The Story of Ebola in America (Book Review: My Spirit Took You In by Louise Troh)

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The other day, when I went to the library, I stumbled upon a brand new book.  I hadn’t heard of it before, but it was the story of Eric Duncan, the man who brought Ebola from Liberia to America.  The media had so much to say about him, mostly horrible things about how he had supposedly done this on purpose.  I was eager to hear another version of what really happened… and “My Spirit Took You In” definitely did not disappoint!

Spoiler Alert: I do discuss the beginning, middle, and end of the book.  However, since this was a news story, I’m assuming you already know how it ends!

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In 2014, when Liberia was suffering from a horrible Ebola epidemic, Eric Duncan finally received a visa to come live in the United States with his son and the love of his life, Louise.  Earlier that week he had aided a pregnant woman who died.  However, he did not know she died of Ebola (in fact, Liberia has one of the worst incidence rates of women dying in childbirth) and nobody else in his neighbourhood had any symptoms of Ebola before he left.  He was checked at airports, and went to the doctor a few days after he arrived in Dallas – they sent him home with some Tylenol.

Being a bit sick is normal after long travel, they figured.  Especially when coming to a new country, with new surroundings, people, and food around.  Eventually he was taken back to the hospital, and they suspected it might be Ebola this time.  It took 2 days to find out for sure, and I wouldn’t want to be the one waiting to hear that news.

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Eventually Eric was diagnosed with Ebola, and put in isolation.  Meanwhile, his family was put in quarantine in their house.  I can’t imagine having to deal with that.  Living for 21 days in your apartment… surrounded by the media and not allowed to even grocery shop.  Unable to even hug those in the house with you, for fear of more contagions spreading.  Thankfully a local pastor and judge treated them well and made sure they had what they needed.

During their stay, almost nobody would come near the house.  Eventually a hazmat team was sent in to make sure the place was sanitary and was not holding any germs.  Unfortunately this was done in a very brutal way.  The virus will not survive on any dry surfaces for more than a few hours, yet all of their possessions were destroyed. TVs were demolished, rooms were ripped apart, and even jewelry was thrown into the bins which were being removed (and later incinerated).  They no longer had anything, but thankfully some kind people took care of them and made sure they had what they needed for the remainder of their stay (and afterwards).

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Towards the end of his stay, the hospital called to ask how they would be paying his bills, which already totaled over $1 million.  They later agreed to not charge anything, and instead the hospital agreed to pay the family of Eric for their initial mistake in not diagnosing him with Ebola.  However, Louise Troh was not included in this payment since she was not a “direct relative”.

Eric died in the hospital, and thankfully none of the family who were in contact with him got sick.  They grieved in their quarantine house, and they grieved again properly when they were allowed to leave after the 21 days were up.  Although they had gone through so much turmoil, Louise always maintained her faith.  Some believe he was originally sent away because of his race, and because he had no healthcare.  Louise and her family were barely even able to find a new house after this occurred, because all the landlords feared her “diseased” family.  However, she chose not to press any charges against the hospital for sending Eric away, even though he had Ebola and could have been treated much earlier (and many in the community were urging them to do so).

Instead, she chose to tell her story in her own words, and I would urge you to listen to that alternative version of events, which she paints so vividly in this book.

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They say a picture is worth 1,000 words… but what does this picture say?  Two of the nurses who treated him were also later diagnosed with Ebola, and they were not treated the same way.  Their possessions were not destroyed, and they were portrayed as victims.  The images seem to say:

“Eric Duncan = Africa = Ebola”

“Pretty nurse = American saviour, innocent victim”

There was no room in the narrative for Eric Duncan to also be a victim of a terrible disease; in isolation by himself, slowly ravaged by terrible symptoms, away from everyone he knows and loves.  America was afraid, and therefore they needed a villain – and that was him.

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 08:  People hold candles during a prayer vigil and memorial at Wilshire Baptist Church for Thomas Eric Duncan after he passed away  from the Ebola virus on October 8, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Duncan passed away in the morning.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This is not a simple story about one thing…

It’s about love, and hatred

It’s about hope, and fear

It’s about life, and death

But most of all it’s about our common humanity, and if you feel the same way that I did when I finished the book, I think you feel that this book has answered some questions.  You will start to rethink some of the biases that you might not have even known you had.  You might learn something new about life in a different country, the life of a refugee, or the life of an immigrant.

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This book was written by the “fiancée” of Eric, Louise Troh (pictured above), who still lives with her family in Dallas.  I would highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand what it’s like to go through these experiences, what it’s like to have someone you love be so sick, and what it is like to immigrate from Africa to North America.  It’s a great chance to walk in the shoes of someone who comes from a very different world, and try to understand their perspective.  Even if you come into the book with preconceived thoughts, ideas, and biases, I hope that this book will challenge your assumptions and offer a different lens on the events that unfolded just a year ago.

Let’s Make a Change! (Webinar: The Next System)

One of the nicest things about not having a real job is that you can attend things like presentations and webinars, even if they happen at 3pm on a Wednesday.  I attended one such webinar recently about a new initiative being launched call “The Next System“.  You can still watch the video or find out more information here.  Even though it’s a brand new movement, tons of people signed up to attend the webinar right away (over 5,000).  Note: although many of the examples are from a US context, the same basic principals can be applied in many other countries, including Canada. Also, the ideas contained in this blog have been summarized below, but they are not my original ideas, simply my idea of what is important and useful for the years to come.

TL:DR – You can watch a short video here to find out what the initiative is all about (it even features Bill Mckibben from 350.org and Danny Glover).

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TedTalk – Tome Wujec: Got a Wicked Problem? First, Tell Me How You Make Toast

I love TedTalks, how they communicate important ideas and also inspire at the same time.  It’s a good way to get your brain working and thinking about new things.  The TedTalk I watched recently was about a topic near and dear to my heart: Systems Thinking.  Systems thinking is something that we talk about in design, and is also one of the key mantras behind the work that Engineers Without Borders does.  The talk is by Tom Wujec, and is called “Got a wicked problem? First tell me how to make toast“.

I love this talk because it discusses a problem that many designers think about on a daily basis, but in a way that anyone can understand.  Th experiment started when he first asked people to make a drawing of the toast process.  He received hundreds of different drawings from many different people.  Some were good quality, some were bad.  Some had tons of steps, others only had a few.  Although they all had similarities, no two were exactly the same.

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Is it okay to joke about colonialism?

I subscribe to A LOT of newsletters about development, NGOs, and international issues.  Most of these groups talk about international development issues in 1 of 4 keys ways:

  1. Tell us about the bad news (usually the latest natural disaster or war outbreak) in very somber tones.
  2. Tell us about the great news (such as a country first holding democratic elections) but with a healthy dose of skepticism.
  3. Ask for our help (usually in the form of a donation) by telling us about all the great work they’re doing and showing us pictures of smiling (or poor, hungry) children.
  4. Criticize the aid sector (and say how we SHOULD be doing everything), usually in the form of a blog or op-ed

But are there other ways of starting a conversation?  What other types of media can be used to engage with audiences and get people thinking?  I think that humor and satire is definitely an option when it comes to commenting on society.

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Re-Blog: “Why ‘Design For Development’ Is Failing On Its Promise”

I saw this article today and was immediately interested in reading it.  As most of you readers might know, I have a background in industrial (product) design, and have studied/worked/read quite a bit about the development sector.  World issues is my passion, and I was interested in what others had to say on the topic of my chosen (hopefully future) career.

For those who don’t understand the idea of “design for development”, here’s a simple explanation from the blog:

…in response to the interest expressed by international organizations and donors, including Melinda Gates, nearly every major commercial design consultancy has launched a “social innovation” arm, including Ideo, Frog, and (the latest) Dalberg. This community is taking the tools that corporations have used for decades to create products and services that people want and applying those to the public space to create the products and services, like medical care or access to education, that people desperately need.

This work is usually done in conjunction with governments, NGOs and large foundations, who usually hire a design consultancy to mange the interaction with all of the stakeholders and deliver a final idea/model/system (depending on what the situation calls for).

The author is Panthea Lee, and although she has a private sector background, she now works in this growing field of “design for development”.  The article focuses on a specific project her firm was selected for, helping to manage voter registration in Libya, a country which had lived under the same leader for over 40 years.

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The author addresses some key problems that can and do occur in this sector:

  1. The “end-user” is often no longer buying the product, and therefore cannot use their dollar to “vote” for which products work/they like.
  2. It is often difficult to measure the desired outcome (i.e. How do you measure improved governance?).  Even if your NGO/funder has a goal in mind (e.g. increase the number of schools with bathrooms by “x”), does that really measure the intended goal (getting more girls to stay in school)?

Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not saying all design for development is good.  Like all development projects, there are some important considerations which much be considered (community consultation, monitoring and evaluation, understanding the context, etc.) and important design considerations as well (testing different models on a small-scale, understanding the user, working with appropriate technologies and materials, etc.).  I’m not even saying all design is good for society (does having a new iPhone every 6 months really improve well-being?), so why would all “design for development” be good?  A design can only ever be as good as the designer and their understanding of the product (which is generally a problem that a user wants to solve, such as a faster way to travel on rough terrain, a better clean for your clothes, or improved access to knowledge).

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Many NGOs/funders think of the populations they serve as simply “beneficiaries”.  Basically, “we are rich, so we owe it to *the world/karma/religion/ourselves* to help these poor people.”  This really isn’t a good mindset, and groups who want to give products with this in mind are bound for failure.  This old mindset assumes that any product we give poor people will be great, they can take our old left-overs, because they have nothing.  This is rarely appreciated by people in developing countries, and the products are not well suited to their culture/environment/etc.  I think good designers always consider the end-user, and no group should take the billions of people who are currently living in poverty for granted, and label them as “non-consumers”, or things are going to change pretty quickly for them in the years and decades to come.  People in “developing countries” may not have huge sums of money to spend on frivolous products, but they are huge groups who can buy inexpensive products which improve their lives.

The key argument of the blog is:

We’re facing ocean-sized problems armed with teaspoons.

Okay… that’s true, but so what?  I think it’s better to start tackling the problems we can and getting a bit of that ocean out of the way in order to solve the easy problems first.  People lives are still improved (even if it seems incremental) and it allows communities to open up and demand larger change.  It’s hard for citizens to protest for democracy when they’re worried about what they’re eating for their next meal.  So maybe designers aren’t miracle-makers, but maybe they can bring people up to the level where they can become consumers who start advocating for the changes they would like to see in their society.  Isn’t it worth a try?  The author agrees, and ends by saying:

..if we’re willing to tackle the thorny problems, to get involved in messy policy and political debates, and to go head-to-head with organizations and interests that would prefer we didn’t ask the tough questions, designers can be part of larger solutions.  Each of us may only have a teaspoon. But if we’re all scooping in the right direction, maybe we can start to make some waves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues, or anything related to “design for development”!

So… did you actually use that huge bag of stuff you brought?

Before I left for Ghana I read an amazing blog about what I would and would not need in Ghana.  However, I found that living in Accra (a large capital city) had different needs than I anticipated… so I thought I’d write my own!  For those who don’t know about my trip, I lived in Accra, Ghana (which is the capital, and in the south by the ocean).  This blog reflects living in a big city, and living in the south. The first part is the quick list of top 10 things not to forget.  Below is pictures and a more detailed list of what I really brought (and whether or not it’s sufficient).  Number one piece of advice – no matter what your packing list says, bring more than 4 pairs of underwear!

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The actual bag I ended up with… plus a purse and overnight bag as carry-on.

Top 10 Things You Need on a Regular Basis In Ghana

  1. A waterbottle (with a small place to sip out of… a nalgene bottle will spill all over you in a trotro)
  2. At least two weeks worth of clothes (you don’t want to hand wash twice a week, and you want to have enough underwear until the next weekend if you go on vacation or travel for work)
  3. A smartphone (ideally dual SIM with a long battery life) – plus appropriate plugs. Converters that have multiple input ports are the best for hotel rooms with just one plug for 2-4 people!
  4. Weekend travel kit (you want a bag that will hold everything you need for 2-7 nights… having small containers for all your toiletries is also way better than lugging around a huge bottle of shampoo)
  5. A good computer that you’re willing to break or lose (electronics have a nasty habit of getting ruined here. You don’t need good speakers, fancy programs or a high resolution screen. Long battery life and portability are king!)
  6. Appropriate work clothes. If possible find out what city you’ll be living in and the type of work. If you’re in an office, bring what you would wear at home (minus the high heels – unless you’re amazing at navigating potholes). If you’re on a farm, bring long pants, closed shoes, and things you don’t mind getting dirty. The south is also a lot less conservative (i.e. similar to North America) than the north.
  7. Good shoes – Sandals that are comfortable, don’t hurt your feet, can be cleaned and can transition from office to dinner.
  8. Small purse items – my handheld bug spray and flash light have come in handy on numerous occasions when going straight out from the office (since it gets dark at 6 each night).
  9. A small wallet/change purse is also necessary but you can buy those here.
  10. Deodorant – you will sweat! People here also use a handkerchief, which are easy to buy here. A hat helps on hot days…

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Left – My explosion of stuff during pre-departure training, when the girls helped me narrow my items down to what might actually fit in my bags (and be appropriate). Right – My explosion of stuff when I first arrived at the hotel  in Accra – trying to find something to wear.

So here’s the list of what I brought (in regular text), what I should have brought (in red text), and my opinion (in blue italics).  The list is in no particular order, but is sorted into 4 main categories (electronics, clothes, toiletries, and other).

Electronics/Gadgets

  • Chargers for all gadgets (iPod, Kindle, laptop/tablet, phone)essential, but can buy here
  • Converters for wall sockets x 2 (UK or universal) – bring at least one universal (some plugs are European), you can buy them here but don’t buy the cheapest one, it won’t work!
  • Phone (unlocked) – Useful, but you can buy here. New costs the same as home, but you can buy used too – just make sure they’re not stolen/broken… Dual-SIM especially useful, since most people have more than one network – it’s super easy to buy phone credit on the street.  You can get by with a cheap phone, but smart phones are amazing for finding your way around the busy streets with GPS!
  • Kindle/e-reader (with lots of books) – Essential for people who love to read! – but bring a few real ones for the beach and power outages…
  • Tablet/laptop + case – Essential! Make sure it has a long battery life and is light enough to carry to work every day
  • External Hard-drive (full of movies and shows) – Internet can be expensive and spotty, so this is essential if you want to watch a lot of TV or take a lot of pictures
  • Camera (+ connector to computer + extra battery/charger + extra SD cards) – I know cell phones have cameras, but when the power goes out frequently it’s better to have separated electronics (in hopes that something will work at any given time)
  • Small flashlight – Great for carrying in your purse in case the power is out when you get home
  • Headlamp – Essential for cooking in the dark
  • Extra rechargeable batteries (and charger) – AA + AAA – Super useful (especially rechargeable, since there is nowhere to properly dispose of batteries…). Make sure to check which kind your devices (flashlight, headlamp, camera, etc.) need before leaving.
  • Alarm clock – It sucks when all your devices are dead and you have to get up for work (a digital watch would also suffice)

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Basically all of my stuff (minus the bags), once I put it in shelves at my first house.

Clothes

EWB recommends bringing only second-hand clothes, nothing fancy, and no jeans.  I think this advice is outdated. Everyone wears jeans and western clothes. You’re expected to look professional at work, so wear what you would at home to an office.

  • Pants x 5 (2 dress pants – black and grey, 1 blue jeans, 1 coloured jeans, 1 light comfy pants) – Didn’t need all these pants, but the guys wore pants almost everyday (dresses are comfier when it’s really hot, but bring leggings)
  • Skirts x 5 (2 full-length stretchy skirts, 3 knee length skirts) – Wore them lots to the office
  • Shorts x 4 (1 cotton capris, 1 jean capris, 1 long shorts, 1 short, stretchy, jean) – great for around the house, doing laundry, beach vacations…
  • Leggings x 3 (1 long-black, 1 capri-grey, 1 short black shorts for under dresses) Necessary for wearing skirts/dresses while riding public transit
  • PJs x 5 (3 shorts, 2 long pants + 2 tank tops, 2 t-shirts and 1 long-sleeved) – Wore more shorts than pants for sure, it gets hot at night if you don’t have a fan/AC (even if you don’t wear pjs at home, bring at least 1 pair – you will end up sharing a room on trips)
  • Work-out clothes – Lulu (1 capris, 1 shorts, 1 tank top) – If you work out at home, you will here too, so bring what you need, whether that’s clothes, runners, etc.
  • Shirts x 22 (8 tank-tops (to wear under), 8 work appropriate shirts, 2 cute tank-tops, 4 casual t-shirts) – Glad I brought so many tank tops! (take up no room and stop you from looking so sweaty).  Wish I considered more which tops went with which bottoms before packing
  • Long sleeves x 8 (2 hoodies, 2 long-sleeved t-shirts, 4 cardigans) – Cardigans are useful for making summer-wear work appropriate, bring at least one warm sweater for when you get drenched in a storm at night… Buses are also notoriously cold, I would wear a long-sleeved t-shirt and a hoodie when taking a 12-hour overnight bus.
  • Dresses x 6 (2 work-appropriate, 1 maxi dress, 3 sun-dresses) – Wore them ALL THE TIME!
  • Underwear x 18 (all styles and colours) – Don’t regret a single pair… they take up no room
  • Bra x 3 different colours – Could have gotten by with 2 (Bring at least 2 since you need to hang dry, which takes awhile)
  • Pantyhose x 2 – Useful for formal business meetings (but not necessary)
  • Socks x 10 (5 long + dark, 5 gym socks – white, 1 liner for flats) – Gym socks = must, didn’t need as many longer socks (depends how often you wear pants/are in the field)
  • Baseball cap – Great for hot sunny days. Bought a second hat while I was there to wear on my commute (different style)
  • 3 purses – Definitely need one bag for work, one small bag for dancing/nights out
  • Shoes x 4 (runners, flip flops, sandals, flats) – Wore them all frequently. Runners = farms/hiking, Flip flops = beach/shower, Sandals = daily (work and nights out), Flats (nights out). Actually bought a second pair of sandals while I was there (to switch it up from day to day)
  • Bathing suit x 2 + towel (XXL – quick dry) – Bathing suit is necessary. Quick dry towel is great for taking up less space in your bag for weekend trips (and drying quickly) – I know it’s expensive, but if you’re a girl (especially with long hair) – splurge for the XXL size!

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Left – Towels and purses. Right – All my clothes (minus undergarments). 

Toiletries

Basically the rule here is bring one of everything (so you don’t have to go out and find things in your first few weeks).  If you’re picky about a certain product (say you have sensitive skin or a particular hair-care need) then bring what you need for the duration of your trip.  If you’re easy and just want simple shampoo and soap, it’s easy to get everything here. Keep in mind basically anything you want is available in Accra, less so in other places.

  • 1 large Full bottle of shampoo and conditioner – Good amount
  • 1 bottle of face wash – Good amount
  • Deoderant x 4 – WAY TOO MUCH (maybe 2?)
  • Soap x 2 – Good amount (bought more when I ran out – they have great shea products here)
  • Lotion (1 large bottle plus purse size) – Good amount (bought more when I ran out – they have great shea products here
  • Toothbrush – One was fine (also brought a foldable travel one)
  • Contacts (and solution/cases) and glasses (with case) – Good to bring both – difficult to find solution here, bring enough contacts for duration
  • Hand wipes (lots) – Good to have in your purse for emergency situations…
  • Kleenex (x4 – purse-sized) – Useful
  • Cold stuff (instant soup, neocitron, Nyquil/buckleys, throat lozenges) – I would recommend bringing whatever you use at home to make you feel better.  Doesn’t take up much space, and worth it when you’re sick and have no one to take care of you.
  • Hand sanitizer x 3 purse-sized bottles – Some people brought lots but I barely used it… prefer the wipes in most cases
  • Toothpaste x 1 – Good amount
  • Brush and comb – Necessary
  • Feminine hygiene products – I brought tampons and pads to last me just in case. You can get both in Accra but not in rural areas… I would recommend the DivaCup (it’s hard to use at first, but if you can get over the initial weirdness it’s totally worth it in areas where your only bathroom might be a field or a trough – even regular bathrooms rarely have garbage cans…)
  • Makeup – Bring what you use at home…
  • Jewelry – Bring what you use at home… Not CRAZY expensive (but they love colour)
  • Hair gunk – Bring what you use at home…
  • Hair elastics/clips/ whatever you use – Super useful – It’s hot and humid, you will get sweaty and want to put your hair up.
  • Lip gloss x tons – Because that’s just how I roll…
  • Basic drugs (advil/tylenol, cipro – antibiotics, any vitamins you take, pepto bismol, gravol, tums, immodium, birth control, etc.) – Useful (better safe than sorry)
  • Malaria medication – Bring enough for your trip
  • First aid kit (bandaids, thermometer, polysporin, etc.) – Can come in handy (better safe than sorry)
  • Bug spray x 2 (and after-bite) – Used this most nights when out (even had a tiny bag in my purse at all times for this reason – it gets dark early)
  • Sun tan lotion x 2 (and after-sun/aloe vera) – Rarely wore this (except at the beach), but did wear a special one on my face daily (and used a foundation with spf for makeup days)
  • Nail stuff (polish, file, clippers, etc.) – Clippers are a must.  The rest bring if you use at home (girls will likely wear sandals daily, so if you wear polish at home in the summer, you will here too likely).
  • Buy malaria treatment and test kit when you arrive in Ghana – cheap and better to have it then try to find a pharmacy in the middle of the night when you’re panicking)
  • List of possible diseases and their symptoms/treatments – Everyone goes a little crazy when they start feeling sick… you’ll forget everything you learned from the travel doctor

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Left – odds and ends. Right – Toiletries, undergarments and shoes.

Other

  • OBVIOUS TRAVEL STUFF – PASSPORT, YELLOW FEVER CARD, TRAVEL INSURANCE, TICKETS, MONEY,ETC.
  • Motorycle helmet – Never used it!
  • Mosquito Net – Used it in my house (make sure to attach it well or it will fall on you in the night – no fun!)
  • Small teddy bear – ‘Cuz I’m sentimental like that… 
  • Travel Pillow – Useful for long buses… (included a pair of socks, ear plugs – SUPER USEFUL, and sleep mask – USEFUL if you’re not a morning person)
  • 1 large packpack (about 65L), 1 small daypack (about 15L), 1 duffle bag – All necessary… I used the daypack for taking to work (would have preferred a slightly larger one, but I had a small computer). Large backpack only for moving (I would have preferred a proper rolly suitcase honestly… I never moved without a taxi). Duffle bag was great for overnight or week-long trips to other parts of the country.
  • Pencil case (pens, markets, pencil crayons, scissors, exacto knife, etc.) + small sketching pad – Good for me (but bring whatever you need for your own hobby)
  • 1 large notebook + 1 small notebook – Good for meetings… bring one that fits in your everyday bag for impromptu work meetings
  • 2 folders (with notes about arriving, tickets, foundation learning, facts about Ghana, etc.) – Useful (helped keep my papers organized)
  • Umbrella – Heavy rains during the summer – could use umbrella or rain coat. Even if it looks nice in the morning, it might rain in the afternoon.  But you can buy stuff there too…
  • A couple books + magazines – Always good for a plane/bus.  Can trade books with other expats.  Lots of used book sellers on the streets (but mostly religious texts in my area…)
  • Sunglasses – I rarely wear these at home, but if you wear them at home then bring them
  • Swiss army knife – Mostly used the bottle opener… but could be useful for emergency knife/scissors
  • Ziploc bags – Super useful! Great for packing toiletries… Can buy them in supermarkets here
  • Snacks from home… – For when you’re sick and feeling crappy (or not adjusting well to food in the first few weeks – i.e. granola bars, Kraft dinner, crackers, nuts, etc.)
  • Gifts from Canada/Pictures of life in Canada – Unnecessary (thought I did bring some blank thank you/note cards that were nice at the end).  Pictures are totally pointless (use the internet to google things back home if you need to show people), but pictures of friends/family to put in your room can be nice.
  • Sewing kit – Useful (but tailors can also fix anything you need and are cheap and readily available…)
  • Water bottle – Super useful, carried in my purse every day. Water comes in 500ml bags (sachets) you rip open with your teeth and suck the water out. So unless you want to drink your water all at once it’s better to have a container to dump your sachets in.

Wow, lots of stuff I guess!  Honestly, I used most of what I brought.  You’re going to get bored of your clothes no matter what, so be prepared.  If you’re preparing for your own voyage then I wish you luck and safe travels!

P.S. If you’re a traveler headed to Accra (or anywhere in the region) feel free to ask about anything I may have forgotten to include.  I’m more than happy to give advice to fellow travelers, even if I’ve never met you and it’s 5 years later. :)

Leaving Ghana… Bittersweet

I have many draft posts that I meant to put on my blog but never finished.  So here’s one I wrote before leaving Ghana, let’s see how true I still think it is.  I wrote the top 5 things I’ll miss and won’t miss about each country (Canada and Ghana)… So, what’s it really like once I’m back?

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Things I’ll Miss About Ghana

  • Beautiful beaches
  • Dancing (Salsa every Wednesday night at Afrikiko has become my ritual)
  • New friends (including the boys at MBC – shout out to Kombate, Bernard, and Mike)
  • Exploring parts of a new country
  • Being able to wear summer clothes every day (and never pack a sweater! – even though my neurotic planning brain says “bring one – ya never know”)

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Things I Won’t Miss About Ghana

  • Bad roads
  • Burning plastic smell
  • Inefficiency
  • Feeling like an outsider
  • Constant sweating…

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Things I Missed From Canada

  • Food (Bagels, Nachos, Iced tea, Reese’s peanut butter cups)
  • Snuggling under a blanket when it’s cold
  • Laundry machine (I’m awful at doing it by hand!)
  • Having restaurants readily available everywhere (not only super expensive one in the white part of town)
  • And, of course, Steve! (And my family and friends)

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Things I’m Not Looking Forward to in Canada

  • Really cold winter days
  • Early sunsets (though the sunset always feels to early here for the warm weather – about 6:30 all year round)
  • Packing again to bring it all back
  • Trying to answer the question. .. “So, how was Africa?” with something beginning to resemble all the complexities of how I really feel
  • Having to grow up and get a real job..

So far I’ve been back for almost 3 months, and just writing that blows my mind.  It feels like it’s been a few weeks, and it also feels like it all happened years ago – if you know what I mean.  Some things have been harder than I expected, while others have been easier.

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I miss Ghana, but mostly just my life there in general. It was pretty laid back and easy.  I guess my life here is easy also, but I can’t let myself relax when I don’t have a new job yet… In Ghana you have to relax, especially when there’s no power.  There’s not much you can do to be productive even if you wanted to, so you learn to go with the flow (which I’ve had a hard time retaining since returning).

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However, I really am a Canadian… and even though we all complain about the cold and the snow, I’ve really sucked it up this year!  Steve and I have gone skating on the canal and at city hall at least 5 times (plus ice sculptures and beaver tails of course!).  I really love skinny jeans and scarves and layers… so no prob!  Plus, I’ve been having lots of fun days, baking with my friend Jenna, and just chilling at home playing games with Steve.  It’s so great to be back with people who know me well… and going to the gym with my mom twice a week is really great bonding time!

Overall, I’m doing alright.  I haven’t found reverse culture shock to be as big of a deal as others have.  I have a feeling that it’s because I was in the capital city, where things are a lot more similar to Ottawa than the rural areas would be.  Most people mentioned winter being difficult, but winter is difficult every year so that’s just a given.  Finding work sucks, but that’s not really new…

I guess I’m ready for a new adventure!

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