Guide to Ofankor, Ghanaprint story
August 07, 2012
Welcome to Ofankor, your new home away from home! This guide seeks to introduce you to Ofankor so that you can have a better idea of what to expect before you arrive.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Getting Started
c. Costs & Money
i. How much does it cost?
d. Don’t Leave Home Without . . .
2. Getting There & Away
3. Getting Around
4. History of Lumana Ofankor
5. The Culture
a. The nicest people in the world
h. Women in Ofankor
6. Food & Drink
8. Dangers & Annoyances
10. Author’s Note
Ofankor is located about 45 minutes due north of Accra on the Nsawam Highway that connects Ghana’s capital with its second largest city, Kumasi. It is part of the Greater Accra region of Ghana and borders the towns of Taifa to the south and Pokuase to the north. Here is the link to the office location on Google Maps to give you an idea of distances and spatial layout – http://goo.gl/maps/QD6f.
Ofankor is located close to the equator in a semitropical climate zone and is therefore fairly hot and humid year-round, with seasonal fluctuations. During the rainy season (which peaks around June/July), rain can come in droves and can sometimes last for a full day. More typically, it rains on an off throughout the day, with the sun shining through between periods of downpours or drizzles. While dry days can be hot and muggy, after the rain, it can be pleasantly warm with a cool breeze. According to secondary sources, the Harmattan Winds blow Saharan dust and sand throughout the country from October through February, but Lumana staff have yet to experience this because of timing. BBC Weather provides a great summary of historical temperatures and rainfall stats: http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/2306104.
Costs & Money
The national currency of Ghana is the cedi. At the time of writing this guide during July of 2012, the cedi was trading at 2 to 1 to the US dollar. For the most accurate exchange information, check out the website www.xe.com.
Accessing money in Ghana is fairly straightforward, especially with Visa. If you have a debit card, there are many ATMs in major cities such as Accra and several within the surrounding community that belong to local banks. The Lumana Ofankor staff can direct you to the nearest ATM or specific bank branch if you have a preference. Major banks in Accra include Barclays, EcoBank, Stanbic Bank and the Bank of Ghana. It is important to note, however, that most ATMs and even major stores do not accept Mastercard. Even though much of the country exclusively accepts Visa, some of the major banks such as Barclays will accept Mastercard for ATM transactions (but there are none in the immediate Ofankor area as far as we are aware).
Exchanging dollars for cedis at any Forex bureau is quick and easy; there are hundreds of them scattered throughout Accra. Some will give you a slightly worse rate if you are exchanging bills of lower denominations such as $1s, $5s, $10s and $20s, but with a little haggling you might be able to get the teller to give you the posted rate.
How much does it cost? (All prices listed in Ghana cedis)
Standard sachet water (500 mL): ₵ 0.10
Tro-tro (bus) ride from Ofankor to Amasaman: ₵ 0.40
Large bucket of water from polytanks: ₵ 0.50
Tro-tro (bus) ride from Ofankor to Achimota New Station: ₵ 0.70
Tro-tro (bus) ride from Ofankor to Nkrumah Circle: ₵ 0.80
5 Bananas: ₵ 1.00
1 Pineapple: ₵ 1.00
1 Avocado: ₵ 1.00
5 Tomatoes: ₵ 1.00
Bottle of Fanta (600 mL): ₵ 1.00
Box of mosquito coils: ₵ 1.00
Ripe mango: ₵ 1.00
Voltic bottled water (1.5 L): ₵ 1.50
Fried rice with piece of fried chicken: ₵ 2.00
Newspaper: ₵ 2.00
10 eggs: ₵ 2.50
Can of beans: ₵ 3.00
Can of tuna: ₵ 3.00
Bottle of Star beer: ₵ 3.00
Loaf of wheat bread from Ofankor Barrier: ₵ 3.00
Jar of jelly: ₵ 5.00
Container of vegetable oil: ₵ 5.00
Plastic cutting board: ₵ 5.00
Tro-tro fare from Accra to Lumana Anloga in the Volta Region (3 hours): ₵ 7.00
Jar of peanut butter from the Accra Mall: ₵ 8.00
Van with A/C fare from Cape Coast to Accra (4 hours): ₵ 9.00
Taxi from Ofankor to Accra Mall: ₵ 12.00
½ chicken with french fries from Papaye in Osu: ₵ 13.00
Nourishlab smoothie and wrap in Osu: ₵ 13.00
Movie ticket at the Accra Mall: ₵ 16.00
VIP bus fare from Accra to Kumasi (one-way): ₵ 18.00
Entrée with rice and drink at Tandoor Indian Restaurant in Accra: ₵ 24.00
Double room with A/C, private bath and running water at hostel/hotel in Kumasi or Accra: ₵ 50.00
Ghana guide book at the Vidya Bookstore in Osu: ₵ 60.00
Single Room at the Golden Tulip Hotel Accra ₵ 300.00
For a rough conversion of these prices to US dollars, divide the listed price by two. As you can see, if you live like a local (buying your food in Ofankor, preparing your own meals, taking tro-tros instead of taxis, etc.), Ofankor can be very cheap. If you spend your weekends traveling or going out in Accra, costs quickly become comparable to the United States. Furthermore, if you stay at nicer hotels (two star and above), or eat at fancier restaurants, prices are higher than the United States comparable to what you get.
Don’t Leave Home Without . . .
1. Facial wipes for when you don’t have water or energy to take a shower
2. Baby wipes for when toilet paper isn’t available
3. Multivitamins for days you don’t get your usual dose of fruits and vegetables
5. Insect repellent
6. Malaria medication
7. Protein/meal replacement bars (for between meal snacking or trips)
8. First aid kit that includes cleansing wipes, antibacterial ointment and Band-Aids
9. Debit card
10. US dollars
11. Flashlight for power outages and hiking back to the Lumana house at night
12. Quick-drying travel towels
13. At least one nice shirt and one decent pair of pants for meetings with professionals
14. Spice packets that can be added to noodles or rice
15. Books, magazines or a Kindle
16. Earplugs and a sleep mask if you are a light sleeper
17. A laptop or netbook with a USB port for mobile internet
Getting There & Away
Your primary modes of transportation in Ghana will be taxis, buses and tro-tros. Out of these three options, you will probably spend the majority of your time in tros. And what is a tro-tro exactly? The term includes a wide range of multi-passenger vehicles modified for maximum seating capacity which zip around predetermined routes. Each tro-tro’s crew consists of both a driver and a mate. The mate is the steward of the tro; he opens the door, daringly hangs outside the window yelling the final destination to potential passengers and collects fares once the tro is in motion. The whole tro experience is pretty fast – you should get on, cram in and hunker down quickly in order not to delay the process. Confirm your final destination with the mate before boarding, and if you have any questions while the tro is going, just ask – everyone is super friendly and doesn’t mind helping a confused American.
From Accra, tro-tros can be taken directly to Ofankor from either 37th Street Station located in the northeast of the city, or Nkrumah Circle, located in the northwest of the city. The fare should be about sixty peswas. In order to find the correct tro to board, simply walk around the station asking various drivers or mates for Ofankor Barrier (your stop). They will point you in the direction of your desired tro. Once you find the tro, the mate will probably be yelling something along the lines of, “Barrier-Pokuase-Amasaman.” Confirm the tro stops at Ofankor Barrier, and then board.
Ofankor Barrier is your stop. Mates are usually pretty good at remembering who is getting off where, but it’s not a bad idea to remind the mate when you are getting close (or if you can’t tell, once you’ve been on the tro for about 30 minutes) to the stop so that the driver will remember to pull over. For northbound tros, you will get dropped off on the east side of the Barrier.
From Ofankor, southbound tros leave from the west side of the Barrier. Many of Accra’s major tro stations are serviced from Ofankor, including Nkrumah Circle (mate call “Circ Circ Circ”), Kaneshie Market (mate call “Kanesh Kanesh Kanesh”), Achimota New Station (mate call “Achimota New Station” or simply “New Station”; note that there is also “Achimota” or “Achimota Old Station”, which is a different stop) and 37th Street Station (mate call “37 37 37”). You should be able to find a tro that takes you almost anywhere in the country from any of these stations. Long haul bus stations that service the Kumasi, Cape Coast, Takoradi and Tema routes are not always at the aforementioned tro-tro stations; however, they are usually within walking distance or a short cab ride.
The closest major tro station to the airport is 37th Street Station. From the airport, take a five cedi cab ride to the station and follow the directions above. If you are heading to the airport, take a tro to 37th and then a taxi.
The Nsawam highway splits Ofankor into Ofankor West and Ofankor East. Ofankor West has the majority of Ofankor’s population. Ofankor East is where the Lumana office and house are located.
The tro stop for Ofankor is called Ofankor Barrier, or Barrier for short. The stop derives its name from a police barricade that occupied the current tro stop before being relocated some time ago.
The Barrier today is an underpass of the Nsawam highway. To move from Ofankor East to Ofankor West and vice versa, simply walk across the underpass while being careful to avoid construction equipment, street vendors, reckless tros and gridlocked traffic.
Once on either side of the Barrier, your transportation will most likely be on foot. Taxis do frequent Ofankor’s red dirt roads, however, if for some reason you are unable to walk. It is important to note that certain obstacles, such as hills, open sewers, railroad tracks, uneven surfaces and thick mud can often make the roads and paths very difficult to navigate – always wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes or sturdy flip flops when about town.
Finding good directions in Ofankor, and many parts of Ghana for that matter, can be almost unbelievably tough. Very few people know compass directions and the lack of formal addresses means knowing landmark names is the key to arriving somewhere successfully. Even if you do have a map and can tell north from south, showing maps to Ghanaians and using compass speak will likely get you nowhere. The most common form of given directions is, “Walk up that street for a few blocks, and then ask someone else who will direct you from there.” It’s an astonishing fact that cab drivers aren’t any better; they have no clue what street names are and will probably end up asking for directions as well.
History of Lumana Ofankor
Before the office that is now Lumana Ofankor opened its doors in 2007, its future partner organization named Women’s Trust was busy laying the foundation for American MFIs to enter the local community. Women’s Trust was started in Pokuase, Ghana in 2003 by Dana Dakin as an organization that provided educational, microlending and healthcare services to women. Educational services included personal finance classes, small business consulting and scholarships for exceptional young women to attend senior secondary school. Microlending services were centered around a cooperative model consisting of groups of four or five women personally guaranteeing each other’s loans. Loans carried a four month term at fifteen percent interest, with the first loan principal amount being 50 Ghana cedis. If clients successfully repaid the loan in a timely manner, then additional loans would be disbursed with a principal increase of 50 Ghana cedis. Healthcare services included medical check-ups and screenings for anemia, hypertension and diabetes. There was also a program that used donations to pay successful loan clients for enrollment in the national health insurance program.
In 2006, after three years of operation in Pokuase, Women’s Trust decided to expand operations to neighboring communities. One of the first areas targeted for expansion was Ofankor, a city located five minutes south of Pokuase on the Nsawam Highway. Ms. Dakin was actively searching for partners to replicate her model in order to get the expansion process underway. At the November 2006 Global Microcredit Summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Ms. Dakin met Dr. Harriet Stephenson, a Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics professor. Dr. Stephenson had researched and published in the microenterprise field dating back to the early 1970s, and was very interested in partnering with Women’s Trust to start operations in Ofankor.
Ms. Dakin and Dr. Stephenson agreed to run Ofankor under the guidance of Women’s Trust until Dr. Stephenson could secure non-profit status from the IRS. In March of 2007 the first group of potential clients was interviewed and vetted. The first Women’s Trust loans were disbursed in Ofankor in May of 2007. Samuel “Sami” Gyabah, Lumana’s current program manager for the Ofankor office, was hired by Women’s Trust during this time as a part-time translator. Women’s Trust provided Ofankor with fiscal sponsorship, staffing and support from the onset of operations. This support remained headquartered in Pokuase, with loan officers and staff commuting to Ofankor to conduct business and trainings.
During the next two years Women’s Trust attempted to institute its model in Ofankor. Sami was hired full-time in 2009 as the Education Program Coordinator (“EPC”) to institute business training classes for loan clients. It is not clear at what point the lending program started suffering from widespread delinquency, but at some point while Sami was working as the EPC he noticed that repayments were slowing significantly. Women’s Trust identified this problem and determined that because they did not have an office in Ofankor and were only physically present to take repayments on Tuesdays, many clients were either unable to meet on Tuesdays or did not consider Women’s Trust to be a professional organization.
Dr. Stephenson received non-profit status from the IRS on January 3, 2009, enabling her to transition the organization from the Women’s Trust network to an independent organization. Even though she changed the name of the organization to The Village to Net (“TVN”), Dr. Stephenson continued using most of the Women’s Trust’s policies and procedures. She also decided to expand operations, starting with two villages in Greater Nairobi, Kenya. Dr. Stephenson’s expansion plan was dubbed the “HUB model,” as all subsequent expansions would center around “hub” villages that were close to other villages where successful MFIs with community development goals similar to TVN were already present. Proximity to similar MFIs would ensure continued support for and collaboration with TVN.
Dr. Stephenson managed TVN from Seattle for two years. During this time, she hired Ben Ankrah, Lumana’s current loan officer. She made summer trips to Ghana with teams of Seattle University students who performed research and completed projects aimed at improving operations. The day to day office management was left to Sami, the program manager.
TVN eventually encountered problems that forced them to look for another organization to acquire their loan portfolio. The first issue was that TVN was unable to raise enough donations to provide the capital necessary to offer larger loans to clients who successfully repaid. Without this incentive structure in place, many clients either stopped repaying their loans or did not seek additional loans. The second issue was that Ghana passed a law requiring all organizations operating as MFIs to maintain a loan portfolio of greater than $40,000 USD. TVN did not meet this requirement. The final issue was that Dr. Stephenson was in her early eighties and decided that the burden of running an international organization was a bit much at that age.
Dr. Stephenson was introduced to Lumana at an event in Seattle in early 2012. For the aforementioned reasons, TVN was excited to talk to Lumana about the possibility of Lumana acquiring TVN’s loan portfolio. The acquisition was formalized in March of 2012. Lumana has retained Sami and Ben as staff members in their previous capacities, and hired an additional volunteer, Rebecca Oni-Cole, on May 21, 2012. Lumana is currently in the process of transitioning TVN to Lumana’s policies and procedures.
The Nicest People in the World
A positive stereotype that I formed soon after arrival in Ofankor has remained true throughout my time here - Ghanaians are incredibly friendly. Every single person goes out of their way to say good morning and ask how I am. Children salute, smile and yell “Hello!” My bag is safe on tro-tros and people generally don’t play the “let’s screw the white man game” on prices. If you ask a question the locals will do their best to answer completely and honestly; if you need help they will do their best to lend a helping hand. At the end of the day, the people in Ofankor really just want to shake my hand and ask why I am here. I can definitively declare that the people here are really nice.
This friendliness is often manifested in the calls of “obroni.” In Twi, the principal native language of Ghana, the word for white man is "obroni." The chants of obroni serenade me whenever I walk to work, pick up groceries, play soccer or sit down in the office. Ghanaians both young and old will holler obroni at me; men and women shout it with equal frequency.
Calling out obroni at the causal white passerby is not meant to be disrespectful. Ghanaians are friendly and casual salutations are the norm, so greeting a white man by saying "Obroni!" is akin to saying "Sir" or "Friend." It is also worth mentioning that since Ofankor has no tourists, the obroni call is sometimes utilized by community members who are a bit startled to see an American white guy ordering at the fried rice stall or carrying a bucket full of water on his head. This novelty is probably wearing off, however, as Lumana continues to introduce new fellows to the area.
As is the case in many parts of the tropical developing world, the days are a bit longer and the pace a bit slower in Ofankor.
A typical day can involve the heads of the household waking up around four in the morning to prepare for the day’s business activities; it is not uncommon for women who own provision stores to go to the market hours before they open their shops. Many people eke out a living by working multiple jobs – perhaps a woman that hawks fried bread in the morning sells banku in the evening, or a farmer drives a taxi at night. Children are in school for either half of the day or the whole day, and in most cases are expected to work while not concentrating on their studies. The sun is hot, rises around six in the morning and sets around six in the evening. It is not uncommon for Ghanaians to take a little snooze at their place of business during the afternoon when the sun is at its hottest.
The slower pace might take some getting used to for Westerners who spend a significant amount of time here. Some Ghanaians blame institutional inefficiencies for slowing down the daily rhythm, as basic errands such as making a bank deposit can take an inordinate amount of time due to bureaucratic processes. Some point to the tropical climate, as heat and humidity can zap your strength quickly. Others point to the stresses of everyday life, as a lack of running water and electricity in many houses means that even basic necessities such as showering and cooking often require more effort than in the developed world. Ghanaians also seem to get very little sleep, as crying babies, early morning business preparations and lengthy chores require near constant activity, even if it’s at a lower intensity. The Ghanaian pace might also have something to do with living in the moment, as chop bars and soccer fields can be filled instantly if the weather permits and most of the day’s tasks have been completed.
As of 2012, the population of Accra is approximately two and a half million, and the population of Greater Accra is approximately four million. Even though I have been unable to find definitive population statistics for Ofankor, The Village Net cited in 2011 that there were 20,000 people in the community living on less than US $2 per day.
The informal sector makes up the largest percentage of the local economy. Hawkers, street vendors, small-scale farmers, food preparers and microbusiness owners make up the majority of the workforce. Larger enterprises include provisions stores (convenience stores), chop bars, electronics stores, small restaurants, supply stores and cold (refrigerated goods) stores.
Ofankor is a melting pot of sorts, as rural Ghanaians from all parts of the country who flock to Accra in search of enhanced job prospects oftentimes end up settling in outskirt cities. That being said, the majority ethnic group of Ofankor is the Ga people. The Ga people immigrated to the Greater Accra region from eastern Nigeria around the 15th century and founded Accra in the 16th century. Many of Ghana’s other ethnic groups are represented in Ofankor as well, including the largest ethnic group, the Akan, and the Ewe, the main ethnic group of the eastern region.
The principal native language of Ofankor and Ghana is Akan, also known as Twi (pronounced “Chwee”). Ga and Ewe (pronounced “Eh-way”) are also spoken, though speakers of these languages that live in Greater Accra will also most likely be proficient in Twi. English is the lingua franca between the various languages and dialects, but it is important to note that a Ghanaian’s English proficiency will be directly correlated to his or her level of education. This means that oftentimes many of Lumana’s clients possess limited English skills and that the American fellows need interpreters to work directly with them.
Ofankor, and Southern Ghana in general, tends to be heavily Christian. Christianity seems to permeate many aspects of life, from the names of people and stores to public prayer sessions on long haul buses. That being said, the influx of immigrants from all parts of the country to the Greater Accra region means that there are also many Muslims, Animists and followers of other religions that inhabit the area. Religion is very important in Ofankor, and church services can serve as both a family and community ritual. Outdoor Christian services are reminiscent of evangelical tent revivals, complete with handclapping, singing and charismatic ministers who are gifted public speakers. If you have a chance to go to a local church service, do so – just make sure you sit where you can easily slip away without causing a scene, as some of the services can last an entire day!
Women in Ofankor
Women in Ghana enjoy a higher level of freedom and respect than in many other countries in West Africa. With that being said, many of the women in Ofankor live very difficult lives due to their economic situation. Women often work multiple jobs, raise the children and care for the home simultaneously. There is a fairly high rate of separation, divorce and/or absentee fathers, and few (if any) welfare programs exist to help single mothers. To complicate matters, many women are hesitant to talk about their single parenting struggles or seek help because single women are often considered witches or undesirables.
Lower levels of male education in the Ofankor community have also led to the continuance of macho stereotypes, and in some cases, spousal abuse. Arguments and verbal abuse initiated by the male head of household are not uncommon. One Lumana staff member witnessed a wife being beaten with a belt in front of community members who stood by and watched. It should be noted, however, that such public displays are highly uncommon, and that this in no way translates into a safety concern form female travelers.
Food & Drink
Ofankor has many small restaurants that serve traditional Ghanaian fare, plus the ubiquitous fried rice and Indomie instant noodles. For exotic meals or continental dishes, a weekend trip to Accra is your best bet. If you are nervous about eating at any of the small restaurants that line Old Road, ask the Ghanaian staff which ones they go to. As a general rule of thumb, make sure your food is hot before you eat it.
Walking along Old Road and crossing over the west side of the Barrier, you will find a variety of foods to supplement your diet. These include: bananas, pineapples, mangos, apples, coconuts, plantains, yams, sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, carrots, fried breads, grilled corn, prepackaged yogurt, bottled fruit juices, sausage rolls and grilled meat. Many nonperishable items can be purchased at the larger provision stores scattered throughout town. Here you can purchase canned baked beans, canned tuna, vegetable oil, canned milk, etc. My personal favorite store is located directly across from the Lumana office. It is one of the few stores in town that lists prices, and it is a few peswas cheaper than its competition.
Cooking in the Lumana house is another option. The kitchen has a minifridge, ample counter space, a sink and a single-burner gas stove. The lack of running water and storage space combined with having only one burner means you need to cook like a camper – simple one pot meals are best.
For non-alcoholic beverages, sachet waters can be purchased on the street or at almost any small or medium sized provision store. We have almost exclusively used the Standard brand of water sachets as they are highly regarded for their quality by the Ghanaian staff. Bottled water can be purchased at provision stores and pharmacies as well, with the Voltic and Bellaqua brands being the industry leaders. Cokes, Fantas, soy milk, fruit juices and energy drinks can be purchased anywhere that has a refrigerator.
Alcoholic beverages can be purchased at any chop bar, which can take the form of a wooden enclosure with a refrigerator all the way up to your standard college watering hole. There is a nicer bar with A/C on the second floor of the building immediately across from the dirt tro-tro parking lot on the west side of the Barrier. There is another large open air bar across from the Lumana office on Old Road on the east side of the Barrier. Behind the Lumana office the Whitehall movie hall also has a bar. Closer to the Lumana house there is a chop bar across from Elizabeth’s provisions store right off the football field. If you can’t find it, ask someone – there is no sign anywhere on the wooden enclosure.
It is important to note here that whenever you buy a glass bottle drink, whether it be a Coke or a beer, you must return the used bottle to the store owner because they in turn must return the bottles to their suppliers in order to restock their product.
Provisions stores in Ofankor, especially those on Old Road, will probably be your first point of contact for nonperishable items and toiletries. You can buy bags of sachet water there, as well as toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc.
Other small businesses that line old road include electronics stores, cell phone stores, container stores and pharmacies. It is pretty safe to say that most of your basic shopping needs can be found Ofankor.
For specific food, clothes and technology that you cannot find in Ofankor, you’ll probably have to head into Accra to go to the Accra Mall. Expect to pay just as much, if not more, for these items as you would in the United States.
Dangers & Annoyances
Ofankor is much less dangerous than towns with similar economic levels in other parts of the developing world. I have never once felt uncomfortable or threatened in Ofankor. With that being said, don’t jettison all common sense. Even though I have never had any problems, I do not carry my debit or credit cards, nor do I carry more than forty cedis on me at any time. I rarely leave the house after nine in the evening, and I don’t stumble around drunk yelling at people and making a fool of myself. And always lock the door if you are the last one in the house; everyone in the neighborhood knows that there is a bunch of white people living in the lime green house and an unscrupulous person could take advantage of this information.
I will list the minor annoyances below, but before I do, I would like to pass along some helpful advice regarding annoyances that I read in a Ghana guidebook. When you are frustrated by some aspect of Ghanaian culture, take a deep breath. Things might not work as you expect, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth it to get upset. You are still in a new place, making new friends and learning new things, so at the end of the day it’s not all bad. And if you need someone to talk to about home, Ghana or anything else, your fellow fellows are great outlets.
So without further ado, here are some of the minor annoyances in Ofankor:
1. Power outages – Rolling blackouts are fairly common. Most only last for a few hours, but can be longer. The Ofankor office seems to have a higher frequency of blackouts than the Ofankor house. They happen more frequently when it’s raining.
2. Water shortages – Without running water in the house, fellows rely on filling buckets from local entrepreneurs who sell water from large plastic polytanks. Sometimes depleted polytanks will not be refilled for days. This means that fellows have to trek a little bit farther in search of water.
3. Open Sewers & Septic Pits – Open sewers and septic pits are fairly common throughout Ofankor. Make sure to watch your step and pinch your nose.
4. Haggling – Some people love the constant haggling over prices, and some people do not. I fall into the latter category. Prices will only be posted in some large provisions stores and in the Accra Mall. Because of this, the unofficial national pastime is haggling – and many a peddler of merchandise or provider of service take advantage of the opportunity to highball an American. Your best defense against this is twofold:(1) know how much things actually cost (asking a Ghanaian passerby before starting negotiations almost always works) and then (2) lowball your highballer so that you can eventually land on a fair price in the middle. In my personal experience, taxi drivers can (but don’t always) highball more than others, in some cases citing double the actual cost. Never get in a cab without first agreeing on the price.
5. Half-serious Solicitations – Sometimes local kids will ask you for money, but it’s not really begging. I think they’re just trying to see if they can get away with it. If this happens, just smile and wave good-bye. Or you can be like one our fellows and lecture them on the need to work for money. Your choice.
6. Mud – It’s everywhere. Get used to it.
7. Noise – Don’t bother packing your crying baby alarm ; the neighbors will provide it here. Also no need to set it: it goes off every morning at around 5am, so rise and shine! But seriously, earplugs might be helpful if you’re a light sleeper.
8. Road Construction & Traffic – Road safety here is a personal prerogative rather than an institutional requirement, so have your wits about you and try to avoid getting your head swiped off your shoulders by a reckless tro or piece of heavy equipment. But double seriously, look both ways before crossing the street and don’t expect pedestrians to have the right of way.
First and foremost, maintaining your health while in Ghana should be your number one priority. Common sense goes a long way here:
• If you feel sick, communicate this to the Lumana staff. No one can help you if no one knows you need help.
• Try and get an adequate amount of sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable time every night if you find that you are waking up earlier than you normally would at home.
• Stay hydrated.
• Wear sunscreen.
• Wear long pants or insect repellent if you are out and about around dawn or after dusk.
• Don’t skip your malaria meds for any reason.
• Clean cuts and scrapes thoroughly.
• Don’t push yourself too hard physically at the beginning of your stay until you have acclimated to your new surroundings.
The Lumana staff form a great support group for the ailing fellow. The most common health problems are dehydration, sunburn, colds, swelling from insect bites and traveler’s diarrhea.
More serious problems are rare but can occur. In the case of more serious problems, a combination of Lumana Ghanaian staff support, Lumana American staff support, a visit to the hospital, communication with your US doctor and a second opinion in Ghana can form a pretty reliable framework for determining the best course of action. I have also taken comfort in the fact that in the very slight chance that something serious happened to me while in Ghana, the Ghanaian doctors have extensive experience treating my condition. Basically, I wouldn’t be the first one to contract malaria, dengue or a stomach parasite here who required treatment.
It is my hope that this guide to Ofankor will help prepare you for what you are about to experience. As a final note, I encourage every fellow to do two things: get to know your fellow Lumana staffers and get involved in the community. My fondest memories of Ghana will be long conversations with the other fellows over meals, traveling with the fellows, playing soccer with all of the kids in our community, stopping by to visit clients and collaborating with Lumana’s Ghanaian staff. I hope that your experience will be great and that you can contribute to this guide before you leave. Akwaaba to Ofankor!
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