Today’s Expat Spotlight interview is Gayle Pescud.
Where are you an expat, and where are you from?
I am Australian, currently in Accra and Bolgatanga, Ghana.
How did you become an expat, and why?
I felt compelled by the Asian tsunami to ‘make a difference’ in Indonesia but I realized I didn’t have the expertise to provide meaningful help. I got hooked, however, on the idea of volunteering in a developing country and I stumbled upon Women in Progress in Ghana. It suited my background and expertise—business, writing, research— so I thought, why not? I had no idea about Ghana when I arrived in July ’05 to volunteer.
Best piece of expat advice you’ve received?
My Aunty advised me to keep a handful of toilet paper in my bag at all times. She is more than wise.
Best piece of expat advice you’d give?
Befriend a very good doctor who you can contact if you’re heading to a developing country where you might not have easy access to (helpful) doctors. Also have good travel insurance. Sort out PINs for bank accounts and plastic cards before you leave. Write down and save the international numbers for your home bank/insurance help lines for when you need to call (stolen cards/disaster).
Are you planning or dreaming of a move? Are you going home instead? Where to and why?
I’ve lived in three parts of Ghana with several different languages, not to mention Cambodia and Vietnam, in the last four years. For now I want to enjoy the fruits of having found my feet in the north of Ghana. Having said that, I would travel for something special—books, coffee, fresh parsley, or sushi, for example.
Tell us more about what you do in your location?
I co-authored a full travel guide to Ghana with my partner, Godwin. I advise a fledgling NGO, Young People We Care (www.ypwc.org). I am also a Ghana author for Global Voices which I enjoy. I also write content for others’ blogs and two of my own.
What is the expat community like where you’re at, and would you recommend your location to others?
There is no expat community in Bolga apart from long and short-term volunteers and missionaries. I steer away from the latter, and have yet to meet the former as I’m very busy. I virtually never get homesick so I don’t crave that contact. For me, a large part of the attraction of living in a foreign country is being among people of that country, wherever it is. It was the same in Japan. Others love the company of fellow countrymen or other expats when living abroad. I understand that; it’s easier to relate and it does feel good to offload to someone who inherently ‘gets’ you when life abroad becomes frustrating.
As a safe, inexpensive and laid-back developing country in Africa, Ghana rocks. I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea, though. If you’re looking for glamour or ‘lifestyle’, I may be wrong, but I don’t believe Ghana would cut much mustard.
If you want to know you’re alive, take life at a slower pace, contribute to local development (if you wish), cultivate patience for a fraction of the price of an Ashram, take advantage of almost empty beaches, and still be six hours from London, you could do worse. While not as developed as, say, South Africa, it is exceedingly safer.
Unless you’re in Accra or Kumasi, there are no luxuries like coffee shops, cinemas, or large supermarkets. However internet cafes are improving dramatically everywhere. Water supply and electricity are notoriously unreliable, but you learn to cope.
You have to accept a certain degree of risk and sacrifice; reliable medical services are not always there when you need them, especially outside the cities.
Still, many foreigners have given up the conventional life and moved here to establish businesses, NGOs, or retire. Lebanese form one of the largest expat communities and there are no tensions between Lebanese and Ghanaians. Many urban Nigerians have told me they prefer Ghana’s easy-going vibe and friendliness than Nigeria. The owners of Green Turtle Lodge are a young British couple with a toddler and seem to love it. The owners of Ko-Sa resort are two German couples who gave it all up to take over that delightful grass-roots lodge. The owners of Waterview Heights in Wli, with views of the waterfall, drove here from Germany planning to drive south and retire in South Africa. However, they loved Wli and as the weeks passed they dismissed their South Africa plans and set up home there.
Living here permanently requires marrying or planning to marry a Ghanaian, an employer sponsorship, or investing. Whichever way, it’s a painful process. That’s when those inexpensive patience cultivation classes begin.
Anything you’d like to add?
Yes, a comment a volunteer made when I first came to Ghana in 2005 says it all: ‘Life in the developed world is like living in black and white, but here it’s like living with the color switched on.’
In ‘my other life’ things ran on time and worked. Water flowed from taps, the power never cut and you didn’t need power stabilizers for electric equipment, ever—which seems extraordinary to me now. Here, things do not run on time and they often don’t work but you learn to make the best of it. 4 billion people live without regular electricity or water supply which, therefore, is actually the norm, on a global scale. Having access to reliable electricity and water is the exception, a privilege. It shouldn’t be so, though.
Now, I’m planning to marry a highly unusual Ghanaian man: great cook, challenges the status quo, thoughtful, kind, and cleans. We’re setting up our own NGO with a focus on income generation and environmental renewal. You’ll be able to read more at www.g-lish.org This is definitely not where I expected to be when I left home to ‘volunteer for six months’ in 2005 and I’m eternally grateful for that. I only wish the tsunami didn’t have to happen for me to have found this life.
Thank you, for participating in our Expat Spotlight! We wish you success and happiness in your current location, and wherever your dreams and business endeavors take you.