One of the great things about traveling to a country without any expectations is how easily it can surprise you. Before going to Ghana, Africa, which I wouldn’t exactly call a tourism hot spot, I had no idea what to expect. I had a few fairy tale images in my head — smiling locals dancing in the streets to drum beats, wild monkeys eating bananas out of trees and relaxing on the beach drinking palm wine — but aside for that, I let myself be completely taken off-guard by the culture. Here are 10 ways Ghana surprised me.
Have you been to Ghana? If so, what surprised you?
My Fairy Tale Images Were True
In Ghana, drums and dancing are life. Whether you’re poor or wealthy, most locals love to dance and listen to music with a strong beat. I didn’t meet a Ghanaian who couldn’t salsa like a Broadway star or play drums like Van Halen. Walking down the street, you’ll often get to experience this part of the culture without even trying.
I expected to have people stare at me for looking different; however, I was completely taken off guard by the incessant shouting of “oberoni!” (foreigner) at me as I walked down the street. When I would run in the morning, every local, cab driver and shop keeper would shout it at me, sometimes even grabbing my skin to see if it was real. Don’t be offended, they mean it as a friendly gesture and just want to get to know you.
Now, let me just say I’m the least picky eater I know. I’ve eaten guts, intestines, insects and animals many of us would consider pets without batting an eyelid; however, the food in Ghana is less than desirable. While I know this is an opinion, I volunteered in a group of 10 and the one thing we all had in common was our constant dream-like fantasies about pizza, salad and burgers. Be aware that for most Westerners, living on a diet of gummy balls made of root vegetables, udon noodles, rice water and broth can be difficult. That being said, there were some meals we all enjoyed, like Red Red, a goulash of beans and black-eyed peas, and fried chicken with a rice ball in spicy peanut soup. I was doing a homestay, and therefore eating how a local would. If you’re staying at resorts the entire time, it’ll be easier to get more protein-packed fare.
Contrasting Wealth And Poverty
While most people typically view Ghana as a poor country, I viewed contrasting degrees of poverty and wealth. While you’ll see many hawkers, some just small children in tattered clothing selling fruits and household items, I also met business owners wearing designer clothing and driving Ferraris. This leads me to my next surprise
While you’ll see many more markets, huts and stands than concrete buildings, Ghana has more industry than some are aware of. Especially in the capital, there was a mall, car dealerships and big businesses.
For those who have ridden the “chicken bus” in other countries, the tro-tro is similar. The scariest part of my trip was figuring out how to navigate these life-sized sardine cans that looked like they would fall apart with a heavy wind. Knowing where to get off can be confusing, but locals in Ghana are friendly and you can easily ask for help or write down a stop name and do a shrugging gesture so they know where you’re trying to go.
As mentioned above, it’s not uncommon to see very young children hawking. Although the law states children under 18 can’t work in the markets, the president has been known to buy his lunch from pre-schoolers. It’s a major issue in Ghana, and one I hope gets resolved in the coming years.
No matter where you go in Ghana — the city, the country, the forest — there are heaps of trash. Despite billboards asking people not to litter, it happens constantly. The problem is, locals don’t see the problem. One example I can give is when I was hiking the Wli Falls in the Volta Region. Hungry, my Ghanaian companion Michael opened some biscuits, ate them and threw the wrapper on the ground. I scolded him, but he earnestly told me that it wasn’t a big deal and “everybody did it.”
While I wouldn’t go expecting everyone to speak English, there are many locals who can. English is the national language, although Ghanaians mainly speak Akan, Ewe, Dagomba, Dangme, Dagaare, Ga, Nzema, Gonja and Kasem.
Ghana isn’t really prepared for tourism, as most would expect; however, it is more prepared than I assumed. There are areas, like Accra, Cape Coast, Kokrobite and the Volta Region that have hotels, hostels and resorts. Historic (and sad) Slave Castles and Kakum National Park draw tourists to Cape Coast, while nature lovers head to the Volta Region for the lake and falls. There’s even a decent backpacker hub in Kokrobite at Big Milly’s House.