Location: Bolgatanga, Upper East, Ghana
From bucket showers to rice balls, living in Ghana for three months was a major test to see how well I could adapt taken out of my pampered, princessy life back in Manchester. Signing up to work or volunteer in a developing country is a major step and something that I believe changes you and gives you a new set of eyes on the world. If you're thinking of doing it, there's a million reasons to do it which outweigh the few things that you're scared about. So without further a-do, here's a couple of truths about what to expect...
1. Bathroom Issues
Don't expect running water, a flushing toilet, or for that matter, in some cases, a toilet full stop. My bathroom consisted of a bath and a toilet, but no running water. Every day I took a bucket of hose water and propped it up on the side of the bath, then used a mini bucket to scoop and pour the water over myself to wash. It made me really appreciate running water, but to be fair, it is quite refreshing in the ridiculous heat. The toilet was flushed by simply filling a bucket up and pouring the water straight down. The major issue is outside of the house. Public toilets just don't exist, so it is basically three walls and a metal sheet to pull over for a door that make a cubicle, and you basically just squat/stand and do your thing. On this note, ensure you've always got some toilet roll in your bag and you'll be sweet. Plus, for the ladies, all that squatting means you'll come back with a peach...
2. Technical Difficulties
It's best to get your hands on a cheap second hand phone before you get out to your developing country, although if you can't, chill with the thought you will get one once you're out there. For me, it was more a case of getting out there and my friend telling me she 'knew a guy' rather than knew a shop... but I managed to get my hands on a fairly decent HTC smartphone with all your basic apps and I was able to Tweet and 'Gram to my heart's content. To be honest, if a phone is available I'd take it just as a safety measure if nothing else, but it's not essential and it enhances the experience learning to live without that beloved treasured item we call a mobile.
3. Local Cuisine
Sometimes sitting down to your meal can feel like Ant and Dec are going to ball in at any moment and announce it's time to begin your Bush Tucker Trial, but it can be good to get on board with the local cuisine. In Ghana, many dishes are eaten with your hands, which at first reaaaally got to me, but embracing it meant that I actually enjoyed the food much more, and I fitted in a little better with the locals. You don't have to try everything, but if someone cooks for you, always try and eat it, and if you don't like it express it in a way that's like, 'I'm grateful you cooked, it's just not my sort of thing'. Not, 'Don't you guys have a Dominos anywhere?' you know?
4. Washing Clothes
I never knew how much I loved my washing machine until I left it behind to wash clothes with a block of soap for three months. It can be a bit of a pain, but it's a chore that must be done. The first couple of times I really hurt my knuckles which was a RIDICULOUS injury to have because I'd scrubbed the clothes too hard with my hands, but you get pretty used to washing in this way in the end. Just don't let your clothes build up too much and keep on top of washing your towels and bed sheets, although after a month you will probably get over the need to feel clean and embrace the cloud of flies buzzing around you.
5. Having Patience
I am one of the most impatient people you will ever meet. I like to know what's getting done, and when, and if possible, can it be today? But, going to a developing country is not like the fast paced world we know of pinging messages and ordering our food shopping to our front door and leaving a voice mail with the confidence it will be listened to within the week. The internet is slow, it can cut out, there might be power cuts, and people won't always be able to give you a straight-to-the-point answer, simply because they don't have it. Hang in there though; it is frustrating, but it teaches you not to get so ahead and stressed, and sometimes it is truly better just to go with the flow.
6. Weather Conditions
I remember the first night that it rained, 9 weeks in, IT WAS THE SINGLE BEST THING THAT HAD EVER HAPPENED. This crazy storm hit whilst I was curled up on my bed, waking me and putting a big smile across my face. Usually in developing countries the weather is going to be a bit mental, in Ghana it was HOT and there are some days where I felt as though I was sat in a human-sized pan and underneath me was a fire burning, slowly melting me away like a stick of butter :) However, stay hydrated, take cold bucket washes and keep yourself cool and you should be grand.
7. Learning the Lingo
Luckily in Ghana the official language is English and although a few issues regarding accent, I got on pretty well. There are loads of local languages spoken however, and in the town I was living in the local language was Fra Fra. I learnt how to greet people, plus a few other phrases pretty quickly, so wherever you're going, it's good to get the basics down. What I will say though is it does get very repetitive and frustrating, especially because depending on where you are people might get a little fascinated with you and suddenly EVERYONE wants to say hi. Expect this and you'll get on fine, and don't get annoyed with it, see it as a good thing that people find you different and take an interest in you!
So there you have it, those are the major things to expect going to a developing country, alongside cool animals, weird insects and a tonne of other experiences awaiting you. If you have any questions feel free to comment below, three months thrown into it makes me think I'm a little qualified to answer, so I'll do my best! And of course, it is hard, but it wouldn't be worth it if it was easy.