Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Ghana, etc.
I was born and bred in the East End of London, for which I spent 31 years to Ghanaian parents. I had always wanted to come to Ghana to live here for a while, I had always had fun coming over on holidays but felt that a 6 weeks holiday was never enough. I was working for the government legal service just after leaving university but I had started getting itchy feet and there were rumours of a merger between our office and another government agency. I had also broken up with my ex and thought well now is as good a time as any to move out for a while and see what’s out there in the world. I had a kind of romanticized feeling about Ghana, that I would be welcomed with opened arms, the reality is that it has been a rollercoaster of a ride, there is a difference between being a returnee as opposed to expat, you tend to be treated as a local but with a strange accent. I was only planning to stay here for a year, but 5 years, 3 jobs and a mortgage later I am still here.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging because I had been sending emails about my experience in Ghana to my friends back in London but it was getting a bit tiresome sending out numerous emails so I decided to put my stories all on one forum. I was only expecting a handful of people to read it (i.e. my friends) but found a few more people were reading and actually enjoying what I write. I am very grateful to all those who are reading and enjoying what I write, I am not the most articulate but writing has always been a passion of mine, it’s like cooking a meal and getting positive feedback from the guests.
Do you have any favourite blog entries of yours?
My favourite is the one I wrote about expat v local returnee simply because it sparked the most controversy. Whether my readers agreed with me or not, they had something to say.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Ghana differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Having come to Ghana for vacations and growing up in a traditional Ghanaian home I had always identified myself as Ghanaian and didn’t think that it would be that difficult to fit in. I was fortunate enough when I first moved to be living with family and for the first few weeks it was not too different from being at home. But it is a very male dominated country. Women should be either in the kitchen or in the salon. When any workmen or formal visitors come to visit me the question is always ‘where is your husband’ as if I cannot form and take in complete sentences. In UK, also it is not uncommon for a woman to be in her mid-late 30s and still be single. In Ghana, if you are still single past the age of 30s you are looked on with pity, you get asked ‘what are you waiting for’ (as if you are throwing the guys away), or they looked upon as if you are an immoral woman. If you are a woman like me who smokes and likes the odd gin and tonic, you are either thought of as a prostitute or like you have just committed the most heinous of crimes.
When I started working, it was a further shock to the system. It appeared that people had a lot more time on their hands so they had time to gossip. My colleagues thought I was a spy brought in by the Finance director (an expat) sent in to infiltrate the camp and were quite guarded. I was taking public transport into the office for the first three months and I heard whispers such as “if she is from Britain you would have expected she bought a car by now”. When I did eventually get my car, everybody knew my number plate before I memorized it. I would finish my work activities in 3 hours where it would take some of my colleagues 3 days to do the same task. Then there is the common sense factor, it is not common with more than half of the population. You give a person simple instruction and they just don’t get it, and rather than ask what you mean, they either go ahead and do the wrong thing or they leave it and on your return give 100 excuses as to why it couldn’t be done. I’m a pretty straight talker and don’t see why if I need something from you in the office I have to ask how the whole family are including your cat, dog and goldfish. I don’t know if it is the accent, but I have been viewed as harsh by my Ghanaian peers even though I said please and thank you. These things wouldn’t happen ‘back home’ because everyone is always busy with their lives and the more I stay here, the more British I become.
It’s not all negative though, when it comes to food and drink, Ghanaians are never stingy. When you visit someone, you will always be offered food and drink no matter their pocket size. The other day I was short on cash but craven for a fag so went to buy some singles from the spot down the road and one of the regular’s bought me a packet just because.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Ghana? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t think you can ever fully be prepared for what awaits you in Ghana. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason and had I changed my decisions I may not have gone through most of the experiences I have been able to blog about over the years and I have met some interesting characters on the way both positive as well as negative. What I would advise returnees is that 2 things which are of absolute necessity if you are coming back, they are a car and a house.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I asked a contractor to come to my house and give me a quotation for the paving of the area around my house. I live in a gated community, I drive a car and I speak with a very British accent so immediately you could see the cash signs in his eyes. He quoted me what was probably around 3 times the cost of which I looked at him and told him, and in the middle of negotiations he got a call. He started speaking in Twi (the local language from the Ashanti Region) and said something along the lines of ‘I am with this black American woman, it looks like she has cash so I have put my cut on top of the price’. When he got off the phone I then switched to the local language (my ability to speak twi sounds more hilarious than this actual story). He said ‘oh, Madam, I thought you were a black American’. I then told him that I am an Ashanti and told him where my hometown was and explained that I had moved back to Ghana from England but it was just me in the house so he needed to review the price. Turns out he was from a few towns up the road. ‘Oh then you are my sister, I will give you a nice price, but remember me when you are going to America’ (I think I could have said I lived in Spain and he would have still said I was from America. We sat down and itemised everything we needed to do the work. What was originally 3,000GHS came down to just over 1,000GHS.
I’m still not convinced that he used all the cement he made me buy though, every day for the week he did the work (a job which could have probably taken a few days), he suddenly ran out of cement and just had to buy 2 more bags, I ended up buying a total of 10 extra bags. I don’t know if he ate it, sold it or kept it, but looking at the end result, I’m pretty certain it wasn’t all used for my house.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Ghana?
- When shipping your things over, as well as your clothes and luxury items, add a couple of months worth of food stuff especially the canned foods you like, extra sets of toiletries my auntie even adds a couple of roast chickens and scotch bonnet peppers. Anything that can sustain the 6 weeks on the sea, although you can buy everything here, most of it is imported so you are will end up paying triple the price.
- When you go to the market you are expected to bargain down the price, everyone over charges especially when they see that you are an ‘obroni’. This same rule applies to the electrical and household appliance stores such as Palace, Game and Melcom etc.., always ask if the price quoted is the final price. I bought a washing machine from Game at 650GHS as opposed to the 900GHS price tag displayed. Melcom also give an automatic 10% discount when you spend over 100GHS but they work on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ basis.
- There are many beautiful places to visit around Ghana, when you have spare time, take time out to visit places such as the mountains of Aburi, take a walk at Kakum in Cape Coast, the cultural centre in Kumasi and take a boat ride around Akosombo. Accra is like any capital city, full of work stresses but just a few hours away you can enjoy a peaceful bliss.
How is the expat community in Ghana? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I am quite a home body and don’t get out much, but have managed to make a few friends from the expat community. My best friend here is much like me, she was born in France and moved to Ghana. We are similar in age and have gone through the similar experiences so we clicked very easy. Working in multinationals I found myself gelling with the African expatriates more than the local Ghanaians. Ghanaians are nice people, don’t get me wrong, but it is very difficult for them to be open to non-Ghanaians, it appears to be a cultural thing, even the educated are in their own bubble. Only those Ghanaians who have spent time abroad (especially those who went to work during the vacations) are more like-minded. Those who haven’t tend not to want to understand the different cultures coming in and feel you should fit into this culture rather than them having empathy for other people’s culture.
I have promised myself that I would attend the expat events, I will do that very soon (she says..haha)
How would you summarize your expat life in Ghana in a single, catchy sentence?
I really couldn’t make up the experiences I have had in Ghana, even if I tried.