To prepare for my trip to Africa I corresponded with experienced travelers from couchsurfing for advice. While I surfed the web for information, I stumbled on pixelatedimage. This is the blog/gallery of humanitarian-photojournalist David duChemin. I sent him a “cold-call” email and he provided me with invaluable information. As an experienced traveler and incredible photographer he’s an inspiration for a wannabe like me. I hope I can live up to the help he has given me.
I also met (via email) the director of a school in the Volta Region. We provided mutual assistance to eachother. He agreed to let me use his information for my visa application and I had loads of surplus boys’ clothes, books and school supplies for his organization(here). This trip was shaping up pretty well.
I had to familiarize myself with not only Ghana, but with the various health concerns that come with traveling to an exotic locale. After getting innoculations for yellow fever and Hep A, and a supply of antimalarial pills (I chose Malarone) I felt bullet-proof. Lonely Planet provided the travel guides and I quickly became a self-taught expert on Ghana and surrounding West Africa. Heck, now you could hand me a blank map of Africa and I’ll fill in all the countries by heart- but I digress.
I went on a shopping spree at my local REI. Lightweight clothing, pretreated with mosquito repellant, special socks, towels, bedlining…everything I could think of without weighing myself down. Besides my tech gear; camera, laptop and iPod, and all kinds of batteries and adapters, I wanted to travel relatively light. The checked bags were filled with donations, so my carry-on and backback were all I had.
During my research of the culture I would be interacting with in Ghana, I exchanged emails with many people. Ex-pats from the US living there, charitable org directors and locals. I saw a deeply touching article in the New York Times about child slavery in Ghana. Besides making me angry, I was compelled to find out more. I sent emails and made some calls. Then I saw a follow-up article a few months later. Eight children were rescued as a result of the efforts of a woman in Missouri. That was amazing. We exchanged emails and I obtained additional info about the children. This article was proof to me there is hope for their future, and this article about their “first” Christmas is very heartfelt.
(My opinion: I’m not a fan though of the frequent use of terms like “former slaves” and “ex-slaves” as descriptions of these kids. Nor do I get any warm fuzzies from,”…and the former little slaves do not even know about the good God they are praying to, but they like Him. They are ready to praise Him, because He seems to be the reason they are sitting there with clean, new clothing and a full plate of food.” I’m just not a proponent of the caveat – “saved your life, filled your belly, now here’s the dogma for desert”.)
Another meeting that had a huge impact on me was meeting Patricia and her brother, Fawaz. It would be an understatement to say with their help I was able to know more about Ghana than most any tourist could. More about that when my story gets there.
Patricia is serving in the Ghanaian Army (just now finishing up a 6 month tour of duty in Liberia as part of the African Union peacekeeping forces). Fawaz is an IT student and became my right-hand-man. I was welcomed like family and besides exploring greater Accra, we traveled to Kumasi, Cape Coast, Aburi Gardens and Kakum National Park.
But this entry is about preparation. As I mentioned, my primary role is being dad. I needed someone to care for my sons while I was gone. My brother in Wisconsin accepted a mostly-expenses paid trip out of the cold and 5 of the 10 days were covered. When he had to leave, I enlisted my 25 yr old stepson and after schedules were copied, school routes set, fridge filled and Power of Atty forms notarized, it was all systems go.
When all was said and done I had…. obtained a visa, all innoculations and documentation, prepared legal docs, made hardcopies and virtual copies, packed light and tight, studied my destination thoroughly, made contingent plans, and then, I let go. This was not going to be a stressful trip that’s for sure.