pros and cons and I know people that have gotten malaria on all the main ones (Larium, Doxy, Malarone, etc)—none of them are failsafe. If you run out while in Ghana, they are widely available in pharmacies everywhere and much less expensive than in your home country (although made in India or China—if you’re ok with that). If you fall ill (although it’s unlikely), please inform someone immediately. Malarial symptoms are any or all of: extreme fatigue, hot or cold fevers, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness. Virtually everyone I know who had it felt the extreme fatigue—a tiredness that you cannot imagine if you haven’t felt it before. Many had a sensation of feeling “sunburnt on the inside”—radiating heat even if you’ve been inside all day. You can have tests for malaria at clinics or laboratories which are common in major towns and cities for anywhere between 2-10 Cedis. Even if you have malaria, the tests can be faulty and come out negative. The lesson in this is that the tests are often wrong so if you are presenting the symptoms, please strongly insist on receiving treatment. The treatment is widely available and you can get it over the counter at pharmacies—ask the pharmacist. It is best to have it recommended from a doctor or specialist.

Mapouka: Is both the name of the bottom shaking dance originating in The Ivory Coast now hugely popular in Ghana and the local version of rather alcoholic Irish cream. Not bad for a $2 bottle.

Men: If you’re a woman, be prepared for lots of attention, especially if you’re on the curvy/large side. My favourite strategy for deflecting marriage proposals is the one guaranteed to get laughs: “Well, I already have seventeen husbands, but if you don’t mind being husband number eighteen, yes, I will marry you…” Men and women alike will shake with laughter. Warning: Using this in a moving vehicle where the driver may swerve into oncoming traffic as he shakes can be dangerous. Now, some men will actually agree to be husband number eighteen. To which I say: “Ok, but you have to wait for the first seventeen to die.” This invites more laughter. Sometimes I offer to give some of my husbands to other women in the vehicle which invites great guffaws. Ghanaians have a great sense of humour and find any excuse to laugh. Some men will just walk up to you on the street and propose. On one occasion a world-weary old man came up to me and said, “If I were to be a younger man, I would like to marry you…” He looked so sad! And, some will hassle you more than is comfortable, but not often. Just tell them you’re waiting for your “husband”. If they ask where your wedding ring is, say you left it at home. Most women I know used these tactics at some point and they work.

Money: US dollars, Euros, Canadian and Australian dollars are easy to change at the numerous large and small exchanges dotted around the major cities. It’s reasonably safe to bring cash and keep it locked up somewhere in your room or in a safe, if you have one, and exchange it when you need it. You cannot use Mastercards. NO MASTERCARDS!! You can use Visa cards and withdraw cash at ATMs. Make sure you know your PIN. Now, do NOT use your credit card to pay for anything anywhere if you can help it. Indeed, there is no “plastic” culture here. Although you can use your credit cards at certain guest establishments, restaurants and retailers, I would try to avoid it. Credit card fraud is a huge problem. Someone may copy your card number and details if there is an imprint or record of the card left where you paid for the product or service. Traveller’s cheques are accepted although the rate is not as good as changing cash and banks can be very pompous about handling them. The easiest option is to bring cash and change it and/or a card you can withdraw with.

Obruni: This has become synonymous with the idea of “foreigner”, and is shouted at you almost everywhere in the south of Ghana. It means “white person” and can understandably annoy African American or Asian visitors who get the Obruni treatment as much as any other foreigner. I had one British African friend with long gorgeous braids who was called “Rasta ‘Bruni!” She had a sense of humour about it—useful in Ghana. In Tamale and Bolga you’ll get called “Solomia”, in the Volta: “Yevu”, and in Bawku or Hausa speaking areas: “Nasara”. There is no ill intention behind this, Ghanaians are just pointing out the obvious as far as they’re concerned, not being rude or racist, as the same treatment might be perceived at “home”.

Pens: School children value pens, pencils and notebooks very much. Instead of hauling them all the way from Australia, though, I could have bought them for a fraction of the cost in Ghana, which would have supported local traders and freed up space in my luggage. There are little stationery stalls everywhere.

Petty Crime: While reports of bag snatching, mobile phone snatching and break-ins are on the increase, Ghana is still very safe. Basically, have your wits about you. Don’t leave your bags wide open. One thing that my former boss alerted me to was bag slashing in crowd situations. A thief might slash the bottom of your bag or its straps and grab the contents, so if you’re in crowds hold it tight. Pickpockets are common in crowded areas. Don’t be afraid to get physical if someone tries to pickpocket you.

Pharmaceuticals: are readily available over the counter all over the country, again, for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home. A strip of 10 tabs of doxycycline is about one dollar. Cypro, general antibiotics, Immodium, and candidiassis treatments—tablet or creams—are widely available and inexpensive.

Photographs: Ghanaians are fascinated by photos of you, your family, friends and home. If you’re staying with a family, they will love to see an album of photos from home. They will also love to show you theirs. People love to be “snapped”. If you have the means, giving people photos of themselves is a popular gift.

Power: I’m not talking about the type mining companies like to wield around small African nations. I’m talking about the type that tends to cut out several times a day when you’re in the middle of something important. Here’s a tip: Unplug all electrical equipment when you’re not using it, or turn the power point off. A few weeks ago a surge hit the whole country. I awoke to the smell of burning rubber. The surge protector itself had blown up. Fortunately, it protected the electrical equipment. Countless times I’ve written a long email only to lose everything when the power cuts. Another tip: open Word or Notepad alongside the web browser, save in Word as you type, and then paste it into the browser. If the power cuts, it’s still there in Word or Notepad when it comes back on. Alternatively, I type it on a laptop at home, take it by pen drive to the café, paste and send it.

Power plugs: The British type. You can buy multi-socket thingamajigs in towns and villages.

Socks: You can buy socks cheaply on streets everywhere. Ghanaians do really like socks as gifts—or turn them into hand-puppets for kids at schools.

Sunblock: You can buy it in Accra, but it’s probably easier to bring your own.

Telephones: Mobile phones are everywhere, as are the "chips" (sim cards) you need to make calls. New basic mobiles cost anywhere from 30 GCs and up. Vodaphone and Nokia have deals going most of the time. Chips cost 1 GC (yes, one) for most networks. It costs about the same to call an overseas mobile as it does within Ghana, and most calls are cheaper late at night. You can text virtually anywhere in the world for as little as 5 pesewas.

Time: Forget everything you know about time and “how things work”. Life in Ghana rocks to its own unpredictable rhythm and has its own way of working itself out—which can be exceedingly frustrating at times. I have occasionally felt as if I were participating in a chaos theory experiment with malaria and upset stomachs thrown in just for fun. Long waits for buses scheduled to leave hours earlier and slow responses to anything bureaucratic are normal. It’s life. It will teach you to go with the flow. If you need to learn patience and inner calm, just come to Ghana and buy a ticket for anything with a start time. There’s nothing you can do about it so my advice is to leave assumptions and presumptions at customs, and you’re more likely to enjoy one of the friendliest nations on earth.

Toiletries: Face cleansing wipes are brilliant for not only removing dirt from your face, but for “washing” during water shortages. You can buy “obruni” shampoo at shops in Accra, Cape Coast, Kumasi and Bolga.

Toilets: Well, I write a lot about toilets. If you had IBS, you would too. Overall, they are conspicuous by their absence in public settings. Metro TV recently stated that twenty-million Ghanaians live without access to modern toilets (they use drop toilets). Of those, three million have no access to any at all. There are twenty-three million Ghanaians. So much for the former government’s “Ghana at 50” pledge to build more “public places of convenience”. They were going to build toilets every fifty kilometers on the main roads. It’s more like every five hundred kms—if you’re lucky. Basically, don’t expect to find any at trotro stations—although there are a few. Fortunately, STC now has really nice toilets at all its stations (not long ago it was rather distressing). Most hotels have facilities that you can “borrow” if you have to—be nice to the reception people and pretend to be interested in a room.

Transport: Ghana has one of the highest incidents of road accidents in the world. I can’t count the amount of times the vehicle I’ve ridden in has almost crashed. (Touch wood!) Trotros, the crowded minibuses, are the worst. However, it’s virtually impossible to avoid trotros and taxis if you plan to travel around, so take a few precautions. Try to travel during the day. Try only to take coaches like the STC (State Transport Company) or the Metro Mass Transit (the orange buses). If the driver is taking dangerous risks, Ghanaians will often shout at the driver. Don’t be afraid to shout out yourself or ask someone next to you to do so. In taxis I’ve often told the driver to slow down or not overtake into oncoming traffic.

Vegetables: You can buy cabbage, carrots, eggplant/aubergine, lettuce, potatoes, avocadoes (called “pear”), tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, green beans, onion, ginger, garlic, and many other veggies besides, at markets all over Ghana, some only in season.

Viruses: the IT type; Internet café PCs are riddled with them. Many cafes still do not use anti-virus or, if they do, they’re often not up to date. So, if you’re planning to stick a pen drive into a PC, you need protection. I recommend downloading a free antivirus programme before you leave home and store it on your pen drive. It sounds like overkill, but you only have to lose everything once to understand the value of having antivirus on hand that you can upload as needed. Internet connections are still quite slow, at least to download anti-virus, and power is so erratic that it often cuts out half-way through a download. So bring it with you.

Visas: You may receive a one year visa in your passport from the embassy in your country, but this is irrelevant in Ghana. At immigration you will get a 60 day visitor stamp no matter what your visa duration. You must extend your stay before the end of the 60 days by applying for an extension for the amount of time you need at an immigration office in a capital city. You need evidence of a return air ticket to do this, two passport photos, and I think it’s about $10 per month (although it may have increased to just under 20), and a sponsorship letter from an NGO or supporting org, if you wish to renew. Be nice to the immigration staff no matter what. You can get visa on arrival in Accra, but I know some people who were refused boarding on Delta in New York because they didn’t have a visa before they departed. I had no problem with Emirates. The process need not be as precarious as crossing Kakum ropeway bridges outside of Cape Coast.

Vitamins: are also available everywhere. Those chewy orange vitamin C tablets sell for 20 pesewas a strip. You can get iron syrups over the counter which helps to build up strength after a bout of malaria.

Volunteering: If you’re looking for a serious volunteering organisaiton, it’s best to plan before you leave. has an excellent database of projects. You can also go here. However, you can find projects when you arrive by word of mouth or online—but it’s kind of nice to have someone meet you when you arrive.

Water: The water supply is erratic in many areas: on and off at will, it seems. Having some set aside in a bucket is always smart. Bucket baths are normal in regional areas where many people don’t have plumbing. In some places children have to carry water in buckets from a distance to fill up a larger reserve in the house where you’re staying so you can use it. Be mindful of that.

Zip/pen/jump drive: Bringing a 1G drive is invaluable. Use it for storing or transferring photos, writing email in Word and uploading it at a café later. You can buy a 1G drive for about $10 in Ghana.

If you have any brilliant tips of your own you would like to add, or corrections, or anything at all, please write a comment!

Packing image above courtesy of Stuart Frisby at Flickr , Kakum National Park image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

March 11, 2010

Ghana Highlights Part 1: Accra to the Central and Western Regions

Ghana Highlights Part 1: Accra to the Central and Western Region, or the coast.
I’ll cover major attractions in each part. After I have posted each part, I’ll provide a few simple itineraries in a fourth post. Click here for all the Ghana Highlights on one page.

In Ghana, every region has something to offer. Culture, history, beaches, flora and fauna, you can sample it all over the country, from the tropical jungles of the south to the savannah plains of the north. If you’re a beach or history lover, you’ll enjoy this tour along the coast.

Accra. Historical monuments; Shopping

Intro: Unlike many capital cities, Accra is missing a ‘focal point’ which can make it difficult to know where to head first. It is more like a cobbled-together series of districts in which there may be something of interest in each, but no one area that stands out above all the others. Tourists tend to frequent Osu and its main street running from Danquah Circle all the way towards Ministries (where government buildings are) area and seeing a few highlights is a twenty minute taxi ride from here.
My highlights:

Nkrumah Mausoleum
National Cultural Centre which is somewhat underwhelming, located in a dusty field on the ocean. They sell a good range of arts and crafts but the hassle factor is extremely high. However, you can find some interesting surprises in the small shops behind the main shed including intricately carved camel bone beaded necklaces and other crafts from all over West Africa.

Global Mamas shop beside Koala in Osu is good for souvenirs and Christmas gifts that make a direct difference to the women producers.

Osu Castle. You can’t go inside, as it’s the President’s official residence, and photography is forbidden, but it’s worth passing by if you’re interested in historical monuments.

Greater Accra. Chilling out.

Aburi: About an hour north of Accra by trotro is Aburi Botanical Gardens. Aburi is a great day trip from Accra or a good weekend away. The day I visited was overcast and drizzly which was perfect. The gardens were misty and magical; you could almost imagine fairies hiding beneath the ferns and behind hundred year old towering trees. It’s a great respite from the bustle of Accra. There are plenty of places to sit and have a picnic. We stocked up at Max Mart near 37 on Lebanese bread, hommus, falafel, cheese and other goodies and had ourselves a feast. You can catch a trotro from 37 directly to the town and walk 5 minutes to the entrance from there.

Cape Coast. Beaches; Historical monuments.

Fanti name: Ogua Koto. Koto means crab, appropriate for this fishing town, and you will probably pass the crab statue on the main road at some point.

Intro: The crumbling gelato-coloured decaying colonial facades give this regional capital character.
My top choices:

Anomabo Beach. This fantastic beach is half an hour from Cape and great for a day trip. You pass the turn off to Anomabo as you arrive in Cape from Accra. From Cape, catch a Mankessim trotro from Kotakoraba taxi station (Cape’s main one) and hop off at the Anomabo junction.

Cape Coast Castle: Located at the ocean, or southern, end of the main street, this UN-listed historical monument, the former British trading stronghold, is not to be missed if you only have a day or two in town. See Elmina below.

Global Mamas workshops: They offer half-day batiking, cooking, and drumming and dancing workshops in town. Book at the shop which is located up the hill from Melcom on Jackson Street, or the road that runs perpendicular to the main road at the one traffic light. The Global Mamas shop is worth visiting too. Incidentally, there is a FOREX in the same building as Global Mamas.

Baobab Café: On the main street serves real plunger coffee. Ask for it strong. Their banana or coconut muffins, and their wholesome pizzas, are a welcome change from rice and beans. And it’s for a good cause.

Black Star Bookshop: Next to Baobab and a minute from the castle. English, French, Dutch and German second-hand and new titles. I found several gems here.

Kakum Canopy Walk: You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting ‘forest elephants’ or even monkeys, but if you’d like to know how it feels to sway in a rainforest canopy, it’s worth a trip. If you have limited time, don’t worry if you miss it.

Elmina. Historical monuments; Beaches.

Fanti name: Edina. The name Elmina came from the Portuguese for 'the mine' because of the abundance of gold they found traded here.

Intro: A town alive with colour and bustle that often frightens first-timers. But it’s worth walking through. And check out the market: step inside the corrugated tin doorway, opposite the castle, and meet brightly-dressed women sitting on upturned crates around platters of fish in every stage of guttedness: an alley cat’s dream. And buy a bag of rock salt for 5 pesewas.

Elmina Castle: I felt more awed by Elmina Castle than any other in Ghana. Also a UN-listed
historical site, it has the distinction of being the oldest standing European building in sub-Saharan Africa. It was built in 1482, but it has been built on many times over the years. The pillars still standing in the sand in front are what remains of the pier that ships used to moor to. Fort St Jago, a smaller fort built by the Dutch in 1665 to protect the castle against an ambush, sits on the hill behind. The Dutch, you see, ambushed the Portuguese from that hill to take control of the castle in 1637. It was in the late eighteenth century that the British acquired the castle from the Dutch in a monetary exchange.
Brenu Beach: Only twenty minutes from Elmina, this is one of my favourites for a day trip. Just catch a trotro or a share taxi heading towards T’di. Get off at the Brenu junction. Catch a share taxi from there to the beach. You only need pay 50 pesewas to enter the beach area for the day (although it might have gone up). The meals are very good. Return the same way, but don’t leave it too late as it’s tough to get one back late at night.

Ko-sa Beach Resort: This laid-back, German-owned establishment has a fantastic menu. Take the same turn-off that takes you to Brenu. I stayed four days here; I didn’t want to leave and ate my way through the best yam balls and stew (aside from Eli’s), lobster in tomato and garlic sauce, delectable salads with olives and Balsamic, pancakes and coffee…the beach is good too and you can take walks to Brenu beach from there.

Coconut Grove Resort: If you want to spoil yourself, stay a weekend here. It’s in the same price range as Elmina Beach Resort and ten times lovelier. Swim all day in the pool or on the beach. Rooms have scalding hot water, air-con and satellite TV. Food is ok (hotel resortish), but Ko-sa’s is better.

Past Takoradi. Beaches; Nature.

Intro: If you keep heading west past Elmina you hit the twin cities, Sekondi/Takoradi, capital of the Western Region. I didn’t find much to excite in T’di itself, but the area past here, all the way to the border, is fantastic. You only need to head another half hour by tro to get to Busua Beach, Butre Beach, or Green Turtle Lodge. You change tros in T’di. From its main station catch the one heading to ‘Agona’ Junction. This junction connects you to all these beaches. Busua is easiest to get to. Catch a share taxi from the junction straight to the beach. For Butre, ask for the Butre tro. For Green Turtle take a tro heading to Akwida. It can take a while to fill up, but it only takes twenty minutes to get there.

Butre Beach. The place to stay is Ellis Hideout. You get there by walking through town and crossing a small river by canoe and walking along the beach for about fifty metres. The beach is all yours for miles.

Busua Beach
. I liked staying at the old backpacker favourite, Alaska. Rudimentary rooms in a concrete thatch hut: bed and net were about 10 Cedis a night. And, best part, it’s a ten metre walk to the beach from your front door. But there are about a dozen guest houses to choose from so go check them out. The beach here seems to be safer than many others, perhaps because of the cove at one end. Kids playing soccer on Busua Beach.

Green Turtle. Almost always booked out so book far in advance. Very similar ambience to Ko-sa. Food-wise, Ko-sa wins. Beach-wise and cocktails-wise, GT wins. I love the set up under the main hut in the sand and all the areas to hang out—and the shower under the palms! They also have eco-tours in a canoe along a river and seeing turtles lay eggs and hatch.
Sleeping on the beach at Green Turtle.

Further past T’di. Beaches. Nature. Culture. Historical Monuments.

Intro: The area makes a good weekend trip from Cape or Elmina, or even Accra, if you’re tough!
Axim Beach Resort: This is my
favourite for beach, location, and views in Ghana. If it had Ko-sa’s food, I’d never go anywhere else. And, it’s owned and run by a Ghanaian man called Jonas. His story is unique: he saved money teaching English throughout Asia which he used upon his return to build Axim, and he’s done an amazing job, seeming combining some of the best characteristics of South East Asian guest houses with African style. Situated on a hill overlooking a rocky beach to the west and the Awangazule Beach to the east, what I love most is that there is a range of accommodation and room styles to cater to all budgets, but you don’t feel as if you’re roughing it even in the cheapest room. The décor and even bathrooms are quirky with seashell mosaics and tiles adorning almost all walls.

I spent many a weekend chilling out on the beach. There is a great restaurant and bar on the beach, a park area, BBQ, and even a flying fox! There is another restaurant on the hill by the guest rooms with several tiers of tables down the hill. Breakfast is a spread of eggs, toast, lemon grass tea, the usual Nescafe/Lipton/Milo, and fruits and is included in accommodation. The main menu has fresh fish, plenty of good Ghanaian dishes, and good drinks. And there is even an internet room with about 5 computers and a decent connection.• Fort Sao Antonio is the second oldest fort in Ghana after Elmina and worth a walk into Axim town, reminiscent of Elmina, to visit if you have a free half day. Umbrellas along the beach at Axim.

Nzulezo Stilt Village. This is one of my Ghana highlights, an experience in itself. This village, as the name suggests, is built on bamboo stilts and sits entirely above the lake in the Amansuri wetlands. There is even a school room on stilts at the edge of the forest. The one-hour canoe trip to and from the village, across lilly-pad studded waters, and through jungle growing in the wetlands, is quite special. I stayed overnight there and swam (brave or stupid—both I think) in the lake with the locals. Staying overnight, I sensed how life is in this isolated, secluded village.

One family had a generator and what was everyone gathered around one TV watching? Football, of course. It occurred to me then that the kids who lived there had no where to play football. They would have to canoe the hour to land to play. When I arrived it was Friday afternoon and school had ended. There were about a dozen kids each in their own canoe, still in uniform, spread all over the lake gazing into the dead still water, looking for fish. Most people visit for half a day from Axim Beach or even T’di. If you’re staying in Axim, ask the staff how to get here as it can be tricky. Otherwise, check the Bradt Guide or its web site for latest updates. It lies along a long dirt road off the main road between T’di and Elubo. I advise getting a trotro or share taxi from the junction to Nzulezo.

Tipping guides: I have learnt that guides don’t get paid a salary for guiding at most attractions. They survive on tips. That includes Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle, Nzulezo canoeists, and, in Part 2, Wli Waterfalls. Keep in mind the minimum wage is 2.65 Cedis a day. I tip commensurate with the effort made—great, average, bad—and what I gauge they might make that day. I’d probably tip 2 Cedis at the Castles if it was an informative tour and I could hear their voice because they’re likely to do a couple of tours a day and have more than one person on it (I’ve done about 5 tours of Elmina castle and the guides varied greatly). I’d tip more for the canoeists as they might do that one tour a day, likewise the Wli Waterfalls.

For what it’s worth, most drumming and dancing groups don’t get paid by the venue for their performance, including at 5-star hotels. They also survive on tips so when they hand around a hat, it’s good form to tip a Cedi or two if you enjoyed the performance.


Next: Part 2: Accra to the Eastern Region, Brong Ahafo and Volta Region, or the mountains and lake. Following: Part 3: Accra to Kumasi and the three northern regions, or the savannah.
Final, Part 4: Itineraries for short and long trips.

My town: Bolgatanga, Upper East Region, Ghana

Continuing the theme of places I've lived, I'm sharing photos that tell a little story about life in Bolgatanga. 



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