Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, is part of the Sub-Saharan African countries whose economy is growing exponentially. For example, in the Summer of 2017, Ghana launched their first satellite into space. I was also informed by my friend, who has relatives in Ghana, that the country is starting to be considered as a second-world country status from third-world status. In addition, Ghana was host to world leaders such as Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama.
MY WHY FOR GOING TO GHANA
“Forward Ever; Backwards Never”
-Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Minister & President
When the opportunity of volunteering in the form of helping women entrepreneurs in Accra, the capital of Ghana, presented itself I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. Volunteering was ingrained in me as a child, it’s near and dear to my heart. Also, I love helping women and I thought this will be a great experience for me since this will be my first trip to the continent of Africa. Little did I know, I was in for an enlightening journey.
THE TRAVEL PROCESS & PREP
It was no joke. The preparation for this trip was intense for me for several reasons, mainly because I get obsessed with crossing my “T”s and dotting my “i”s when traveling long distance. Luckily, I went with a group of women who were equally excited to assist Accra’s women entrepreneurs. The total trip time was 25 hours, due to the 8 hour lay over in Turkey. So, my friend and I traveled from New York to Ghana, with a 8 hour lay over in Istanbul, Turkey, via Turkish Airways. The other women traveled from Canada, Portugal, and some left from Philly.
The travel process for me included:
- Finding the best bang for my buck when picking the airports, which resulted in my friend and I going (roundtrip) to JFK airport in NY from Philly via a private shuttle service. We saved roughly $300!
- Getting a Yellow Fever vaccination (As a US citizen, I cannot enter the country without proof of receiving the vaccination), which was mentally draining as my friend and I called multiple facilities to ascertain if they had the vaccine in stock. I had to find a travel clinic and most places had the vaccination on back order until 2018. Side note: The duration of the trip was November 2-12, 2017
- Locking my suitcase. It’s suggested that when entering Ghana to wrap your suitcase in plastic or to use zip ties so no one can open your suitcase.
- Filing for a visa + other paperwork. This was an interesting process as it’s suggested for who those who are initially getting the Yellow Fever vaccine to do so no more than two weeks before you leave from your trip. I can’t file for the visa without also providing the Yellow Fever vaccination card (the proof that I received the vaccine). I have to also provide a letter from my travel group’s point of contact inviting us to the country, among other paperwork.
The travel prep for me included:
- Mapping out day, night, and backup clothes. Typically, I packed for daytime casual wear and evening/dinner/lounge wear. Since I was also presenting to the women I wanted to make sure I had “presentation” clothes, something that’s professional but with a spiritual, this is a Tia look flare to it. So, I printed the itinerary and next to each day I wrote the outfit (day and night), shoes, and jewelry. This way I knew exactly what I was going to wear each day and can focus more on volunteering.
- Knowing the currency, language, and something about the culture.
- Sending my itinerary to my mom and bestie. Also, making copies of my passport.
- Going over the material I would be presenting.
FOOD I TRIED
As I’m writing this, I’m seriously craving jollof rice and plantains! When I go to the Brazilian steakhouse and get their plantains, it has a sweet component to it. However, the Ghanian plantains have a little spicy tang to it and I love that too! I tried the banku with the okra and salmon soup. The best way I can explain what banku is to think of a doughy biscuit.
My staple food for the trip became the jollof rice, plantains, and chicken kabob. Surprisingly, I didn’t drink much alcohol. I enjoyed different fruit drinks and Coca Cola (I know. I’m a Pepsi gal but they didn’t have it at the restaurants, okay! Don’t tell Pepsi I cheated on him.)
I also have to give a special shout out to Turkish Airways. Their food was so friggin’ amazing and their service was out of this world! It was a beautiful experience. They take good care of you.
WHAT I TAUGHT
My love for teaching is only surpassed by my love for writing. What I love about teaching is the interaction, the exchange of energies as I learn something from the very person I’m teaching. My workshops were titled “How To Honor Yourself & Re-centering”, “Business Planning”, and “Breath Work & Mindful Meditation”. Over the course of our time there, we spoke in front of roughly 100 women of the Ghana Association of Women Entrepreneurs (GAWE).
My first workshop, “How To Honor Yourself & Re-centering”, focused on assisting the women in making time for themselves. The second workshop, “Business Planning”, was centered around creating interdependent relationships with other business women and envisioning how they want their business to growth. For the third workshop, “Breath Work & Mindful Meditation”, I led the women through an exercise where we created energy balls and slowed down our breathing in order to be more aligned with self as often as possible.
The women’s businesses ranged from supplying feminine hygiene products to owning second-hand clothing stores. They were the bread winners in the family and most of them were mothers. They were passionate about being of service but they were not a priority on their list. I also donated my second book, “How To Get To The Point In Your Life”, to assist in that process of putting yourself first while being an entrepreneur.
A KIND REMINDER & WHO I MET
I learned a lot and received kind reminders about the power of one’s spirit. Resources, such as toiletries and hot water can be limited in some areas in Accra. However, this doesn’t stop the people from thriving, from creating a business. I know sometimes I overthink a process in my business, which causes delays. We met a phenomenal woman who didn’t have time to waste. Her name is Matilda Amissah. You may not know her but you know of her work. She and her team in Ghana create products for Pier One Imports and HomeGoods! Funny thing is as she was talking the group about her business, I was looking at her work and thought, “Man, this looks familiar.” Well, now I know why her pottery gave me a feeling of déjà vu!
Matilda explained to the group that she doesn’t deal with lawyers or the banks. A whomping 60% of her sales come from the US. Then I thought, “Whoa. So, this lady also has an export license.” And, she’s self taught! She gave us a tour of her property. She did not let us leave until we wrote down our email addresses (building her list) and what we bought. What an amazing experience and a reminder to just do it. Do the research yourself first.
The group’s tour guide also arranged an appointment for us to meet Leslie Tinney, First Secretary of High Commission of Canada to Ghana. I was honored to be in her presence. She was humble and gracious. The First Secretary informed the group of the great things soon to come to help the women entrepreneurs via the UN. I was thrilled to hear that and began thinking of ways I can be part of that development, if possible.
In between working with the women of GAWE, we visited a school and an orphanage. Talk about emotional! I like to think of myself as a spiritual gangster who doesn’t cry but I got teary eyed. The kids at the school put on a performance and the children at the orphanage had huge hearts. The group donated 20 mattresses and other items to the orphanage. Lo and behold, it’s just 35 USD for a decent size mattress. It blew my mind.
AFRICAN DRUMMING & HORSE RIDING (ATTEMPT)
I had an absolute BLAST learning how to beat an African drum, it’s all about feeling the rhythm and being one with the drum. You will get a light workout from drumming. After drumming, our fearless drum leader of the Africana Dance Ensemble lead us in putting on a performance! Yes, ya girl was in step with African dance. It was a very grounding experiences since we danced outside with no shoes on. We became more connected with Mother Earth in the process, at least I did! I know I burned 3,000 calories when it was said and done. He was not going to let us leave until we got ALL of the steps perfect per dance set!
Earlier in that day the group took a trip to the beach. And, to my delight there was an attraction of horseback riding! I haven’t been horseback riding since I was a girl so I figured this would be a great thing to do. This is the part where the Narrator says, “Tia soon learned that it wasn’t a good idea.”
So, I went to one of the handlers and before I knew it he hoisted me onto the horse. After that, he WALKED AWAY! He went to talk to his friend a few feet away. There I was on this very calm horse and I’m only calm on the outside. I very firmly at a low tone, so I wont spook the horse, asked my friend nearby to get the handler to help me down before the horse rides off. But at least I got a couple of pictures, right (laughs nervously)?!
THE CAPE COAST & THE SLAVE CASTLE
The last leg of our journey involved us leaving Accra and heading to the Cape Coast, which was quite the journey as it took over 6 hours to get there! God bless the driver. The Cape Coast is absolutely beautiful and it’s history will leave you in awe. The Slave Castle, where slave trade took place and the slaves were put in dungeons, was established by the Portuguese. However, through various conquests, the slave castle was also owned by the Swedes, Dutch, and the English. Learn more about the Slave Castle here.
I believe that it’s very important to understand the history of the places I visit. It gives one a better sense of why things the way they are and a better sense of the people, overall. The tour guide walked us down into the dungeon where the male slaves were kept and then he turned off the light. He did that to demonstrate what the environment was for the men who where placed there, not knowing if their relative was right beside them. He showed us different quarters of the castle and thoroughly explained the history of the Cape Coast. It was definitely an eye-opener.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Pinterest pictures. To see more pictures, such as parts of the museum dedicated to Ghana’s first Minister and President, go to my Pinterest page here. Where you’ll find Tia’s Travel: Travel Tips, Inspiration, Photography: Ghana.
- Know the currency (Cedi) and the exchange rate. This didn’t happened in Ghana, but it would behoove you to know how much money you will be receiving when you exchange your money and if your currency (the USD in my case) is stronger than the currency you’re looking to exchange it in. While at the airport in Turkey, I exchanged my money but they gave me Lira instead of Euros. I wasn’t paying attention and that backfired.
- Always have some cash on you. Some places in Accra only took cash and the card reader machine was down in one store. It’s a good rule of thumb to have some cash on you at all times.
- Make copies of your passport and carry that copy.
- Dress for the Summer! It’s blazing in Accra. Leave the jeans at home.
- The clubs are nice! If you like to dance or just do a two-step, you can! Dress to impress. We went to two really nice clubs. Good music. Great atmosphere. One club’s played a Philly rapper’s song. Being a Philly girl, I was proud.
- Let your embassy know you are there. This is good practice. Some of the women registered with their country’s embassy. You may even want to know the number and location of your country’s embassy.
- Commit to memory where you are staying. Keep a copy of the card or take a picture of the name of the place where you are staying. You may get lost or need to catch a cab back to the place. FYI This happened to me in London. I got lost and had to catch a cab back to the hotel. My dad told me to get the hotel’s card and keep it with me. The cab driver knew exactly where to go!
- Don’t drink the water. Don’t drink the water unless it’s from the bottle and it has a plastic seal on it.
- Limited hot water, sometimes. Some hotels have their staff bring you a big bucket of hot water to use for showering. Just a head’s up. We brushed our teeth using bottled water.
- Visit the CDC website and learn what vaccines you need and other medications. I had to take malaria pills. As a precaution, I received a Hepatitis A shot and the flu shot. I had other preventive measure goodies on hand. I was a walking Rite Aid.
- Have fun but be aware. No matter where you are.
- Make sure you can enter the country. Several women were stopped at the Accra airport for not having their yellow fever card. I don’t know what happened to them but I wouldn’t want to be in that situation after traveling 24 + hours.
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