In Ghana, the key to successfully traveling and networking is to get the cell numbers of everyone you meet along the way. In lieu of online schedules and contact info, calling the guy who sells bus tickets is the best way to get a question answered about a departure time, and saving taxi drivers’ number is the only way to coordinate a ride to catch that bus at 4:00am.
However, I have run into a few problems with this strategy. The first is my archaic cell phone, which I bought in India in 2006 and has been my travel companion ever since…now reinforced with slips of paper and some tape to hold my sim card and battery in place. When I am saving names to my contact list, my phone only lets me enter about 10 characters. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if I didn’t need to save dozens of people, each sharing the name Kwame or Kofi…people are given a name based on the day of the week that they are born (Kofi Annan was born in Ghana on a Friday). My solution has been to save contacts descriptively, with “A-W Reg D UER” standing for “Dr. Awoonor-Williams, the Regional Director of Health Services for the Upper East Region” and “Alex Taxi Wa PM” as “the taxi driver who works in Wa and picked me my from the station late at night.”
Because my contact list has gotten fairly large, I mistakenly dialed the number for the wrong regional director of health services, an official who I had been given contact info for though a local hospital official, but had never actually met. Instead of the exchange being awkward, we had a nice conversation, shared a few jokes, and set up a time to meet in the coming week, after I traveled across Ghana to his region. Despite daily frustrations in dealing with communication barriers, experiences like this highlight how accessible the Ghanaian health and government system can be….it just takes a solid network of contacts, a little luck, and a decent cell phone ☺.