Last week we had a great interview on Ghana from Jessie. Today, TraveLinkSites ventures back to this awesome country and chats to Phil Paoletta about his time travelling through West Africa, making music and teaching people how to draw camels along the way.
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling in Ghana?
My name is Phil Paoletta and I’ve been traveling and living in West Africa for the past two years. My site is a collection of travel narratives, thought pieces challenging common (mis)perceptions of West Africa, music that I am working on as well as collecting from the region, and camel drawing – I am a full time camel drawing consultant. I first traveled to Ghana in 2005 when I studied abroad there. I have been back two times since. It is a country very close to my heart and I plan to be back there again later in the year.
2. What made you choose this country and what were your first impressions?
I chose to study abroad in Ghana because I was obsessed with highlife and palm wine guitar music at the time. Both genres are bright, polyrhythmic and danceable. In general, this music just puts you in a good mood. Once I got to Ghana, I was drawn to other aspects of the culture, like the emphasis on community, family and friendship, the integration of music and dance into every public event, and the way that complete strangers will look you in the eye and greet you.
3. How much money can someone travel around Ghana for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?
You can travel in Ghana for less than $15 a day or you can spend much more than that. It really depends on what you are looking for in terms of dining and accommodation. As an example, you can find a very basic, but clean room, without a private bathroom or air-conditioning for $7 in the capital of Accra. You can eat for $1-2 if you patronize roadside vendors.
The costs quickly go up, however, if you need more substantial accommodation and you feel like eating in a restaurant that features western food. The greatest expense is often accommodation. Transporation is often the cheapest. I also would highly recommend couchsurfing, which in addition to providing free accommodation, offers a way to make new friends and really get to know Ghanaian culture.
4. What is the local cuisine like? Did you find yourself trying new things or pining for the familiars of home?
Ghanaian cuisine features a lot of stews and sauces that are typically served with rice or several doughy starches that are usually maize or manioc based. Meat and fish feature heavily in Ghanaian cuisine and even if they are not a main ingredient, they are likely featured somewhere in a sauce or stew.
My favorite dishes include jollof rice, a tomato based rice dish that also features chili, onion, ginger and often features other veggies and chicken, and groundnut stew, a spicy peanut based stew that is slow cooked with pieces of beef, and often served with a doughy starch like fufu.
I am a big fan of Ghanaian cuisine, but every now and then, I will indulge in a familiar meal from home, which can easily be found in the bigger cities of Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi.
5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in Ghana and why?
I highly recommend attending a wedding or a funeral if you get the chance. It may seem morbid to suggest the funeral, but in Ghana, funerals arguably provide a bigger celebration than any other event. The somber tone of western funerals is replaced by a true party, and many Ghanaians will tell you that a celebration is the best way to honor someone that has passed. I also would suggest seeing live music in whatever setting possible, whether it’s in a village on the beach of the western coast or in a sweaty club in Accra.
6. What is your favourite thing about travelling this country? What is your least favourite thing?
My favorite thing about travelling in Ghana is the interaction. I can get on a minibus with 20 complete strangers and within several minutes I am talking and laughing with people. This is not just because I’m this white novelty, either. Ghanaians interact with each other in the same way – basically, there is no barrier to interaction. People are not guarded, reserved or closed off. My least favorite thing is occasional bouts with traveler’s diarrhea that always seem to occur in the initial weeks after I arrive.
7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about this country? Why do you choose these things?
I often try to focus on challenging perceptions about Ghana and West Africa in general. Many people have a picture of Ghana as half-naked “tribal” people wandering around in the bush. They don’t realize that almost every Ghanaian has a cell phone and that cities like Accra have clubs that are just as shiny as anything in the west. This is not to say that Ghana is “modern” or “first world,” just that it is far more complex and nuanced than most people think.
8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around Ghana without?
Baby powder, goldbond, whatever you want to call it – something that helps keep your skin dry. Ghana is a humid place and some kind of astringent powder will limit body odor and help you feel more comfortable. Seriously, don’t ignore this tip
9. What kind of response have you had to your blogs about Ghana? What post had the most interest?
I have had a great response so far, partly from readers who had spent time previously in Ghana and partly from those who are planning on traveling in the future. This post http://philintheblank.net/
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone told you before you started travelling in Ghana what would it be?
Don’t drink the tap water. It won’t end well.
Fancy answering our questions? You know you want to! Contact us to be featured on our site.