I received a letter today that indicated it is once more time to fire up the blog. It reads as follows...
Dear Prospective Volunteer: Please give this letter to your family/friends and ask them to hold on to it for as long as you are in Ghana.
Greetings from the Ghana Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to the 2008 Ghana training program. During the past year we have received many requests from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc. As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest they be handled.
1. Irregular Communication. (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps' office in Accra the capital of Ghana). The mail service in Ghana is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service. Thus, it is important to be patient. It can take from three to four weeks for mail coming from Ghana to arrive in the United States via the Ghanaian mail system. From a Volunteer's post, mail might take up to one to two months to reach the United States depending upon how far the Volunteer is from the capital city, Accra. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the States by a traveler and mailed through the U.S. postal system. This leg of the trip can take another several weeks as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the U.S.
We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes for him or her to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he or she missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes--otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office.
Volunteers often enjoy telling their "war" stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is often good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Please do not assume that if your family member got sick that he or she has been unattended. The city of Accra has medical and dental facilities, and there is a Peace Corps Doctor and nurse there as well. Most Volunteers can reach Accra in less than one day's time. Many Volunteers also have access to a telephone (most have cell phones!) so that they can call our Medical Office. In the event of a serious illness the Volunteer is sent to Accra and is cared for by our Medical Unit. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Ghana, he/she will be medically evacuated to South Africa or the United States. Fortunately, such circumstances are very rare.
If for some reason your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for at least one month, you should contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps in Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470. The OSS will then call the Peace Corps Director in Ghana, and ask him to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately, so that the Volunteer can be informed in person by a member of Peace Corps/Ghana staff.
2. Telephone Calls. The telephone system in Ghana has reliable service to the United States. While few Volunteers have access to a telephone (land line) at their sites, more and more Volunteers are choosing to buy cell phones. Some sites have clear cell phone reception and others do not. In any case, most Volunteers have access to a phone (land line or cell) when they travel to a larger town within a few hours from their sites.
When dialing direct to Ghana from the U.S., dial 011 (the international access code) + 233 (the country code) + the number. Volunteers generally set up phone calls with people in the U.S. in advance, and have the distant party call them, which is much less expensive than calling the U.S. from Ghana. You may also choose to call your volunteer on their cellphone, if they decide to buy one in Ghana.
The Ghana Desk in Washington, D.C. usually calls the Peace Corps office in Accra at least once a week. However, these calls are reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages over the phone. If you have an urgent message regarding travel plans, etc., you can call the Desk, and the message will be relayed.
3. Sending Packages. Parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Every package mailed to the PC Accra P.O. box is opened by Ghana postal staff in the presence of a Peace Corps staff member to verify that the contents match what is listed on the (small green) declaration form. For example, it is therefore not appropriate to write "Religious material inside" if there are no religious materials inside.
You may want to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail. Even though most Volunteers eventually get local post office boxes, you may always use the following address to send letters and/or packages to your family member:
John Doe, PCV
P.O. Box 5796
It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently. Packages can be sent via surface mail (2-3 weeks arrival time) or by ship (4-6 months). The difference in cost can be a factor in deciding which method to utilize. For lightweight but important items (e.g. airline tickets), DHL (an express mail service) does operate in Accra, but costs are very expensive. If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to the Country Director, c/o Peace Corps, 26 West Cantonments, Switchback Lane, Accra, Ghana, West Africa. The telephone number for the Peace Corps office in Ghana is (233) 21-775-984, should DHL need this information. If you send the item to the Country Director, no liability can be assumed. For more information about DHL, please call their toll free number, 1-800-CALL-DHL, or visit their web site at www.dhl.com.
Sending airplane tickets and/or cash is not recommended. Certain airlines will allow you to buy a prepaid ticket in the States; they will telex their Accra office to have the ticket ready. Unfortunately, this system is not always reliable. Many airlines (eg., KLM, Air France, Sabena, Ghana Airways) fly into Accra, but each has its own policy on pre-paid tickets. Please call the airline of your choice for more information. You could also send tickets via DHL as mentioned previously. However, Peace Corps will assume no liability in the event of a lost/stolen airline ticket.
Trying to send cash or airline tickets is very risky and is discouraged. Volunteers are meant to live modestly and not accept any additional financial resources to support their service. If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange receipt of it. Volunteers will also be aware of people visiting the States and can request that they call his/her family when they arrive in the States should airline tickets need to be sent back to Ghana.
We understand how frustrating it is to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate your using this information as a guideline. Please feel free to contact us at the Ghana Desk in Washington, DC, if you have further questions. Our phone number is (800) 424-8580, ext. 2326/2325, or locally at (202) 692-2326/2325.
Country Desk Officer
Country Desk Assistant
This is all I can say at this point. I'll try and keep the blog up to date in this, the month leading up to my departure.