Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leaving one's comfort zone

So, as you'd expect, there were a few things in Ghana that one had to "get used to". It's quite a test of the old mettle (or is that metal?) when faced with some of then. Here's how I did.

- lizards everywhere? Not a problem. They are actually quite sweet and scamper away as soon as they get wind of you. The fact that decades ago, one fell on my face whilst in bed in Greece, (me, not the lizard) doesn't seem to have caused lasting damage.

- the food? Hmmm. Not quite sure how I measure up here. While I ate everything that was given to me, Ghanaians seem to eat a lot of starch. We had toast and egg every day for breakfast, rice and spice for lunch and another kind of rice for dinner.  By day four (when I hadn't had a bowel movement), my stomach started playing up at the sight of another rice dish. I even ordered egg and chips one night just to mix it up a little. Ironically, although I'd taken every diarrhea pill known to man, along with re-hydration sachets and an anti-biotic (should it go on for more than three days), I had the exact opposite problem. (But I didn't complain, which I think, is a good sign.)

- toilets? OK, I admit to a little westerner-horror here. Yes, I was able to use flushing toilets wherever I was, which I know is a big deal in a lot of remote African areas, but the fact that your toilet paper has to go in a plastic bag instead of down the loo, and the plastic bag usually contains previously used paper, made me retch more than once. Having said that, it's a lot better than when I first went to Greece in the early 80's and the paper went in a small bin next to the loo. Except that most of the time it ended up all over the floor! Eeuuwww.

- market bartering. Ahhhh - I came into my own on this one. I had bragged to my hosts that I was quite a good barterer, and they gave each other that knowing, "oh, she's in for a surprise" look, but I got every price I wanted. Trick is to state your price then walk away. After all, the next stall was selling exactly the same thing. Lest you think I was gouging the poor traders, I had been advised at one particular market, to start by halving the price, and they would still make a good profit. Most of the time I didn't budge from that price. It helps when a larger group of tourists comes in behind you. The stall holder is so keen to get their business, they just bundle your goods into a bag and take whatever you proffer.

- being scammed. Didn't happen. OK, it almost did but I held my ground and they caved. At our hotel, I was quite often given my restaurant change as a paper IOU. I know. Most of the time no one ever brought it up the following morning, so I had to deduct it from my bill the next night. On my second last day I was informed that I'd only paid for 6 nights (instead of 7), which I knew wasn't true. I'd had to pay cash up front, had counted it out with the check-in guy and had asked for a receipt. Unfortunately, it was very dark in the reception area (one bulb) and very late, so I didn't look at the numbers on the receipt. Turns out check in guy had written down the amount for 6 nights.They smilingly said they wouldn't kick me out and we'd sort it out that night.

Of course, I spent the entire day rehearsing the scene, practising being firm and slightly annoyed, best Maggie Thatcher voice etc. etc. When I walked into reception that night and asked about "the confusion" surrounding my bill, it was suddenly all OK and not a problem.  "Oh", I said, a tad deflated. Much as I hate arguments, I was relishing the chance to shame them and expose them, but they obviously didn't want a fuss made. I should bloody well think so.

So I think I fared quite well on the whole although it's exhausting being faced with new and often dismaying things, on a daily basis.

9 comments:

  1. They still have those bins in Greece!!!!

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  2. They have them here in Korea, too, but - fortunately - not in our apartment building. Otherwise I would have turned right back around and gone home.
    Very impressed at your bargaining skills. I have almost none, and when I do try to use them, immediately and meekly agree to whatever the merchant suggests. Right now I don't understand a word anyone says (even when they're purportedly speaking English) so I'm not doing much more than nodding and smiling like and idiot.
    Sounds like the trip was a success overall!

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  3. I would be no good at bartering, feeling that if the price was fair according to European standards, then I should pay that.

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  4. Greek bins - remember them well and dismayed with comment above that it's not changed. I think it was something to do with the diameter of their waste pipes.

    I'm always bunged up on holiday - like the sound of egg and chips for tea though! I do hope you've 'been' since your return ;-)

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  5. Oh yes, i remember the whole bin next to the loo in greece thing - i couldn't handle it, and would put the paper down the loo anyway

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  6. Ah yes teh scam, one always had to be on the look out for that, it's exhausting! But they are all so very friendly I used to feel such a cad when I brought them up sharp!

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  7. Everywhere in South America has that loo/bin situation....having travelled there a few years ago, I can tell you it really puts you off public toilets, and even those in restaurants.....

    Well done you for bartering though. The whole experience sounds fascinating.

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  8. The toilets seem far from ideal & I know that I had the same kind of thing with open bins containing used toilet paper in many aEuropean country that I have stayed in.
    Hope you have managed to unbung the back up of rice meals!!!!!
    Bet you will always eat your greens when you get home.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

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  9. Sounds like you did very well.

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