Things they don’t tell you about going to Ghana:

+ The Sahara Desert is bigger than you can possibly imagine and will take several hours to fly over, moving north to south. There are landforms down there that you don’t even know how to describe, and if they’re that dramatic from 34,000 feet… Unsurprisingly, you will resolve to go to North Africa at some point in the indeterminate future.

+ Everything you eat will be delicious in spite of somewhat questionable appearances. That reddish slurry? Smoky hot pepper sauce. Unidentified meat product? Spicy and fantastic regardless of what animal it came from. Bowl of unknown fruit chunks, some of it white and some dark pink? Pineapple and papaya grown just down the road, which taste like nothing you’ve ever had in the States and which will make you want to cry over how good it is. You will eat massive quantities of jollof rice at every meal and suspect that you could eat nothing else for the rest of your life and be perfectly content.

+ It will take the toilet tank 45 minutes to refill. The shower, when it works, will have such low pressure that it can’t come through the hose and you will have to crouch with your head under the tap to try and wash the sweat out of your hair. You will realize that it’s one thing to read about water scarcity and quite another to experience it firsthand.

+ It’s not heat-induced delirium: there actually are thousands upon thousands of giant fruit bats in the trees out the window. Those other hanging things? Weaver bird nests. Your companions will find your tendency to flip out over zoological matters extremely entertaining.

+ There are few things funnier than watching a busload of Americans purchase coconuts from one very happy roadside vendor and then have absolutely no idea what to do with them.

+ Markets are not for those averse to confined spaces, verbal sparring, or being touched by strangers. You will be able to cope relatively well, all things considered, and get a couple of very good deals until the end, when the heat and people physically trying to haul you into their shops will very suddenly become way, way too much. Resist the urge to bolt, screaming, for the exit. Your heart rate will drop eventually, I promise. It may take an hour or two.

+ If you are a somewhat androgynous kid with short hair, you will be consistently read as male. This will be unexpectedly useful when negotiating prices, because if you manage to keep your voice at the lower end of its register the male shopkeepers will tend to take you more seriously, although they’ll keep asking jovially why you don’t have a girlfriend or wife back home yet. It will not be useful when you startle two women in the airport bathroom and will lead to exceptionally awkward apologies from all parties involved.

+ You may somehow wind up purchasing rather more fabric than you’d intended. 12 yards of it, in fact. It was lightweight and repeatedly folded, so you had no idea, but you quickly realize you’ve got enough to wallpaper a dining hall if you wanted. Hope you like orange and blue batik: you’re gonna be seeing a lot of it for a while.

+ You will realize, a few days after the fact, that you have just traveled to Africa, and that nothing, aside from funding, is preventing you from going back. Money is obviously the limiting factor in this situation, but it will occur to you that you had this list of places you would probably never go set up in your head, which had previously written off this entire continent for no real reason. You’ll be doing some re-evaluation of that list in the near future, you think.