When a good friend of mine, Laylaa, returned from doing field research in a small, low income area called Nii Boi Town (near La Paz in the capital Accra), I was interested to hear what she had experienced, and how as a tourist, she adapted to the Ghanaian way of life. To my surprise, her experience was nothing like what I had imagined the country to be like. I sat down with her and got the inside scoop on her experience of the poorer, more rural Ghana — a place she describes at the authentic Ghana. She not only gave me great advice for a trip to the country, but also amazing insight.
Rural Ghana is a place where cultures, etiquette and customs are probably very different from what you’re used to, and will make you feel slightly uncomfortable — but in a good way.
You Should Go To Ghana If You…
…are ok with roughing it. If you don’t mind bucket showers, power outages, dust, traffic and dirt, you’ll do just fine in the country. Ghana is not for luxury travellers.
Vaccinations Before You Leave Home
It is compulsory to get a few vaccinations before leaving home including a yellow fever injection. Fortunately theses vaccinations do not have side effects.
Dress Code: What Is Acceptable?
Ghana is generally a very conservative country. In the smaller towns, away from the big city and tourist attractions, it is frowned upon to wear provocative clothing. Try and wear clothing that doesn’t show too much skin and leaves a lot to the imagination.
If there are three things that you need to have in rural Ghana it is the following: bottled water, tissues and hand cleanser. The only reliable bottled water to buy is called Voltic Water. Make sure you only buy the water with a plastic seal over the lid! Don’t buy the packet water. You’ll also need tissues to wipe off all you sweat. And loads of hand cleanser that you will constantly use to keep your hands clean.
Culture Shock, Customs & Traditions
Because there is a large community of Muslims in Accra, it is customary that before entering any Muslims household, you take your shoes off. Unlike the western world, Ghanians find it disrespectful to maintain eye contact for too long. Try and look away every few seconds to remain respectful. Another strange custom is that when calling someone, Ghanaians make a hissing noise to get someones attention. Also remember that Ghanians eat with their hands which is not frowned upon.
A must-try traditional food is banku which looks like maize meal, but has a slight sour taste. It is actually a type of fermented maize, but could be prepared in different ways depending on where you buy it. A great way to eat banku is with a homemade sauce called pepper – ground up scotch bonnet peppers – that you can dip banku in. Another popular dish is jollof rice. It is rice cooked in the gravy of a stew. Both dishes can be found all over Accra with almost every restaurant having banku, pepper and jollof rice. Also, be ready to eat spicy food as almost all Ghanaian dishes are spicy.
Similarities & Difference To The Western World
Even though Accra is one of the most economically stable and progressive cities in Ghana, to someone from the western world it will look like a run down, poor city. The street food is often unsafe to eat and there are always loads of people selling various things at traffic lights including water in plastic packets. If you plan to hire a car, forget about it! The road system in Accra makes no sense, there is always traffic (even at 4am) and most drivers don’t abide by the rules of the road.
Do What The Locals Do
As they say, “When in Rome…” so when in rural Ghana do as the locals do. There is so much to see and do so get out and explore. Go to the local market, eat strange food, head to the beach and just experience daily life.
People of Rural Ghana
The world’s nicest people are all in Accra. Even though they can be a little abrupt at times, the people of rural Ghana are friendly and always mean well. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for help as they will go above and beyond to help you and not expect anything in return. Don’t be misled by the abruptness of the locals, its just how they communicate.
Oh Look, A Cow?
Livestock roam freely in and amongst houses and on the street. It is the strangest thing, but a way of life in rural Ghana.
It is ok to buying fruit from street vendors, but make sure you clean it before you eat of it. Also make sure you watch when the street vendors cut your fruit, make sure it doesn’t touch their hands and ask that they wash the knife first. Anything on an open flame is okay to eat, so you can tuck into the roasted plantain that the street vendors sell.
Negotiating With Taxi Drivers
Always negotiate with the taxi drivers and never get into a taxi before having a set price. Most taxi drivers won’t be ripping you off, but there are a few opportunist that will take advantage and won’t be giving you the best deal. The best thing to do is to stand outside of the car at the window, tell them where you want to go and ask for their price. If it is too high, walk away and they’ll surely call you back and offer you a better price. Taxis are usually safe and one can often take a ride by yourself without any problems.
Ghana is a very safe city. You’ll hardly ever get harassed for money or feel uneasy. Ghanaians often try to protect and look out for tourists as they value people coming to their country. They are proud of their country and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize a tourist’s stay or make it unpleasant so they don’t come back to the country. If you are being bothered by anyone, approach another local, like the street vendors who are usually nice, and tell them you are feeling unsafe. Locals will usually step in if someone is harassing a foreigner. The key thing is not to be afraid to speak to the locals!
A Life-Changing Experience
Rural Ghana will definitely change you. You’ll return home and have a new appreciation for the simple things like running water, well serviced roads and flushing toilets. The friendliness, willingness to help and protectiveness of the locals will make you think about the way you treat others and tourists visiting your home country. You’ll appreciate a simple ‘Hello’, but miss the 10 minute greeting of locals who will genuinely enquire about your family, their health, your parents jobs, your children, your partner, etc. There is no way Ghana, especially the less developed, rural area, won’t change you.