Often times, I am greeted with questions like, “Which countries should I visit first in Africa.” Although the answer may vary, depending on personality and preference, Ghana would always seem to top its way into what I believe is an ideal choice for first-time travelers to Africa. Above is a short clip of my experiences in Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, and Elmina. Ghana, like any other nation, has the “good”, the “bad”, and the “ugly”. Before making that decision, here are six things you should know before receiving that stamp on that blank passport page.
Ghana is one of those countries in Africa where a visa is needed to enter the country. Visas can be obtained by applying through your country’s’ Ghanaian embassy. It can be done on your behalf through a local travel agency, or it can be done through a local Ghanaian volunteer organization, as I did. For U.S. citizens check https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/ghana.html for further visa requirements such as visa types, applications, and fees. The following link may also be used from the official Ghanaian Immigration website: http://www.ghanaimmigration.org/visiting_overview.html .
The organization that I volunteered for was able to get me a visa by payment of the fee to the organization. I was then provided with a Visa on Arrival form by email. Upon arrival to the airport, the form and receipt were presented to immigration and hence, I received my visa stamp.
The most important vaccination is the “Yellow Fever” vaccine. A lot of African countries require proof of this vaccination upon entry. There have often been shortages of this vaccine, so prepare enough time to set appointments and go to local clinics or health centers that offer the vaccine. Usually, the vaccine must mature for 10 days before traveling. After the shot, often “yellow cards” are given as proof of the vaccination you have had. DO NOT lose it, or you won’t be going anywhere.
Yellow fever can be caused by a mosquito bite, however, another mosquito bite that can be lethal can cause malaria. Although, it is not a required vaccination, there are plenty of preventive drugs that mostly come in the form of pills. There are some prescriptions that are more expensive than others. There are also some that have a longer dosage, that may extend up to 30 days after your trip. Check which brands work best with your insurance or financial capabilities and make it work.
If you choose to go cold turkey, at least wear DEET (mosquito repellent)!
3. You May Get Addicted to Modesty
You will find women and men dressed in elaborate cloths with bright colors and intricate details as normal, casual attire. Solid red, usually indicates a death/ funeral of a loved one. Women seem to prefer long, fitted dresses that accentuate their curves in the most elegant way I have ever seen. Dresses may be accompanied with matching scarves or head wraps that set a fashionable statement. Before you know it, you will be returning home with a new African wardrobe. They are too affordable and adorable to keep your eyes off. Hold back on the public displays of affection with the sun and find that print that will make you shine.
4. Go With Patience!
There is a strong divide between the rich and the poor. There is a strong hustle for survival there. Be easy. Ghana is pretty safe, however, expect vendors everywhere you turn. You will be approached by men, women, and children who may be persistent with getting you to buy. Be careful! Some are really good at it, and before you know it, you just bought a motor that that flawless African goddess was carrying on her head with no hands (literally). What do you need with a motor? Well…maybe you want to build your own boat back at home, you rationalized to yourself. It is amazing to see how it seems like nothing is too heavy to carry on top of their heads. This takes skill and strategy and they make it look so easy. There is almost nothing you can’t buy on the streets, from a dashiki, to fresh fruits, to a puppy (yes puppy), to a steering wheel, to just about anything you can think of. Choose wisely or buy another piece of luggage to fit all your new gear.
Disclosure: If you just can’t buy or don’t want to, avoid eye contact. The “eye” means “‘I’ am interested, and I just don’t know it. Help me.”
5. Give Back
The most rewarding experience for me was being able to give back. I chose http://www.ghanapc.com/yahya/kvolugh/index.html as the organization I wanted to volunteer for. I was impressed by a conversation that I had with Mr. Alhassan Kunata (the director/CEO) during a layover in Dubai. He seemed passionate about his organization and welcomed me to visit anytime I wanted. Well…I took him up on his offer and before you know it, I was on my way to the motherland for the first time.
Mr. Alhassan Kunata allowed me to contribute in any way I wanted. I chose to have a talent contest for the kids, where I raised money and made personal contributions to a sewing school that was being built at the time for underprivileged girls. I also had a “Black Doll Contest” for the younger girls. It was touching and almost hurtful at the same time that the girls had never even seen a black doll before. Their eyes lit up when I assigned them their dolls, and they were even more elated that they got to keep the dolls for themselves afterward. What a rewarding experience. I hope to go back and maybe even host a fashion show for the new sewing school that was built.
Mr. Alhassan was a great host. He provided a driver for us our whole time there for whatever we wanted to do or wherever we wanted to go. For volunteer info with Mr. Alhassan’s organization, click on the link or capture his contact info provided in the video clip above.
6. Visit the Slave Castles
You can’t leave Ghana without visiting the slave castles. It will be a waste of time traveling to the motherland. It would defeat the purpose. We went to other historical sites shown in the video, but the most memorable and surreal visit was the Elmina and Cape Coast Castles. Ghana is flooded with black, African history and will bridge educational gaps not provided in history books or lessons in other countries. Do yourself a favor and become acquainted with the truth. Return from “The Point of No Return.”
You have to go to understand what that means!!