I had an amazing time traveling in Ghana with my brother, Tyler, and his girlfriend,
Amelia. A beautiful country of dignified, welcoming people, Ghana is considered one of
the safest African countries to visit. However, traveling in any developing country can
really test your patience, as many amenities we take for granted, like running water in
public restrooms, are scarce. High heat, traffic jams, unpaved roads and a multitude of
unforeseen circumstances taught me to predict the unpredictable in Ghana.
Our second week took us on a 7 day road trip, seeing many fascinating sights and
hiking the rainforest. In the drier northern areas, the air was filled with a fine, reddish
dust, creating a dreamlike, surreal quality. Along the way, we often passed very crowded
public “trotros”: rusty, hot vans filled to over-capacity with passengers; their belongings
stuffed in the back and secured within broken doors with bungee cords. As we
comfortably cruised in our huge, air conditioned bus, I thought “Thank goodness we
don’t have to travel in one of those!”. (wrong assumption, it turned out…read on)
On our last day in Ghana, Amelia and I needed to leave Tyler, our guide and group
behind to return to the capitol city, Accra, for a flight home that evening. The proprietor
of the restaurant where we ate breakfast assured us that he’d take us to a taxi stand
and personally put us on a trustworthy private taxi for the 90-minute ride to Accra. A few
minutes later, however, we found ourselves standing on the roadside,being quickly
ushered into a crowded trotro (while still insisting we wanted a taxi, NOT a bus) and
starting a rather scary adventure.
The well-dressed African people, showing no visible notice of the two “Obruni” (white
women), who suddenly joined them, were serene and quiet as our trotro bumped and
rocked side to side on the dusty and rut-filled road. All of our belongings, including
passports and money, were in the back and secured with rope, causing me a jolt of
stress when we went over a particularly deep rut. “Please let us arrive in Accra with our
luggage intact”, I prayed. I nervously glanced at Amelia, sitting in the back seat. You
see, neither of us had any idea at this point where we were or where we were heading,
as road signs are nearly non-existent in Ghana.
“Does this bus go to Accra? “ I asked the passengers and either got a silent nod or no
response. Often, the bus pulled off the side of the road and people quietly came on and
off. They seemed to appear from nowhere, as all we could see was dense jungle.
After what seemed like an eternity, the bus suddenly turned down a remote road and
entered a crowded, noisy, chaotic outdoor market. We were definitely NOT in Accra.
Swarms of people and stalled buses in front and in back of us meant we were stuck.
Finally, some men helped us with our luggage, leading us through the crowded market
to another trotro. The warnings we received on our first day in Ghana about thievery in
the marketplaces came rushing to mind, as I realized we could get robbed. This, plus
having a flight to catch made my heart race. We had no choice but to wait and hope that
this was the trotro that would deliver us to Accra.Ghana Trip Article February 2013
Long story short, we did finally make it safely to our destination, The Golden Tulip Hotel
in Accra, albeit very tired, hot, dirty and disoriented. My interest in telling this story lies
in the mental process I observed in myself during this adventure that may be useful to
you the next time you’re in a stressful situation.
First of all, most humans have a strong need to be in control and therefore feel anxiety
in times of uncertainty, triggering the fight or flight response. Telling myself that it was
normal and acceptable to feel this way calmed me. “Accept your feelings. They are
reasonable, given the circumstances”, I told myself. If allowed, my emotions could
escalate quickly, which wouldn’t serve me or allow me to act rationally. Luckily, Amelia
is of calm temperament, so that helped a lot as well.
In addition, fear of the unknown adds anxious insecurity by causing us to jump to
negative assumptions and worst case scenarios, which is where my mind went next. I
got nervous about my luggage being catapulted onto the road, or missing my flight or
getting my passport and money stolen. Given even the slightest opportunity, the mind
(operating seven times faster than Google!) can unconsciously produce hundreds of
run-on fearful visions. I’ve learned the hard way, however that left unchecked, these
scary visions can multiply in a matter of seconds, triggering emotional, irrational knee-
jerk reactions that could easily sabotage the very safety I am seeking.
Running through our list of options, I came up with only two: 1. accept the situation and
2. try to even enjoy it. One by one, I witnessed my anxious thoughts and answered
them back with a thought that was more relaxing:
“Assume a good outcome, until presented with evidence of the contrary”.
“We are most likely safe and will make it to the airport in plenty of time”
“At least I’m not alone. I have Amelia with me.Together, we can cope with anything that
As my anxiety started to diminish, I was free to see the irony in the situation. One of the
things I REALLY hadn’t want to happen (traveling in a trotro, especially without a guide)
was happening, I realized, which seemed suddenly extremely humorous. Surprising
myself (and Amelia), I burst into laughter. What a relief to laugh, instead of worry and
fret! While waiting for our second bus to take off (hopefully in the direction of Accra and
without knowing when or if this would happen), I heard a tapping on my window and
was surprised to see the driver of our previous bus holding my water bottle! Reaching
for it and thanking him, I realized another irony: The very person whom I thought might
keep us from our destination not only was in control of our safety, but went out of his
way to bring me an inexpensive water bottle. It was suddenly clear that he wouldn’t
have allowed our luggage to be lost or stolen and that we had been safe all along. All of
my negative assumptions and fears were found to be baseless – a very humbling
Stressful events happen: Traffic jams, lost wallets, the flu ; not to mention the biggies
like hurricanes and job loss. Practicing rational thinking during the lesser stresses canGhana Trip Article February 2013
really pay off when the pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you events occur. Stay with the
practice and you will notice how strong and capable you really are. And remember that
assumptions that feel so real and right during stress are quite often wrong, so keep a
level head by challenging them and testing their validity.
By the way, I’m really glad that I experienced some challenges on my trip. Who knows?
Perhaps on my next trip to Ghana, I’ll be voluntarily riding the trotros with calm and
May your travels through life be filled with happy surprises and exciting adventures,