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From Dubai to Ghana: thriving in a new place

With our “Santa Fe Around the World” project, we want to give our customers the opportunity to tell us more about their moving experience. Because moving to a new place can be challenging, we wanted to capture our customers’ side of their journey with us. With this series, we will be discovering their expectations, feelings and fears.

Here we present Mariam and Martino’s relocation experience about adapting to new life as they moved from Dubai to Ghana with their two children.

Where did you move from and where to? Adapting to a new culture can be difficult, what were your expectations before moving?

In August 2018, we moved from Dubai (UAE) to Accra (Ghana). Ghana is my 9th country to live in after Bahrain, the US, the UK, Pakistan, Germany, Denmark, Singapore and the UAE. We had prepared ourselves that Ghana would be very, very different. We had made a go-see trip a few months before, which definitely helped to prepare ourselves. Hailing from a developing country myself, I knew from the beginning that expectations would be key. We knew that we had to have the right attitude in order to be able to cope with a hardship posting to West Africa, expecting it to be the polar opposite of Dubai in terms of amenities, availability of goods, quality of life, and so forth. I think we smuggled enough Nespresso capsules into Accra from Dubai, for fear of running out and could open our own little side business here!

After moving, what did you find most difficult to adapt to (food, bureaucracy, medical care etc…)?

The hardest thing to deal with was the ever-visible poverty and inequality and not to slip into acute “expat guilt”, but initially most of our focus was on everything being processed in African time. Things took longer than you would expect, and indications of time frames where always rather fluid. Just getting the customs clearance done for our container took 3 weeks. Indeed, bureaucracy here can be rather stifling at times.

Medical care is also an adjustment, as there are only a few private clinics of an international standard, and luckily, we have a corporate membership with one of those clinics in our neighbourhood, but for most issues we would have to be airlifted to the nearest non-hardship location (South Africa). Food has not been a big adjustment as such. Accra has a lively international restaurant scene, and spicy Ghanaian food fits my South Asian palate rather well. It takes time to find all the ingredients you need though, not because things are not available, but rather because you almost never mange a one stop shop, but have to circle around numerous place and follow word of mouth in terms of ‘what to get where’.

In the end, each time we struggled with bureaucracy or something took longer than expected, we reminded ourselves that we were moving to a country where most people struggle to eat two meals a day. So, if I needed to visit three supermarkets in order to find some Parmesan, that was a nice problem to have.

What do you think are the main differences with your country of origin? What do you miss the most about your country of origin?

Mariam: My country of origin is Pakistan and my husband’s country of origin is Germany, although he is half German/half Italian. Needless to say, Ghana is extremely different from both! There are huge differences in culture, language, role of women and work opportunities but there are also several things that Ghana has in common with Pakistan. As developing countries, both face similar issues (bad roads, lack of infrastructure, poverty, inequality) so I could relate to a lot of different things upon moving to Accra. The lifestyle in terms of having house help and a driver to drive you around is also something similar in both Ghana and Pakistan.

Having not lived in my home country since I was 19, I’m very used to living abroad in different countries. But what I did miss the most was the difficulty in finding certain ingredients I need for Pakistani cooking. I’m still on the lookout for frozen parathas in Accra!

Martino: Contrary to Mariam, I have not grown up in a developing country, but nonetheless have left my country of origin (Germany) 11 years ago, and as a matter of fact have never worked there at all. My professional career has been globally mobile, with frequent adjustments to a new country and (working) culture every few years. From that perspective, Ghana is just another new adventure. While many of the things to deal with here are perhaps of a new nature for me (such as frequent power cuts) I try to approach it with a sense of adventure and ‘it’s part of the deal’. There are so many positive things about living here, and I have decided to embrace all aspects of it. Your day will never go 100% but that is not a bad thing, you learn to relax, become adaptable and resilient and ‘go with the flow’, and ironically that is making me a more relaxed person. When you live outside of Germany and move to West Africa, you lose all that focus on order, punctuality and reliability because if you cling on to those ideals, you would be constantly frustrated or upset about something or the other. There is a different rhythm to life here, one can enjoy.

To what degree has language influenced the way you integrate with locals?

Mariam: As a former British colony, Ghana is an English-speaking country, so luckily, we were able to hit the ground running.

However, Ghana is a very rich, multilingual society where several local languages can be heard on the streets: Twi, Ga, Ewe, Fante amongst others. It is also surrounded by Franco-phone countries, so French is taught in schools too.

We have learnt some key phrases in Twi such as hello, how are you, thank you etc. I also bought an English-Twi dictionary and carry it around with me just in case. Both our kids are also learning songs in the local languages and are singing and drumming West African tunes constantly.

Most people in Accra speak very good English and we are able to communicate with them in English and be a part of celebrations, local events and get together. So overall, compared to many of our previous expat postings where we struggled to learn the local language and interact with people, Ghana has been easier to adapt to.

What did you learn from this experience?

Mariam: I’m of the firm belief that any friend you make during your time abroad – whether local or an expat – is valuable, so we consciously interact with both here in our local community in Accra.

What I’m finding particularly useful and interesting is learning about the local Ghanaian culture, norms and practices. Sometimes this learning is happening through our Ghanaian housekeeper who will introduce us to the local food and how it’s cooked and where to source particular ingredients from. She has helped us try fufu, groundnut soup, banku and many other local specialities. I think when you live abroad, its best to sponge up as much as possible about the place you are living in.

To read more from Mariam and Martino’s relocation journey:

Moving to Africa: A life changing experience

Moving to Africa: the experience with children


Moving abroad?

If you’re thinking of moving home and would like to find out how Santa Fe Relocation can help, get in touch with a member of our friendly team on 020 8961 4141, today

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