On the horns of a dilemma: planning my final 2 months

I may not always be able to decide what I want to eat for dinner, but I have always prided myself on being able to make a logical plan, no matter how many little things there are to consider.

But I’m really not sure what happened to my brain upon entering Ghana. Because now that I’m back in Burkina, I’m faced with the consequences of my lack of foresight.

First of all, I purposely bought a 90-day multi-entry visa so that I could re-enter and explore some more after Ghana. But then I just forgot that completely and stayed in Ghana the whole time (I even extended my Ghana visa to stay longer!) I know that I was lucky to get my Ghana visa in the first place, so it’s for good reason that I stayed – I had suuuuch a great time reconnecting with my friends, and making new ones, so it was definitely time well spent.

But now I’m here, I only have 5 days left, and I need to get myself back into gear. From what I read on the internet (oh, Wiki, how you fail me sometimes), it should be easy, and maybe even free, to extend the visa I have. In Ghana, it was easy. You may have to tolerate an inquisition by the most rude individuals in the country in order to get it (you’d think they don’t actually want tourists, based on the kinds of displeased questions I received), but after that it’s just one application, one week, and 50 cedis (less than $25) per month of extension.

But here, I’m now told it’s 62,000CFA (almost $140!), for a brand new 90 day multi-entry visa, which is my only option if I want to visit Mali again (which I do). No extensions, just new visas. But when I bought my original one in Mali, it was half the price! Why Burkina, why?!

So now I’m thinking I might as well just head to Bamako now, hang out for a few weeks, save myself $70, and come back later.

It’s not exactly what I had in mind; I’m a bit tired actually from just getting here (not to mention the fact that I really, really like it!) But, I’m not about the pay double the price for something that I know I can get for less in a place I plan on going to anyways! It’s the principle of it.

One thing you may be actually be wondering is why I’m so determined to come back here? I mean, so far it’s pretty great. Ghana will always have a special place in my heart, so I won’t pick a favourite (out loud), but the people here are just so friendly. Yes, I get Toubabu-ed, but not as much. And most of the time I am greeted in such a pleasant way (without the skin colour reference) that I can’t help but have a better demeanour. Maybe it’s the French language masking their true intentions, but I just feel more comfortable talking to guys here (because, as is the case with everywhere else, there are very few girls asking for my number 😉 ).

But the real reason I’m so set on coming back to Burkina is that I just booked a flight outta here! It was cheaper than Bamako, and allowed me to have a 10-day layover in Morocco!!! Couscous, the hammam, and lying on the beach. All an added bonus to flying out of Ouagadougou. Thank you, Expedia.

So I need to be back in this country on the 18th of August, no matter what.

But now, back to my failing brain. Another thing I totally neglected to consider in the last couple months was the fact that it is now Ramadan. And I just left a predominantly Christian (and therefore unaffected) region for a predominately (at least moderately) Muslim region, where food is actually surprisingly still available, but much more scarce than usual. And somewhat awkward to eat in public (just from reading the advice of other travellers). And if I go forward with this go-straight-to-Mali plan, then I’ll be heading into an almost entirely Muslim country, where I suspect that I shall be fasting right along with them.

As well, if I had thought this through, I would have not left Ghana on it’s Republic Day, nor would I have left Ghana during the World Cup finals. Don’t get me wrong here, folks, I’m still as completely disinterested as ever, but it was somehow fun to watch them with Poppo every day. And just to be around the general hype of it, which is much easier when you have people to watch with. And even though Ghana didn’t make it into the top 16, they’re still much more invested than the people in Burkina seem to be.

Man, all this thinking is really making my brain hurt.

In Ghana: a recap

So, normally I try to keep my posts contained to a general theme, so they each fit nicely into their little tags and categories.

But, I’ve really been dropping the ball here in Ghana. Slash I’ve been kind of letting things sink in, and they’re only just coming to the surface now.

So I’m gonna make a bit of a compilation post; hope you don’t mind. Because I can’t seem to find a way to give enough life to these things individually, nor does it totally seem justified to do so. So I’m just going to slap them together and call it a day.

Thing #1: why people get sick in Ghana
When I arrived in Ghana, I was baffled. I promptly received a bout of the good old “runny stomach”, and have consistently struggled with it on and off ever since. But why?

Why now, and not anywhere else (except for Marrakech. Everyone gets sick in Marrakech).

Surely, despite Ghana’s now-declining economy, the prosperity (and associated tourism) of the past has imparted some development in the ways of basic hygiene and food preparation. Surely!

So, I’ve been trying to figure out what the difference is; how do I get sick here, but not everywhere else? I’ve been eating street food since Morocco; all of it sits out in the sun, kept both hot but not hot enough, and cool but not cool enough. The dreaded danger zone of FoodSafe 101. Strange mixes of oily, carb-loaded, and sometimes unidentifiable foods, with plenty of the no-no fruits and veggies that are probably dirty or have been washed with “dirty” water. The composition changes, but it’s all basically the same stuff. So, why here?!

And, what’s more is that up until Ghana, I’ve actually been drinking the tap water. Ecologically and economically, I wasn’t going to be buying bottled water for a year. And I shocked a good number of people: “you must have an African stomach!” And I thought I did. Until now.

Then I had a realization. I am certainly not an expert, and I’m completely open to other opinions, but it recently dawned on me that the biggest difference is not the water, the meat, or the palm oil, the fufu, or the rice. I think it has something to do with the Islamic culture. Or rather, the lack of it.

Because with Islam, you wash before you pray, every couple of hours. Street vendors, shop keepers, everyone. Right here on the sidewalk is just fine. Grab your plastic tea-kettle-shaped-watering-can-thing, wash up, and off you go. 5 times a day. And I suspect that that is 5 times more often than the non-Muslims down here. And I think this might actually be the key.

Thing #2: the enjoyment you will get from the “things to do” given by a guidebook will vary greatly based on the amount of time you’ve spent in the country.
You know, some places just don’t have a lot of attractions. And that’s fine, I’m not here for waterfalls. But if you’re gonna put it in the guidebook, it sure as hell had better be worth it. Or at least be honest about the fact that it might not be, so I can decide if it’s really worth several hours in multiple scorching hot tros (mini buses) to get there.

I think these books must be desperate for material or something, because everything sounds great, and nothing sounds far, but it’s all a little underwhelming.

Though I think when you’re here for 6 months, maybe you’re interested in the muddy, buggy, trashy Kintampo falls. Or (from what I remember to be) a fairly boring, though swimmable, Lake Bosumtwi. Just to break things up a little.

But when you’re on a 3-week whirlwind tour, like my friend Alana was, it’s a bit out of the way, and is really more of something to do rather than something that must be seen. You’ll likely get more value out of people-watching in the city, meeting people and making friends.

Related to this is thing #3: The World Cup.
I imagine most people have at least heard of this thing, and probably know it’s happening right now. But if you’re like me, you’ve only just figured out what sport they’re even playing, and can only feign the slightest bit of interest in the games, and most certainly are not wiling to stay up all hours of the night to watch them.

But, unlike my friends at home, I’m actually surrounded by people who are intensely, fanatically obsessed with the game. Like everything just seems to stop for it. Its like playoff season, but it’s happening everyday. So on one hand I can’t wait for it to be over, so I can have my friends and social life back, but on the other hand I feel like I should probably try to muster some enthusiasm and try to participate. Letting it slide by seems like something akin to sacrilege. Though you’ll probably still need to remind me when the game is over – I often miss that part.

Because even if I’m not actually watching the game, it’s at least a pretty entertaining spectacle to watch. I was explaining to my friend Emily tonight where I was watching tonight’s Mexico-Portugal match; a “spot”, as they’re called here. It’s like a cross between a patio and beer garden. Sort of contained, sort of not. There’s a central place for buying liquor (the only part that’s legitimately contained), but decorated with garland and blinking, gaudy, Christmas lights. There are guys spilling off the patio and down the stairs, nearly onto the street, tucked in whenever they can find a spot. Kids are peppered throughout the crowd, and like to have a dance party while they watch (I don’t know how they know how to dance like that already.) The game commentary isn’t important; even if it’s in English, it’s overrode by the music and the hum of the generators in the background, which are providing the power to watch the game itself, as the neighbourhood has “lights off” tonight.

And man do they get into these games! So if nothing else, it definitely is pretty entertaining just to watch.

But don’t expect me to be sporting any jerseys.

Then, we have thing #4: I have been totally slacking on taking pictures.
I mean, my friends and I don’t look so much different. But I still like seeing the photos of the times I’ve been here before. So why do I think I won’t want to see these ones this time?

I haven’t taken any shots with my own camera of me and Poppo, his family, Romeo, or any of the great friends I’ve met this time around. I didn’t even get anything at the sweet akpeteshi bar Romeo took us to – we were drinking Ghanaian moonshine (purchased by the glass-coke-bottle-full) out of awesome raw-bamboo cups. It was so photo worthy.

But I’ve got this silly “been there, done that” kind of mentality, which has me feeling like I don’t need to take any pictures. And maybe it’s part that, but also part “I’m not a tourist” that’s getting in the way. So often I just leave my phone at home (which is also part survival-tactic), but I need to switch gears and start snapping!

Last, but not least… thing #5: I’m coming home.
A part of me is disappointed that I won’t be lasting a full year, but most of me knows that an extra two months wouldn’t make any difference to the value of this trip. I’ve learned a lot of what I came to learn; I’m not gaining as much these days as I was in the beginning. And the challenges aren’t changing; I continue to face the same sort of obstacles.

Or maybe that’s just the comfort of Ghana talking… That could very well change once I head back out into unfamiliar francophone territory.

But either way, by the end of the summer, I’ll be home.

*here’s the story: before I left, I booked a return ticket (London to Vancouver) for August 30 – the latest date I could book for at that time. This meant I just had to make my way back to London to fly home, and if I decided I wanted to stay longer (which it was certain I would do), I could just pay the fee and bump it.

But then my very good friend Danielle went and got engaged (how dare she!) and set the destination wedding date (the destination is not in Africa, unfortunately) for November of this year. So then I had a deadline and thought I would change the flight to be home in time for that, but now, with my dwindling funds (and growing homesickness), my original flight has started looking pretty good.

If I take this flight, I won’t come home in debt. If I go much longer… perhaps not so much.

This gives me 2.5 more months until I come home. It feels really soon, but also like I’ve been away for a long time, and I’ll be happy to return.

Because I’m starting to miss some things.

Like I miss my bed. Oh, god, I miss my bed. (If anyone reading has ever slept in said bed, they will know exactly what I’m talking about – I don’t know how I ever got up in the mornings!)

I also regularly crave dishes from a handful of my favourite Vancouver restaurants (Bandidas, Dharma Kitchen, Noodle Box [ok maybe that’s more of a Victoria thing, but also Vancouver, and I think I read coming to Nanaimo?!], Kyo [sushi… TOFU!!! Mmmm..], Foundation, East is East… to name a few.

Obviously I miss my dad. Every day, I’m thankful for his ongoing love, support, and willingness to drop everything to have long and rambling conversations about nothing much in particular.

Miss lots of friends too, and will be so excited to snuggle them all when I get back. Please expect several days each of having me live on your couch, floor, in your bathtub, etc., while we reconnect. I will have no money, but low standards of entertainment! 🙂

I miss my hoops, playing guitar, and the CBC…

But anyways, back to here and now. I’ve got a little under 11 weeks left at my disposal. What to do, where to go? Go slow and enjoy, or hustle through and check out more countries? Backtrack to places I’ve been, or continue to unknowns?

But I do still need to find the connecting flight from wherever I end up, and some places are cheaper than others. I’m so accustomed now to having freedom and flexibility to move about as I like; I’m afraid that I’ll pick a final destination and not like it once I get there! Or will find somewhere awesome and not want to keep going.

Part of me wants to leave it and book later when I have a better idea of where I want to go, but it’s also peak travel season and I feel like I might get stuck if I don’t book now…