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Dealing with Disaster in Ghana

The best strategy for dealing when things go awry overseas.

Before I took off for my first volunteer experience in the field I received copious amounts of advice from friends, family and peers about what to do and what not to do while in Ghana. Be safe; travel in pairs; don’t drink the tap water; use your manners; wear sunscreen; dress conservatively; soak in every moment, etc. All were very good pointers when working, travelling and volunteering in developing countries.  

If I were to suggest one thing to prospective travellers, it would be to remember to always leave the house/hostel/homestay with your sense of humour. It is by far the best tool to have on hand in a tricky situation.

Take me for example, I am going to by a couple beers to take back to my hostel when I get approached from a Ghanaian man asking me where I am from, how old I am, if I am married—the standard questions. His next question took me a bit by surprise. “Is that a mosquito bite or a pimple?!” pointing dangerously close to the giant zit on my chin.

“Well, it is in fact a pimple, thanks for noticing! “ I replied, shocked, annoyed and generally embarrassed.

“Welcome to Africa,” the blunt man said as he could sense my humiliation.

I walked away thinking, if that happened to me in Canada I may have lost my cool, but I wasn’t in my country, and really, the zit was huge and quite hard to avoid. This guy may have even been concerned that it was a bug bite. Maybe he was about to offer me some medication or malaria meds—who knows. Whatever the circumstance, I laughed out loud, thanked him for the welcome and moved along.

Ghanaians say what is on their minds. They say it how it is, whatever the situation. Don’t take things personally! Take it as a compliment that they are taking the time to notice you.

A slightly heavier situation I have gotten myself into here in Ghana where a sense of humor is essential was the morning of February 2nd.  I woke up from a deep sleep with my bladder so full I was about to burst. It was 5am. I stumbled to the bathroom with my eyes half shut. It wasn’t until I was reaching for the toilet paper when I realized my roommate’s backpack shoved halfway out the broken window. I looked into the tub to see her emptied purse strewn about.

I was awake now.

I woke M up quickly. “M, I think we were robbed,” I said, not fully processing it myself.

She jumped to her feet, saw the mess in the bathroom then took a quick glance around the room to see what else was missing. Laptops, iPhones, cameras, wallets, cash, backpacks. . .all gone.

We were left in Ghana with only our passports and clothes to our name. Was I devastated? Of course.

After a depressing couple of days of processing what had happened right under our nose, we toughened up, hoped our burglars enjoyed the seasons of Sons of Anarchy and Mad Men we had on our hard drives and continued our adventure. We laugh about it now, guessing how much money our prized possessions were worth in the black market here. Living without our valuable material items hasn’t been a walk in the park but one thing is certain; it’s detached us from what is happening at home and forced us to indulge in the Ghanaian lifestyle even more.

Bring your sense of humor abroad; it will quickly become your most prized possession.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Leigh Matassa

A small town girl from Kingston Ontario, Leigh has had a passion for travel for as long as she can remember. Her involvement in Social Justice led her to complete an undergrad in International Development and a post-grad in project management. Now, Leigh is in Ghana with Youth Challenge International working on entrepreneurship, sexual reproductive health and substance abuse with the Ghanaian youth.

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