Monday, May 16, 2011

Don’t leave home without it

 Having had recent conversations with a Peace Corps volunteer headed off to Ghana in June and the GSK PULSE volunteer who will be joining the S2S program in September, I’ve been spending some time thinking about advice for life in Ghana.  Friends who have travelled with me, whether on ultimate tournaments or scuba trips or ski vacations, know that I embrace the Boy Scout motto of “be prepared” to the point of excessive over-packing.  (Just ask LJ about the mini-CVS that exploded in the corner of our bedroom before I flew over in October.) There were certain things that my pre-trip reading told me I had to pack—like contact lens solution—but what follows is a list of the things that no one told I should pack but I’m glad I did. 

  1. Leatherman/Swiss army knife.  I packed both and used them all the time for anything from computer repairs to cutting open packages. The Swiss army knife was almost confiscated on a flight to Accra but I talked the security folks into finding my checked bag so I didn’t have to give it up. I was honestly surprised that they worried about the knife given that they don’t always (or ever) check ID before boarding the plane.  The GSK-branded Leatherman also made a nice going-away gift for one of the Ghanaian teachers.
  2. A wardrobe primarily from REI.  Ghana was harsh on my clothes but the worst effects were on my light-colored cotton clothes, all of which I left there.  The UPF 50+ ripstop nylon pants and rugged shirts held up really well with the hidden security pockets a nice way to spread out the large amounts of cash I needed to carry.  They also fit my overly casual clothing style.
  3. Amazon Kindle.  Any eBook reader would do but it was nice to be able to log into Amazon to purchase and download books whenever I was online.
  4. Headlamp.  Between power outages and lack of reading lamps in our house, the Petzl Tikkina 2 battery-powered LED headlamp I bought came in handy on a regular basis.  And the French Rose color is so stylish because style is such a consideration for me, as evidence by my lifelong attraction to T-shirts and jeans. (Don’t forget a stash of AAA-batteries, preferably the long-lasting, lightweight Li-ion ones.)
  5. Bug spray, both Natrapel picardin and 3M Ultrathon DEET.  The DEET was great for the really intense mosquito areas while the nice-smelling Natrapel was good for sitting on the veranda in the evenings.
  6. USB flash drives.  Perfect for transferring files and for portable anti-virus programs to clean up the viruses transferred by those drives.  (Thanks to Markus and Steffi for having Markus bring over a bunch of old drives they didn’t need any more.)
  7. Multi-color pen.  Anyone who’s watched me in a meeting knows that I like to use various colors to highlight my notes.  One of my co-workers gave me a fantastic going-away gift of a fine-point 4-color pen.  When the barrel of it cracked, I taped it back together and kept using it for the entire PULSE assignment.
  8. Moleskine ® notebook and pocket calendar.  I’m sure this marks me as some sort of hippie-yuppie hybrid (a yippie? A huppie?) but the leather covers are ridiculously durable and the 5” x 8” size made the notebook a perfect choice for fitting into my handbag.  Speaking of which…
  9. Overland Equipment Donner bag.  This link is for the newest version of this bag, which I’ve had for a number of years.  It was the perfect size—large enough to carry around water bottles and camera gear but not so large as to be unwieldy.  I’m not the only ones who thinks it’s perfect for travel given that there are nothing but 5-star reviews on their website.
  10. Deodorant.  Not that they don’t carry it in Ghana, but all I saw was the roll-on deodorants that have been mostly phased out in the US.
  11. Sunblock.  Not exactly easy to come by in a country with few obrunis.
  12. Energy bars (Clif, Luna, etc.) and Emer-gen-C.  My adventure comfort food whenever I didn’t have time to eat or I felt a bit out of sorts.
Almost anything else I needed* was available in Ghana so everything else was overkill.

(Technical difficulties on Blogger kept this from being posted over the weekend.  Looks like the problems are fixed now, though.)

*This one’s for the ladies: There’s something you’d want to pack that isn’t easily found over there.  Think of those commercials that show women being active in white tennis outfits and you’ll know what I mean.  I didn't mention it above because it's clearly stated in the Bradt Ghana guide that becomes your Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe.  Also, if you’re really particular about the brand of hair products you use, like shampoo and conditioner, be sure to pack plenty of it.  Obruni-friendly hair care products are not all that easy to come by.

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