Shared taxis and tro tros make getting around Ghana fairly easy and very inexpensive. Point to point taxis are also relatively inexpensive. It is best to arrange the rate before you enter the taxi and be prepared to walk away and find another since some taxi drivers will try to get the best of you.
With Ghanaians: Ghanaians observe many formalities that you will want to pay attention to. Be attuned and check with our local representative to ask about proper protocol. Always show courtesy and respect to those you meet even on the street and in the marketplace. On the whole, people are exceptionally easy going and warm. It is easy to make contact and new friends.
While English is the National language, it is not the first language Ghanaians learn. You will be in a region where Ewe is the common language. Many people may not speak English well, or even at all. You will be well rewarded to try and learn a few Ewe words and customs. Be aware that even with people who speak English, you are walking into a different culture. Some words and even whole ways of communicating are different. It is easy to have misunderstandings. For instance, Americans are known to be very direct by saying just what they mean. Not necessarily so in Ghana. The people here are more apt to say what they think you want to hear, and may expect you will understand what is not said. For example, TIME. A person may set up a time for an appointment, show up forty-five minutes late or more, and think nothing of it. They may also seem to embrace an idea, agree to put it into action, and then later blatantly disregard it.
Speak slowly and ask your question different ways to make sure you have been well understood. People often give you the answer they think you are looking for even when they haven’t understood a word you said.
By phone: It is helpful to have a (GSM) smartphone that is unlocked so it is able to take a local chip (sim card).
The chips cost about $1 and can be ‘topped up’ for small amounts. To register your phone chip you will need your passport. Calls to the US are reasonably priced (last rate check was less than 10 cents a minute) and calls can be received without charge to you. Feel free to call Ellen at any time during your stay with any questions, concerns or problems that staff on hand cannot easily take care of. Keep in mind that it is significantly cheaper to call the US than for calls from the US to Ghana.
For family and friends calling you, we suggest they check the call rates from their carrier or purchase a calling card to Ghana. There are many sites online and even in gas stations that sell these. Skype also has some good options, especially if you set up a subscription and pair it with a skype-to-go number. If you have a smartphone, we have found Viber and Whatsapp to be useful applications for free calling.
Money in Ghana
We recommend having an debit card to use at ATM machines. Ask your bank if they charge transaction fees, as these can add up. Credit cards should not be used (except for the one you used to purchase your ticket; you may be asked to show that when you check-in at the airport.).
Be sure to carry any cash in a money belt (not something that hangs on your neck). Pick-pocketing and other petty crime is common and as a foreigner, you may be seen as a target. Be cautious with money and property everywhere you go – even on school grounds.
The local currency is called Cedi. Items you can expect to spend money on once in Ghana may include local transportation, dining out, food items, hotels or other accommodations when exploring the country, laundry, tips, gifts, handcrafts, etc.
Food and water: It is recommended that vegetables be cooked and fruit peeled. You can easily buy groundnut (peanut) butter, plantain chips, fruit, crackers, biscuits, water, etc. Items like cheese can be found in larger towns like Ho.
Milk is usually condensed. Breakfast is generally toast, eggs, or porridge; other meals are centered on a carbohydrate like rice, yam, corn, or cassava and are dripping in palm-nut oil. Protein choices are secondary and are usually goat, chicken, or fish (tilapia). Beans are also popular. Many volunteers carry protein and other food bars with them.
Water sachets (called Pure Water) are easy to come by and very cheap. Be sure that the ones you purchase are factory sealed.
Some volunteers are able to enjoy street food and even sometimes tolerate raw vegetables. Even if you have a strong stomach, we caution you to have a supply of medication should you have any distress.
Dress: Ghanaians take great pride in their appearance and dress. Women usually wear skirts and dresses and most clothing is pressed crisply. Women are encouraged to wear skirts that are knee length, or longer, or lightweight pants.Shopping: It is acceptable and even advisable to bargain for handicrafts and some other items or services. Prices quoted are often double and can be 3-4 times over what an item is worth. Our local representatives can give guidance on this.
Photography: Most children and many adults love to have their photos taken. Most enjoy seeing the images on the camera. But, in any new situation it is advisable not to take photos unless you check to make sure it is ok to do so. Some people get very upset otherwise.
Smoking and Drinking: Very few people in Ghana smoke and smoking is not looked upon favorably. If you are a smoker, please be sure to let us know before your trip. Drinking should only be done in moderation. You are in a small town and your students and fellow students will be very aware of your behavior. Be a good role model always.
Health concerns: Be sure to keep yourself healthy by eating right – a strong immune system and an intestinal tract supplemented with probiotics makes for a much easier stay. Start probiotic and other immune boosting supplements before you leave. See our packing list for recommendations on what medical and first aid supplies to carry with you. If you get sick, be sure to let us know right away so we can do our best to assist you.
Hospitals and Health Clinics: Volunteers should report any illness to their supervisor and/or Ellen. Should you need to go to a health clinic or hospital, there are several options in Ho we can direct you to. Any serious illness should be reported to your travel insurance company so that should you need to be transported to another country or back home, they can assist with arrangements. Save all of your receipts. Be sure to let us know if you become ill and require treatment so we can help you navigate as best as possible.
Tipping: Whenever someone helps you out it is OK to give them a tip – such as for doing laundry, carrying things, etc. Tips are not expected in restaurants, but are of course happily accepted.
Going with the flow: This is perhaps the most useful advice we can give. You will soon see that in Ghana things don’t often go as planned; equipment breaks down, power goes off, water stops flowing, accidents cause delays, etc. You may not always know why a plan has changed, just that what you thought was going to happen, didn’t. Try and get as much clarity as you can, do your best to keep things on track, and finally accept when things do not go as expected.