10 THINGS LIVING IN GHANA HAS TAUGHT ME, By Lisa Gibson
Living in Ghana has definitely shaped me over the years and given me a new perspective on life in general. It was recently our five-year anniversary living here, and it got me thinking back to those very early days and how much I’ve changed as a person since arriving as a newbie to Ghana. So much of who I am now has been influenced by my time here – the place, the people, and of course the experiences. If I had to sum it up, these would be the 10 amazing life lessons I think I’ve picked up along the way!
- To always be grateful and thankful. To appreciate things such as running water straight from the tap, a luxury and convenience that many others here simply do not have access to. Seeing how tough life is for a lot of local people to simply make ends meet is incredibly humbling and the true hustle of the street vendors and hawkers out in the hot sun, day in and day out, will definitely leave a lasting impression on me. I think it’s really important that we never lose sight of the privileged lives we lead as expats, and that we are always grateful for the opportunity to live and work abroad.
- Comfort zones are over-rated. While life in the comfort zone is comfortable, it will never give you the opportunity to grow and evolve as a person or the sense of seeing what you are really made of. We’ve heard it so many times – how getting out of our comfort zone builds character – well it doesn’t get more character-building than a posting to West Africa! A move to Ghana is definitely out of most people’s comfort zones, but it’s also one of the most rewarding countries many expats I’ve encountered can attest to living in.
- To live in the moment and take life one day at a time. I learnt that there will be good days, and there will be bad days. While this is true anywhere in the world, it just seems like in Ghana, the highs can be very high and the lows can be very low. So it’s about learning to take the good with the bad, and the bitter with the sweet. It’s about being mindful and appreciative of the highs and the good times, and hanging in there during the low points and difficult moments, in the knowledge that they will not last forever and that they will eventually pass.
- To be patient. “Ghana time” is indeed a reality, and for many expats, it can take some getting used to, especially in the beginning and if you’re used to a more fixed system of timing. In the early days, I would find myself getting annoyed waiting on the air conditioning technicians or generator service team to turn up for their scheduled appointments, only for them to arrive hours later than the agreed-upon time. It didn’t help that we had just moved to Ghana from Switzerland, the land of punctuality, promptness and impeccable time keeping! I quickly realized I would need to adjust my expectations and cultivate a sense of patience and unflappability if I was going to stay sane. For many westerners, it comes down to unlearning those notions of time we have become so accustomed to and abandoning any previous ideas to do with time-keeping. After all, if you don’t adapt to this new approach, you will just end up feeling constantly frustrated, and let’s face it, life is too short for that!
- To live more simply. Even though I like to think that I am slowly getting with the trend of minimalism, I definitely feel that living in Ghana has encouraged me to question what the true essentials in life are, especially knowing many people here go without comforts and luxuries we often take for granted. Living here has helped me to realize that I don’t actually need all the material things I thought I did. The idea of packing up and moving house so often as an expat has also played a role in getting me to re-assess what items are really necessary and what are just nice to haves. Now it’s more about memories and experiences than anything else.
- To be flexible. Adapting and adjusting to living in a new country with a very different culture and way of life definitely teaches a person about flexibility. Some days you won’t find a particular grocery item in the shops and it can be weeks until new stock arrives. So you just learn to deal with it – or in this case, without it! I like to think that Ghana has contributed to my flexible attitude and has really taught me it’s not worth getting upset about things that are out of my control. You might actually be amazed at your ability to acclimatize and transition to your new surroundings and your capacity to cope during testing times which is always a good thing.
- The importance of your expat friends. Life in Ghana can be a big transition for many expats – the massive change in culture, weather and lifestyle requires substantial adjustment. It is during these times that we can turn to our friends and social circles here who are more than likely going through exactly the same thing. Being there for one another and being able to relate to similar situations can make the tough times, like being far away from extended family, seem a little easier. The expat network in Ghana happens to be extremely tight-knit and inclusive, which is not always the case in other countries where people are less reliant on their social circle. It was something I noticed immediately when we arrived in Accra and proved to be very useful (and much appreciated) in those difficult early days. I found the expats I met extremely open and helpful, especially in the really challenging arrival phase when you’re still finding your feet and wondering how on earth you’re going to navigate the transition process.
- It takes a village. This well-known African proverb is experienced first hand in Ghana simply by observing day-to-day life. Even though I’d heard the expression before, it became that much more tangible here – seeing how older children care and look out for their younger siblings, or when a complete stranger helps some school children cross a busy road. It’s also lovely to see how elderly and extended family members as well as others in the local neighbourhood and community step in to help raise a child if the parents cannot. The sense of community spirit and the importance of family is beautifully illustrated here.
- Water is life. It might seem like a fairly obvious statement but until you have seen this reality with your own eyes, it’s only an expression. In many parts of Ghana, access to running water is still a privilege and a luxury that many do not enjoy. Especially in rural areas and remote villages where locals walk for kilometres on end to fetch water from a pump or well. Even in parts of Accra, many people share water from a communal tank or have shared washroom facilities. Collecting water in buckets and pails to keep on hand is the norm. It only takes one day of experiencing water cuts to fully realize how crucial a role running water plays in daily life, and what might be a small and thankfully uncommon inconvenience for you, is a way of life for others.
- The entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity of the locals. The daily grind takes on a new meaning here in Ghana. Not a day goes by that I am not completely in awe of the pure hustle of the local street vendors – mostly women with a baby strapped to the back, weaving in and out of traffic, selling sachet water or groundnuts to the passengers leaning out of passing trotros and taxis. Anything can become a business opportunity and entrepreneurial individuals are quick to respond to a need in the market. The side of the road becomes a place to do shopping and it’s pretty amazing what you can pick up without having to go into an actual shop. I’m also always fascinated at the way the local children improvise with whatever is around them to make toys and find various ways to entertain themselves, not forgetting how an open field can magically be transformed into a football pitch, complete with makeshift goal posts and demarcations.