Moving around in Accra, in particular, and Ghana, in general, is a real challenge. This is due to three main reasons: poor roads, poor quality of motor vehicles, and poorly trained drivers. There are occasions when this serves as a lethal mixture of perilous circumstances, especially when traveling to two of the most commonly traveled destinations in Ghana—Cape Coast and Kumasi. The best, i.e. safest, mode of transportation when leaving Accra is the State Transportation Company/Vanef. STC/Vanef not only travels to all of the major towns and cities of Ghana, but it also travels to the neighboring capitals that border Ghana, including Lome, Ouagadougou, and Abidjan. However, STC/Vanef buses do not always leave as often as other private buses and minivans.
Consequently, there are occasions when traveling outside of Accra may necessitate the use of other vehicles besides STC/Vanef. In these cases, it is advisable, for safety reasons, to use the larger private buses over the small minivans, e.g., VIP. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that you avoid traveling at night in Ghana. Roads outside of Accra tend to be in poor condition, have little or no shoulder to them, and are usually without lights.
Inside Accra, privately run trotros and publicly run city buses are the cheapest mode of transportation. Trotros are usually mini-vans that crowd anywhere between 18 to 25 people—depending on their sizes—into tight rows of made-in-Ghana seats to ensure maximum seating capacity. Seated inside each trotro you will find a driver’s mate whose responsibility is to collect the passengers’ fare and to let the driver know
when he should pull over and let passengers out. Hence, after entering a trotro (and taking a seat), you should inform the mate where you would like to be dropped off. He, in turn, will tell you how much the fare will be. Of course, once you learn the various costs of riding the tro-tro, you can just inform the mate where you would like to be dropped off and then just pay him the correct fare (as there is no bargaining in trotros).
The publicly run city buses, called Metro Mass Transit, are much larger than the trotros, with a slightly lower fare. However, because they stop more often than trotros, they usually take longer to get to their destinations than trotros. Moreover, whereas a trotro or a ride on a Metro Mass Transit bus to central Accra from another part of town may cost less than 1 Ghana cedis, the same trip in a hired taxis (called ‘a dropping’) could cost more than 7-8 times that in Ghana cedis. In short, moving around Accra in trotros or on public transportation is not only cheaper; it is also one of the best ways to get a genuine ‘feel’ for the character of social life experienced by the majority of Ghanaians (who use trotros and public transportation far more than they use droppings from private taxies).
When taking a ‘dropping’ in a taxi, it is important to bargain well. Taxi drivers in Accra, like most taxi drivers everywhere, will try to overcharge you. And while there are no fixed prices for taxis that are ‘dropping’ passengers to particular destinations, it will be to your advantage—because you will not always be able to take a trotro or a bus—to learn the average costs of hiring taxis to various locations as soon as possible.
A third option of traveling around Accra—that is slightly more expensive than taking a trotro or bus, but still cheaper than hiring a taxi—is to join other passengers in a taxi that is headed to a particular destination via a particular direction. These opportunities can best be learned by moving around the city and observing the movement of people and taxis during the course of any given day.
Being abroad is an exciting time, and once you’ve caught the travel bug, it’s often difficult to ignore. Being in a new place often conjures up a sense of curiosity that entices you to keep exploring. Traveling beyond your host city is a great way to continue to develop intercultural awareness and challenge yourself to take on new experiences. We encourage you to travel internationally, but also suggest that you set aside some time to travel within your host country as well. This will add depth to your experience abroad and enable you to see a different perspective of your host country. While you may be eager to travel as much as you can during your semester abroad, keep in mind that you will have to carefully plan your trips to align with your schedule and budget.
Ghana is a very warm and friendly country. It is also a very rich country, not only in terms of mineral wealth, but more importantly in terms of the cultural integrity, diversity and heritage of its people. Ghana is also a very stable country at (relative) peace with itself. Indeed, Ghanaian society is devoid of the very divisive ethnic, religious, and political cleavages that plague so many countries within the West African sub-region, within Africa-at-large, and within the global community. There has been ethnic tension in Ghana’s Northern Region and presidential elections have not been without political strife. Yet, again, this tension pales in comparison to the ethnic wars, political violence, and religious bloodbaths that have occurred in other parts of Africa and throughout much of the world.
It is worth noting that extended family ties continue to hold Ghanaian society together. This pattern of familial obligations and responsibilities has allowed Ghanaians to with-stand the vast economic hardship of high unemployment and low wages. In short, be-cause of the continuation of strong family ties, the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians, when times are tough, can always count on extended family members for both financial and emotional support.
However, despite its mineral wealth, cultural richness, and political stability, Ghana is also a very poor country. And unfortunately, it is this impoverishment that is shaping much of Ghanaian social life today. The per capita income in Ghana is approximately $400 per year; the minimum wage is approximately $1.70 per day; unemployment is around 30%; inflation is approximately 15%; interest on bank loans hovers around 25%; power outages occur more frequently than ever in Ghana’s history; and the Ghana cedi continues to fall against nearly all international currencies, including the US dollar. Industrial output remains low and this has resulted in the continued importation of countless foreign produced goods that saturate the Ghanaian market. From Cornflakes to automobiles (and all related parts); from underwear to refrigerators (and all related parts); from toothpicks to computers (and all related parts); from handkerchiefs to audiovisual equipment (and all related parts); from simple paper to cameras, stoves, air conditioners, and watches—Ghana remains (like most underdeveloped nations) a country that, primarily, produces what it doesn’t consume (e.g. gold and cocoa) and consumes what it doesn’t produce.
One of the most serious consequences of this grave economic condition is the alarming number of highly skilled professionals who are leaving the country in search of ‘Greener Pastures.’ Ghana’s health care sector appears to be the hardest hit, resulting in a huge and growing shortage of doctors and nurses to serve the Ghanaian public. Higher Education has been taking a beating as well, with some departments at the five major public universities in Ghana barely operating with less than half of their requisite staff.
There are a number of other challenges facing Ghana, none of which are fundamentally different from what most other countries in the modern world are faced with today: HIV/AIDS, child labour, environmental degradation, and gender oppress-sion—to name but a few. However, the Ghanaian people are facing these challenges head-on, which makes living, working and studying in Ghana such a dynamic experi-ence. In sum, Ghana’s socioeconomic needs are immense, and the opportunities available for students, youth, and many others to learn about, and assist in meeting, those needs are unlimited.
It is not difficult to conduct yourself in Ghana in such a way to avoid offending people. Just treat people courteously; treat them with the same amount of respect and dignity you would like to be treated with and you will hardly ever have to worry about violating cultural norms in Ghana. Indeed, Ghana is a very friendly and polite society. It is therefore very important to always greet people, first, whenever entering an office or even when striking up a conversation with someone. It is always necessary to say ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good afternoon,’ or ‘Good evening’, even when joining a taxi with other passengers who you do not know but who are already inside the taxi. In some cases, the initial greeting can be followed with, ‘How are you?” It is also essential to say ‘Thank you’ when provided any gift, service, information, or simple courtesy.
Showing respect for each other in Ghana is very important, even more so in situations involving seniority and position. In other words, younger persons are expected to show deference to older persons, especially to senior citizens, and everyone, generally, is expected to show deference to persons holding titles or positions of authority, e.g. director, head mistress, police chief, principal, etc.
Below are a few other specific customs you should know.
- If you are ever invited to someone’s house for lunch or dinner, it is appropriate to bring a small token of your appreciation. This could be anything from a pineapple to a bottle of wine, depending on the occasion and/or socio-economic status of the hosts.
- At funerals, your dress should be formal and dark in color (unless otherwise instructed by the family of the deceased).
- At weddings & naming ceremonies, your dress should formal & light in colour.
- Avoid using your left hand for anything, e.g. handing things to people, shaking hands, gesticulating, and giving directions.
- Ghanaians are fond of shaking hands. Whenever you meet someone—friends or even someone you don’t really know—you are expected to shake his or her hand. The customary handshake (normally between men, but some women practice it as well) includes each person using his thumb and middle finger to snap the middle finger of the person with whom he/she is shaking hands. Fur-thermore, when shaking the hands of more than one person, be sure to start shaking hands counterclockwise, i.e., from right to left.
- Whenever you are eating anything, if anyone else you know comes to meet you eating, be sure to say to the person, “You’re invited.” The person will then say, “Thank you.” Conversely, if you come to meet a Ghanaian eating, he/she will (almost without exception) also say to you, “You’re invited.” You, then, must say in return, “Thank you.” In essence, the person inviting the other person is letting him or her know that he/she can join him or her in eating the meal if he/she likes; and the person being ‘invited’ is thanking the other person for the invitation (although he/she does not join the person in eating the food, albeit ‘in theory’ he/she could). Under certain circumstances, this courtesy can be extended even to persons whom you do not know or who you have never met before.
Akwaaba means ‘welcome’ in Twi, Ghana’s most commonly spoken language. You will hear this word throughout your stay in Ghana. The proper response, however, is not ‘Thank you’, which in Twi would be ‘Medase’. Instead, the correct response de-pends on the age and the gender of the person who welcomes you. If the person is roughly your age, i.e. a peer, the response would be ‘Ya nua’. If the person is male and considerably older than you, the response would be ‘Ya agya.’ Finally, if the per-son is female and considerably older than you, the response would be ‘Ya ena.’ There are other variations to this general greeting (for example to young children you would say ‘Ya oba), but you can learn those later in the Introductory Twi course.
From the entire staff of the CAPA/Aya Centre, we all say ‘Akwaaba.’ In short, we are very happy that you chose to study in Ghana with us, and we pledge to do everything that we can to assist you in making your stay in Ghana as pleasant, informative, and productive as possible.