You know when you decide to change your lifestyle to adopt a healthy one. You are doing well, feeling great and then one day just like any bad habit you fall off the wagon, go back to old habits, start eating junk and then it’s hard to swap that breakfast of fruit and yogurt and in turn eat muffins and other highly sugary items. You go into a slump, start putting on weight and feel awful, but it is so hard to turn things around. That’s what is been like for me both literally and notionally. I stopped blogging, my love of writing was swapped for sitting in front of the TV eating sugary dough. Then there is the other thing, my dad, bless him, I am a daddy’s girl but the last three months has been….well, I don’t know who is worse, him or smother. Especially since I am at home, he has been my babysitter, my recruitment consultant and my pimp. He has been calling in all his contacts telling them about his daughter who has found herself out of a job, and is in desperate need to get me back onto the market again. He also fancies himself as a bit of a Gordon Ramsay. Although a traditional Ashanti man, one thing I will say is that he does love cooking. However, as much as he cooks, he doesn’t clean up after himself. He can cook kontomire (a bit like spinach but a bit more bitter) stew, light soup, and cabbage stew all in one day. Just like the likes of Gordon and Michel Roux Jnr, he has a sous chef, comme chef, a dishwasher and cleaner it’s just that those other people are me. So most of my day is spent cleaning up, while he watches the news, then after I am done, he ‘lets me watch what I want’ (although it has to be Masterchef or Come dine with me).
When he is not around, he calls, constantly, just to utter three little words “have you eaten”, this is followed by “what did you eat”. It’s exhausting, if I haven’t eaten, it is followed by a lecture, if it is not substantial enough (i.e. yam, rice, fufu) then it is followed by a lecture. My dad is not the emotional type, he will never give hugs and kisses he will never say I love you, but ‘have you eaten’ is his way of showing his love, so I know he loves me a lot. He’s off today, he bugged me, he got on my last nerve, but I am missing him already. When I told him that I was going to miss him, his response was ‘yeah I know’. I guess that’s code for he will miss me too, and well, he made me laugh, he doesn’t talk much but can kill you with laughter with just one line. You just got to love parents, I am sure one day, there will be a kid out there writing about me being that odd ball parent, so even though they are complete pains I just have to enjoy them for who they are while God grants them to be here.
So anyway, back to business. Even though I haven’t been online, I have received all your emails and I think I have written back to you all (if I haven’t then, please forgive me). Your emails are much appreciated don’t think it is a bother, if you want to send me a private email for my opinion (I have lots..haha) or even just a sounding board, don’t hesitate to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From what I can gather, there are a few of you wanting to come over, but are a bit concerned as to whether you should, so I am going to add my two pence worth as food for thought. I’ll put it in a Q&A form for ease of reference, then you can chose to read or not read in accordance with what you feel is relevant
1. I have just finished university, should I stay for a while and gather work experience or should I come over and see if I can get a job?
Usually the longer you wait the harder it will be to make the move to Ghana. Life gets in the way, responsibilities, maybe even marriage and kids, you get comfortable and you get used to the Great British Pound. But everyone is different and everyone has their own tolerance level. Ghana isn’t the easiest place to live and I wouldn’t say pack your bags and come over. What I would suggest is that now while you are young and optimistic, take a year out, come and test the waters, if it works out for you then great, if you it doesn’t, at least you were not wondering ‘what if’. A lot of my friends (white) took a gap year out either before or after university, I think that break gives you time to get a perspective on what you truly want from life. The black especially African community doesn’t really encourage this, you go to school, university, find a job, and then for some of us, one day we wake up and we don’t know how we got here or if we even want to stay where we are. By that time, it may be that it is too late. So, use this time while you are young and carefree to decide. Then you can assess whether you want to stay or if you would prefer to come back much later or if this is just a holiday destination for you.
2. I am looking for a job in Ghana, where do I start?
You have two choices, you can get a job from the UK or come here and send your CV around. There are some agencies in London such as Antal and Networkers International. I know that they have links with companies in Ghana. You may also want to sign up with CareersinAfrica, they have open days where companies are specifically looking for people to go and work on the west coast. You can also try Trovit, HaysInternational and Reed.co.uk. There are jobsites online such as jobsinghana.com, jobberman.com and JobWebGhana.com, but I have to warn you, those agencies usually cater for those in Ghana first unless a company is specifically looking for an expatriate. Finding a job as an expatriate is possible but unless it is a position such as a Teacher, Lawyer, Doctor etc…, it may take time. If you don’t want to wait then you can come over, using those same websites (jobsinghana etc..). There are some agencies in Ghana such as BJ Global, MonTran and Plato Consult, but I personally don’t think much of them, it is better to go through the websites, linkedin or (and the most successful way), networking. Since MTN, the other jobs I have got are through people I had met and had recommended me. So speak to uncles, aunties, cousins, friends and friends of friends, give them your CV, tell them you are coming over, you are looking for a job and then badger them. But make sure this network of contacts, are reliable and have your best interest at heart. You may find that your CV never left there inbox otherwise.
3. I was making £xx,xxx do you think I can make a similar salary in Ghana?
Unless you are coming here as an expatriate, you have to bear in mind that unless you are a senior manager – executive position, you are going to lower your salary expectations. A Mid level manager in an FMCG is around 32,000GHS p.a ($16,000 approximately) but in the Telecoms and Oil and Gas companies they do pay a lot more. Companies here find the accent attractive and know that having been trained in Europe or America you have a higher work ethic worth, but from the time you land on Ghanaian soil, you have a name such as Mensah, Frimpong or Boateng, and your mother’s mother tongue is Ga, Ewe, Twi or Fante. Well you are classified as a local and will be treated as such when it comes to salary negotiation. Depending on your experience though, don’t sell yourself short when it comes to negotiation. Aim high and then come back down to a salary to which you feel will be comfortable. At the end of the day, companies are looking to get you at the cheapest cost possible to protect their bottom line, so make sure you protect yours too. Also, have a plan B, even if you bring in stuff from the £1 shop and sell it here, have a little business on the side, everything here is important and as such it is pegged to the dollar on the pound + company’s profit. From what I can see, everyone who is working for their salary is either making extra money through corruption or through a little side business. Whether its sales or events planning or even part time lecturing if you like that thing, there is no harm with making a bit of extra cash on the side.
4. How easy is it to network?
I can only talk from a woman’s point of you and a single one at that. It is a bit easier if you are married because couples are drawn to couples. It is a bit easier with guys also, where there is beer there is a bromance born. For single ladies, if you didn’t go to school here, then it is slightly less easier. Most of the ladies here are friends through school and pretty much keep that circle of friends through adulthood. The workplace may bring you a few more friends although, being a foreigner they seem to be very suspicious and hardly will they ever ask you out for a coffee on a Saturday afternoon. Being a single lady with an accent also attracts a lot of attention from guys and ladies automatically assume there is something sexual in your interaction with them so once again keep their distance. I have a few friends now, the main one being a lady like me who was born in France, she is a workplace friend. Also there are societies such as Internations (although you need to be recommended), accraexpat.com also sends out a weekly email giving information on all the activities that are going on in and around the capital. It is well worth signing up.
5. I want to rent a place, where do I go?
You can look online, ghanaweb.com and ghanaclassifieds has a list of rental properties. You can also try companies such as Lakeside Properties, Devtraco, NTHC, Redrow development, Villagio and Trasaco (if you have the cash). These are property developers but some of their clients buy to rent so they may be able to point you in the right direction. You could also try the embassy before you fly out, or the high commission when you arrive. Also try the Daily Graphic Newspaper (you can find them online where ads are placed). Accraexpat.com, Tonaton.com and Internations also have useful information on places to rent. Alternatively you can just go around town and explore, it seems strange but this is Ghana, some people rather than place an ad simply put up a banner outside their house or on a billboard so look out for them.
6. What is the education system like in Ghana?
The school system in Ghana is actually I would say of a better standard than outside Africa. In terms of teaching style I would say it is on par, but the kids are just so well behaved, it could be because that the laws do not protect the child so much. Now don’t get me wrong because I would never condone child abuse in any way and that is primarily what the British in particular have passed laws to protect them. But nowadays some children have manipulated the law so much that even if you look at your own child in the wrong way the child protective service will be on you in a second. The last time I was in London I met my former maths teacher. He had been sacked not too long ago. Why, because there was a child that was very disruptive in the class and he said to the boy that if he carries on the way he is, he wouldn’t even manage to get a job in McDonalds. The parents came in and instead of opening their eyes to the fact that they had created a demon from their seed, they got the poor man sacked.
The schools are split into primary, then junior high school and secondary high school. I am still not too clear on which is which, my day, you went from primary to secondary and that was it, but such is life. On the younger to mid scale, they have some very good international schools in and around Accra. The main is Ghana International School which is like the Cambridge of schools and is based in Cantoments there is also Christ the King which is a Catholic school based in the same area. There is British International School, American International School and Galaxy International which are based in East Legon. Mary Mother of Good Counsel another Catholic School in Airport Residential area is located behind African Regency Hotel (the infamous Kuffour Hotel, one which is said to have been used with government money for Kuffour’s son). The list goes on and I know some of you out there have other schools to add. Most of the school fees are paid per term and are paid in dollars. The best Senior Schools are based in Cape Coast and are boarding schools. There is Mfantsipim and St Augustine’s which are boys schools, Holy Child and Wesley Girls which as suggests is a girls’ schools. These schools have turned out notable alumnae such as Kofi Annan former UN General secretary (Mfantsipim), Mrs Justice Georgina Wood, first Female Chief Justice of Ghana (Wesley Girls) and Chelsea’s own Michael Essien (St Augustine’s).
7. Where are the places to hang out?
A few months ago I would have said the Cave, but we are having creative differences at the moment. The guy likes my ideas but is not prepared to release a budget to pay for it. More importantly I am not being paid. After weeks of using money to fuel my car, buy credit for my phone and internet bill, use my energy drafting contracts and presentations and my time on meetings where decisions have been made but we are still at a standstill. I have taken to the jobsites because he is a lovely guy but my money is best spent paying for my DStv and mortgage.
Osu is the best place in town if you like the hussle and bussle, it has the feeling of the west end with places to eat, dance and drink on every corner, depending on your budget they have a place for you, if you want a cheap beer try the container spots, if you want to dance and drink cocktails, there is Tantra, Bella Roma and Firefly. If you like a quieter life, the hotels such as Golden Tulip, Holiday Inn (Airport), Alisa (Ridge), La Palm (Labadi) Royal Richester (East Legon), and if you really have the cash to burn Moevenpick (Accra Central). Fridays, sometimes Thursday and Saturday they usually have a live band. If you like a live band you can visit Chez Afrique in East Legon and if you want to chat and a bite to eat you can try Starbites or the food court at the A&C Mall. Accra Mall also offers Rhapsody’s and their food court, but be prepared for the traffic going in and out of the mall.
8. Do I really need a car in Ghana?
Yes. I sit at home sometimes and I miss the Number 86 bus. Not because I like to ride the bus (especially during rush hour) but I know that on one side of the road the bus goes to Romford and it stops at Ilford, Seven Kings and Chadwell Heath on the way. On the other side of the road the same bus goes to Stratford and comes from Romford and in addition to those towns I pass through Manor Park and Forest Gate before I finally meet my destination. Here they have the tro-tro, a minivan crammed full of people, if you are not lucky you may sit next to a pick-pocket or a really smelly person (although I encountered some of those on the 86 bus but still less claustrophobic). When the bus goes by you will see a man shouting out ‘circle, circle, circle’ or ’37, 37, 37 or ‘madina, madina, madina’, or ‘tema motorway, tema motorway, tema motorway’, I think you get my point. The route he takes is generally the same way, but the driver may take a back route to try and cut traffic. If you are not lucky, the idiot driver while trying to jump out in front of a car ends up in an accident and your journey which would have taken 30 minutes now takes 2 hours as you clam for another mode of transport. The taxi drivers are not so pleasant either. They sniff out a foreigner and before you even climb into the car you are wasting 10 minutes negotiating, he too drives like a complete lunatic and if you are not lucky you may climb into a rickety old car where you can see the road below you (remember the flintstones’ car?).
You will definitely need a car, and if you can afford, by a brand new one straight from the factory. If you are going to buy a second hand car, it needs to be a strong car where the parts are inexpensive because the roads in some parts are bad and I mean really bad, and the mechanics, most of them are a bit trial and error so you need to be going to the mechanic as little as possible. I don’t know if they do it on purpose so you keep coming back, but all I know is I have sent my car to get the A-C fixed twice. Each time I was told it is a leakage. Each time I have spent hundreds of cedis getting new parts. Each time, after a week or two of enjoying the cool breeze am now sweating in the Accra traffic as the leakage has mysteriously come back.
9. Where do I do my grocery shopping, can I get the things are am used to back ‘home’?
You can get just about everything in Ghana. From Cheese to Rocket to mushrooms and even strawberries, but of course you have to remember you are paying the same price (and more) than you would abroad. So when you are shopping think about whether you really need it otherwise you may giving out a few hundred cedis at the till. There are four main supermarkets, Shoprite, Koala, Marina Mall and Max Mart. If you have the time, compare the prices. I find Koala the most expensive although the price of their cheese and pastries are the best of them all. For meat and most produce, Marina Mall is the best followed by Shoprite. Max Mart, I go to when I need a few items, when the other supermarkets don’t have what I want or when I am feeling lazy to go into town. The prices are a bit outrageous as we are basically funding their rent and Friday nights out. You will find that it is not so busy as compared to shoprite because it is so expensive but their cheese is not too bad and they have a good selection of antipasti items. They are also good if you need to pick up bread, eggs and milk on the way home from work.
For your everyday items such as fruit and vegetables, Accra Central is the best. They have everything but it is very busy and for those of you who live here, the traffic and driving is mad. Madina market is also a good place to shop or Kanashie, but again be prepared for the traffic. If you are like me and live alone, I suggest shoprite. The little stalls on the side of the road you would think would be cheap as it is local produce. Well the other day I asked for 2cedis worth of tomatoes, the lady puts four tiny tomatoes and looks at my face. I tell her to put it back. I could get four imported tomatoes for the same price, I went to Shoprite after church last week, I picked out about 8 tomatoes and it cost me just under three cedis. Now while I am all for patronizing local business, I don’t want to get ripped off by them, so now I buy just about everything from the supermarket as it is cheaper. While I have been out of work though, I have started growing my own tomatoes, they are now starting to bloom, watch this space as if I grow enough I may just start selling them from my house…hehe
10. I have lived in Ghana for 20+ years and I am fed up of London but I have heard the horror stories, what should I do?
Honestly, I can’t tell you to stay or come over. As I said earlier, everybody has their mind and their own tolerance level. I would say when you come over, don’t just come with a dream, come with a plan. Have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and an exit strategy if it all goes Pete Tong. Look at coming to Ghana as if it was any new investment you were buying into. And what is the first rule? Buyer Beware.
Living in Ghana, well it comes with its ups and downs but every experience comes with a lesson to be learnt. Whether I stay or go, nothing can take away all that I have gotten out of moving here. Sometimes though I do get depressed, my friends and family are away and as much as I love the people I have here, it’s not the same. But I’m still here, I haven’t left and I have the sun.
But really, the reason I haven’t packed up and run away is because I’m stubborn and the .001% optimism I have hasn’t completely got to zero yet. So in the meantime, I am growing my tomatoes and am available to help out with new business develop. One thing I took from the Cave is that I have met some people and they are giving me positive feedback about the little I have managed to get done. So fingers crossed. While I don’t want to go through another month scrambling for cash to pay the bills, there is a glimmer of hope. But I will keep you posted.
Well that’s all for now. Have a great weekend, until the next time….