I found myself sitting at the Toronto airport ready to leave. I was nervous, excited, and very sleep deprived, yet I strangely felt ready. Maybe it was the fact that I had spent a whole week with a wonderful group of motivated, driven, and extremely friendly and supportive people, but before boarding that plane, I was feeling confident, I was feeling good!
How could I not? In retrospect, the pre-departure training in Toronto served to prepare us for some of the challenges that we would encounter once we got to Ghana. The staff at the EWB office went above and beyond to try to make us as ready as one can be with workshops and sessions that would test us in different ways. Despite the fact that I do not remember most of the sessions, there are a few lessons that stuck out and have actually been helpful on my first week in Ghana.
Lesson #1: Listen to your head, heart and body
We have all gone through days when we feel that we cannot carry on any longer, yet we force ourselves to go that extra mile, even though we are exhausted, irritated, or even physically ill. Yet, what we don’t realize most of the time is that pushing ourselves that hard will only have negative consequences for our wellbeing, as well as for the quality of the work that we deliver. It is ok to take a break, re-group, rest, and get back on the horse. There is nothing wrong with pressing pause and taking care of yourself, especially when about to enter into situations that could cause further stress, such as moving across the world to do very taxing “development” work. (I place development into quotation marks because I do not feel comfortable with the most common understanding of what development entails, but that is a rant for another day). This advise applies to any type of job though, and should be taken seriously. You’re welcome… you’ll thank me later 😉
Lesson #2: Get out of your comfort zone
I know this is something you hear often, especially when trying to meet that special someone. I’m looking at you E-Harmony users! However, this is very difficult to actually do, especially when you live in a country like Canada, where comfort is all around us in many ways. You get up in the morning, take a shower, maybe have some cereal for breakfast, take your favourite mode of transportation and get to school or work or wherever you have to be. However, things can get hairy when those simple tasks that make up your routine are done in a completely different manner than what you are used to.
For starters, instead of your alarm clock waking you up, you may be woken up by the friendly neighbourhood rooster, who believes that 5 am is a perfectly adequate time to wake you up. As you stumble to the washroom to take a shower, you find out there is no water that morning, as it comes on and off depending on what area of town you live in. So you go outside to try to take some water from the reserve water tank, only to find out that taking bucket showers is more challenging than it would appear.
With soap still on your hair, you get out of the shower and try to dry yourself, realizing that your efforts are futile since you are profusely sweating again. You head out and find that someone (in my case my host mother) has prepared an entire dinner meal for breakfast, including yams, beans, bread, and tea. As you stumble out to the dirt road with a full belly, you try to run to the nearest main road to catch a shared taxi, while hearing the neighbourhood kids call you “salminga, salminga, hiiiiiiii” and not giving up until you wave back.
Once in the taxi, you breathe cause you think “I am finally on my way to work” only to realize that you should have caught the taxi on the opposite direction and now you are in a completely different part of town. As you try to explain to the taxi driver where you were originally trying to go to, you realize that he has no idea what you are talking about, and so you try a new technique, using the Ghanaian accent to say “Boss, wheh is the IPA Junction? Neah the Guariba Lodge? Can we go theh?”
When you finally make it to work, you are sweaty, dirty and tired, but funnily enough, you feel satisfied, knowing that despite all the little bumps on the road, you still made it to work in time! It is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the challenges ahead, whether big or small. It is about laughing at yourself instead of getting angry at the world. It is about learning to adapt and being open to new experiences. Some may be good, some may be…. Interesting, as my fellow JF Sylvia would diplomatically put it. Yet, by stepping out of the comfort zone, you are opening yourself to invaluable learning and you may discover new relationships and friendships along the way. If you ask me, given that the above may or may not have been a true account of my Monday morning, it is totally worth it!
Lesson #3: Do not pet the puppies. Do not fall in the rain gutter. Do pet the baby goats. Wear your moto helmet at all times.
Mamma Mina, who was responsible for our pre-departure training made these rules very clear since the beginning. While they may seem a little weird, I believe they will actually save my life, and they have actually been put into practice already, which is probably why I am still alive after my first week, haha.
Do not pet the puppies is very simple. DON’T YOU DARE PET THEM! Unless you want rabies of course… There are some stray dogs roaming around, which may or may not be rabies carriers. While they may seem cute and adorable, petting the puppies could cost you a trip to the hospital to get a very painful vaccine that could have been avoided in the first place, if you hadn’t had the uncontrollable urge to pet the damn puppy!
Do not fall in the rain gutter. Ghana’s roads are equipped with huge ass holes on the sides of the road, that act as rain gutters during the rainy season. Some gutters are pretty shallow, maybe only 40 cm deep. However, some are very deep, like you-whole-body-will-fit-standing-up-in-the-gutter deep and you may get seriously hurt if you fall in, besides the fact that you will be covered in garbage and other stinky messes that may have fallen or been dumped in the gutter. So please, watch where you are going, you really don’t want to fall in the gutter.
Do pet the baby goats! While you may not be able to pet puppies or kitties, you may still pet the cute baby goat if you are able to catch it! They normally run away really fast, so catching them is a challenge I am willing to accept. I promise to provide pictures when it happens. Petting the baby goats may also provide serious relief for those with strong urges to pet puppies and other furry things that may give you rabies. So feel free to pet the goats, they are adorable, and petting them will probably make your life… not so much theirs, but yours, yes…
Wear your moto helmet at all times. In Ghana, one of the most popular and easiest modes of transportation is the motorbike. A great percentage of the population has motorbikes to get around town and perform daily tasks, from fitting a family of 4 or 5 on the moto to take them to school and work, to carrying goats or chickens to the nearest market to sell. Moto drivers are normally intrepid individuals, zooming in and out from traffic, being experts at avoiding traffic jams, and fitting into tight spaces and corners. However, their expertise is also their downfall, as they believe that since they are so avid at riding, they do not need a moto helmet to protect themselves from injury. This results in the majority of the biker population riding motos without helmets and being at a higher risk of serious injuries or death, if an accident were to happen.
Given these scary facts, Mamma Mina decided to ingrain in our brains the need to wear a moto helmet at all times. He even went so far as to threaten to send us back to Canada if we didn’t. So, while the helmet makes for an interesting hairdo after you take it off, I carry that thing with me everywhere and I am not ashamed of rocking it on request, normally by co-workers who find it hilarious that I go to such great lengths to protect my head, while others are legitimately embarrassed of riding their stylish moto with the “salminga” with the huge ass helmet. Oh well.
So, these were the most important lessons I personally learned at pre-dep. I want to give a shout out to Mamma Mina and all the amazing EWB National Office Staff who generously answered all our questions and helped us gain as much information as possible so that we would not die on our first week in Ghana.
Stay tuned for the next blog post, already in the works which will feature a description of my work placement and my first week in Ghana. In the meantime, here are some pictures I took on my way to work. Enjoy!