25 Things to Know About Ghana

March 20, 2011 § 17 Comments

25 Things to Know About Ghana

You saw the Black Stars do well at the last two world cups and probably cheered them on. You know someone going to, visited, came from, or has some flimsy connection to Ghana or Africa and his/her stories piqued your interest about the country and continent enough that you’ve decided you want to visit. You met someone online… umm… don’t do that. You want to meet an African? Come to Africa, or find one in your community. You scored a job or a volunteering stint with an NGO and unsure what to expect in Ghana. And lastly, you’re a returnee who has long been curious about making the jump back home, but like me, had fears and lingering doubts about whether you could make any life for yourself after living so long abroad. If this is you, read on. I’ll try to stay away from the usual stuff. Yes, it’s hot. We live closest to the middle of the world (look it up). It’s also not that bad. There are about 25 million people living here including some lighter and with more sensitive skin than you. If they can hack it here, so can you. I will be honest and help you along as much as I can. Alright, let’s see what we can learn.



1.       Before boarding that BA/KLM/Delta/United flight, I’d advice you thrash every stereotype you’ve accumulated over the years about Africans. You’ll find your visit not the most pleasant if you see Ghana or Africans through that spectrum.

2.       Put that camera away. You’re not on a safari. I doubt you’d like it if I showed up at Podunk, USA and started taking pics of you and your family as you went about your daily lives. “Look, hun! It’s white people! Look at how they all push those carts into that Wal-Mart building. Fascinating! Quick! Take a picture!” Not cool! Ghanaians are flattered if you SEEK permission to take their pictures.

3.       Don’t assume just because you’re in a developing country, you know more or are smarter than locals. On average, a Ghanaian (and African) speaks 3 languages including English by age 8, hash a working knowledge of 1 or 2 more, and can read and write in all of them. Last thing you want to do is be the ignorant westerner around people who can talk about you in 5 different languages. Ghanaians are a very proud bunch, and find it very condescending and insulting when we get the impression you don’t think very highly of us. Do as you’d like to be done to you.

4.       Learn to say ‘no,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘my name is/I am called’ in twi or ga. On your flight down, you should find more than enough Ghanaians who can help you learn and practice a few useful phrases. Even if you’re not quite ready to use either language, a strong N-O goes a long way (this is especially for women). It’ll be very useful once you step outside customs at the airport.

5.       If your time will be spent in Accra, don’t park yourself on Oxford Street or any of its adjoining streets in Osu. Don’t just visit all those places you saw on tripadvisor because they were “highly recommended.” To me, that’ll be like an American visiting China only to eat at McDonald’s. 1. Most of those reviews are padded. 2. To be honest, people who go to these places go only to be seen. Yeah, the experience might be unique to Ghana, but you’re mostly there to show you’re the ish. So, unless you have a paying date or looking to burn money, I wouldn’t recommend them. 3. They are all foreign-owned and ridiculously expensive. I don’t mind expats earning a living in Ghana, but if you’re going to spend 100ghc in one night, it might as well be at a local joint than having a poor imitation of an Italian dish you’ve had at home. 4. Lastly, TIP! I’m not the best of tippers mostly because I’ve never really liked being forced to tip for something I’d already paid for! Seriously, why should I tip you every time you pour me a drink I’m paying for?! Ok, you don’t have to tip, and no one’s going to add a 20% tip to your bill here, but it’ll be a nice gesture for those serving you. Chances are, your waiter probably makes in a month what you just spent on your meal. So, if it moves you…

6.       The same can be said for MaxMart, A&C, and the Accra “Mall” (sorry, Ghana, if it takes you less than a minute to walk from one entrance to the other, it’s not a mall. I’ve been in Sam’s Clubs at least 5x the size of Accra Mall). Everything you see at these places is marked up 3-5 times! I once found these 99-cent cheese slice packs going for 9ghc at ShopRite; and at nearby ‘Game’ there are  $200 netbooks and $400 32” LCDs going for 1400ghc and 4500ghc respectively. Now that’s highway robbery! If you’re on a long-stay and need certain items, find a Ghanaian in your community (we’re everywhere, even Iceland!) and ask how he/she ships stuff home and do the same. You’ll probably have to deal with a 30-day shipping time, but it’ll be worth your while in the end.

7.       a) Never hesitate to ask for help. I do it all the time, and I’m from here. Ghanaians can be the sweetest and most caring bunch, and will often go out of their way to give you a helping hand. That said, I don’t mean walk up to anyone to ask him/her questions. The trick here is to find a way avoid the chaff: the smooth talkers (often looking like a lil’ too coiffed); the swindlers; out-right thieves; the kind and princely only for them to ask without shame if you can buy them a mobile. Now, that last bit hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve had someone tell me how he admired my adidas and if I’d dash him this very pair I had on. Yes… somehow my wide size 10.5 compared to your 9 isn’t a matter. I should give you my shoes because you pointed out which bus I needed to board into town?! Don’t be gullible. You should look out for the person least interested in getting your attention, and who would also forget about your existence the moment he/she is done helping you. That’s who you ask for help. Always trust your intuition.

b) This is a lil’ about how you use money and sort of ties into how you interact with people as with part a) First off, try not to say dollars or cents. I make that mistake all the time, but I can get away with it a lil. You can’t. Your skin colour has an already built-in price mark-up on everything without a price tag. You have to first learn to negotiate without negotiating. My mom didn’t raise idiots. I learned long before I left Ghana how to keep a courteous look and a fuck-off look at the same time. That second look works when I don’t want someone chasing me around to buy something. You don’t have to be that extreme, but you should always learn to be in command when necessary without turning people off. If you don’t like a price of an item, say thanks, nod, or wave off and walk away. I watched my mom do it many times at Makola to perfection. If a vendor is fair, and you aren’t cheap, you’ll both come to a satisfying price point. Now, before you board a tro-tro or hail a taxi, try to ask around how much your journey will cost. With taxis, negotiate the fare before climbing into the cab and only pay once you get to your destination. If you don’t like a fare, say no, and stand back. If he wants your business, he’ll negotiate. Also, if you don’t have the exact amount for the fare, ask him for the change you need before you give him whatever you have in hand. “do you have change?” “yes.” “ok. give me …” and do this routine before you hand off your money. Lastly, if you know the way, direct him as to where you want him to go, or he’d take you over a longer route and use that to argue for more money.

(There’ll be more entries adding to this list later.)

Tro-tro: tro-tros are now mini vans holding between 9 and 15 passengers. The name comes from these wooden trolleys which were finally banned in the late 80s for being unsafe. I miss the rush of chasing after one and watching passengers hop on and off from the sides as they moved. There’s more on the current death traps later.


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§ 17 Responses to 25 Things to Know About Ghana

  • joyce says:

    Wow. I am Ghanaian, and I totally love this piece, every bit of it! Thanks Mike!

  • I’d like to publish the first 5 things in this article in Words magazine. Hit me asap when you receive this message!

  • I would like you to be represented. It’s like an advice to the public. So we need a professional photograph of you. Call me 0274885682

  • Sherri says:

    I met a friend on the Internet/fb 5 years ago. She has become like a younger sister. We chat everyday on what apps and we talk on the phone for our birthdays. It is not a material relationship although she did ask for an invite about 2 years go. She didnt get the visa but continued to communicate. She invited me to Ghana. I feel our relationship is genuine. Should I be concerned or reserved about going to Ghana for several weeks and staying with someone I have never met face to face.

    • Mike says:

      Have you ever skyped with her? Her having asked you even for an invite to the U.S. alone is a big red flag. I don’t wanna be cynical here, but in a very honest convo with a retired reverend 2 days ago, he reiterated something I had been naive about when I came here, which I’ve grown to understand: Ghanaians are the least honest people you’ll ever find!
      I won’t tell you not to come. Ghana is not a bad place to visit, but I’d be very careful about meeting a total stranger in a very foreign land.
      Maybe this girl is the genuine pen pal, but you really never know. I’ve sat in many a cafe and watched men & boys pretend to be women and chat with people online…some were as young as 11!
      If you do decide to come, let me know. I’ll give you my cell number. And should you get into any trouble with this friend, you can contact me.
      I think that’s the best I can do from here. Just note: Ghanaians are very good at sniffing out ones goodwill/best intentions, and exploiting it to no end. Please be careful.

  • Kwaku says:

    Lol! Mike…The name Trotro does not come from a wooden trolley, those cars were known as ‘bone shaker’. Trotro comes from the currency that was used in the 60′s to 70′s. The pesewa at the time was known by he locals as Tro. At the time, the mini buses were the cheapest form of transportation and when ever they seeking for passengers, they shout, “Yes! tro ooo tro ooo” a way of making you understand they charge less than their competitors, the taxi. That’s how the name came by.

  • Jasmin says:

    What a great article! My father is from Ghana and I have lots and lots of relatives down there. This year will be my first time going to my “fatherland” and I’m pretty nervous, but you’re article was a great way to start off my research before flying in a few months.

  • janiya says:

    what a great article!…..

  • Zineb says:

    Hey !! So me and my husband are coming from America and we are thinking about moving there ! So I wanted to know what areas are good and which areas we should stay away from ? Just like anywhere else in the world, every place has its ups and downs 🙂 thanks for all the wonderful advice !!!

  • Mahmoud says:

    So.. I am an Egyptian doctor and have been in Ghana for a week now… I have to say that I feel home here in Ghana… Honestly, I didn’t meet any sneaky Ghanaian… All are nice, honest, calm, friendly,… I have been thinking it is the perfect community, so I was curious to read more about here..
    As a Muslim, I LOVED the way you people live here… So simple.. Pure hearts… Help the other… That’s the kind of life I’ve always admired!!!
    Unfortunately, I am staying only for another week, then I am going back.. Seriously, I think of damping every thing in my life, and stay here forever..
    Loved your article 🙂

  • Fii says:

    I love this article…….

  • Catherine kohl says:

    What do expats do to make money in Ghana?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Catherine.
      Hmm…I think…most come here on contract. Some earn their living through their parent companies transferring them here for you name it…energy, mining, hospitality, infrastructure dev…
      Some also do non-prof work or come and set up their small businesses. Virtually every business in Ghana has a foreign hand in it. Hth

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