After visiting Paris and London last year I vowed that I would travel to Africa before visiting another country. There is very little than anyone could have said or done that would have prepared me for the trip to Ghana. As my boyfriend describes it, our trip was filled with high highs and low lows.
Getting to Ghana is not particularly budget friendly. There are hidden costs of traveling abroad which you can find here, but there are ways that you can cut corners. Our tickets cost us $1550. For instance there were less expensive times of the year to purchase flights (in November tickets are as low as $907). You can also opt to fly a cheaper carrier. Neither of these were options in my case.
I wanted to visit Ghana as a 30th birthday gift to myself. Cape Coast was significant in the slave trade and because I am the descendant of slaves this was important to me. I felt like visiting Africa was something I needed to do as I ushered in the 4th decade of life on this earth. We traveled with my good friend Belkis who is Ghanian but has not been home since 2000.
As far as selecting an air carrier, I knew we were in for long flights (13 hrs to Dubai and 8 hrs to Accra) so in that case my comfort was more important than my wallet. There are times in a frugalista’s life when you have to make those decisions. I opted for Emirates which included extended layovers in Dubai, which we used as an opportunity for a mini vacation. It was about $200 more than other carriers.
Once in Ghana your stay becomes relatively affordable because the dollar is strong there. 1 dollar equals approximately 3 cedis. So I exchanged $150 USD and received $460 cedi. Not to mention everything is relatively inexpensive so your money goes a long way. The trick is to do business in cedi’s when possible and to tour with someone who has your best interest at heart because vendors will know you are not from Ghana and you will have a dollar sign dangling over your head for a good portion of the trip. And understandably so.
So let’s talk about the highs:
The Children. Such pure laughter. Such innocence. Real innocence not that “my mom listens to Beyonce and I know all the words” innocence. We had the opportunity to interview two children and their view on society and the current government floored me. These children are polite yet powerful and they have something to say.
Visiting Cape Coast. I’m not exactly sure where my ancestors were from in the Gold coast but there’s a good chance they came through Elmina castle some 200 years ago. I felt like I owed it to them to return. My life is what it is because of their experience and I don’t take that for granted one bit. Returning was as emotional as I expected it to be.
Unplugging – Ghana forced me to unplug. In a country where the government turns the power off just about every other day you are forced to entertain yourself the old fashioned way. Life without social media goes on and as long as the people around me are okay I’m content with being unplugged.
Connecting- Ghana in its lack of development allows you to connect with other individuals and the earth on a level I have become unfamiliar with. I was made more conscious of my actions and more aware of the world around me. I travelled to the north of the country, the west, and Accra in the south. Gods earth is beautifully perfect.
The Struggle is Real- This became the motto of our trip. We said it so much that our travel companion Belkis’ brother began saying it. I’ve never in my life witnessed poverty on this scale. I hate to compare struggle and I hate when people do it. I will just say that this trip made me realize that there are people happy with less than what I have. The children playing among trash, the girls foregoing school to sell items atop their heads or carry goods for strangers, the lack of medical care and oversight, and the governments disregard for it citizens. Power outages and fetching water every morning are a way of life. If they can smile through life I can smile through a stuffy subway commute and all of the other minor stuff I gripe about.
The Inequality– We have inequality in the states but our inequality is a molehill compared to the mountain of inequality in Ghana. We went from shacks in the heart of the city to mansions with security guards and pools in a country where the majority of residents don’t even have running water. The inequality was disgusting and sobering.
The Judgement- Oh I was judged. Because Ghana is a very religious country (Muslim in the north, Christian in the south) I received strife for my decision to wear shorts that fell above my knee and my tattoos. Never in my life have I felt so judged. I felt more comfortable in Dubai than I did in a Ghana. At one point I was even told that my hair was “not my fault” as if something was wrong with my coils. Thankfully Belkis’ father was very welcoming and helpful as well as her cousins and brother. They welcomed us into their home and did their best to keep our bellies full. Other than that I received a few Akwaaba’s but felt no connection to the majority of the people and received several disapproving stares which fell short of the romanticized “homecoming” I envisioned.
If anyone plans to go to Ghana make sure you have a strong itinerary and guides who are used to working with tourist. You can tour on your own in place like Puerto Rico, but Ghana taught me a valuable lesson, every destination is not ripe for a budget vacation.
This is not my last trip to Africa. I plan to visit Senegal, South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Egypt and I am looking forward to experiencing those countries and all that they have to offer.
Have you visited Ghana? what was your experience?