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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

It's All Ghana Be Great!

VCWA Tetra Tech representative and Executive Board Member Erica Goldberg’s adventures on a work assignment in Ghana

July 11, 2016

There I was, hanging in mid-air, attached to a system of ropes and pulleys and surrounded by the vast Savannah in the Volta Region in Ghana, West Africa. Rappelling, as I learned it is spelled (contrary to how I had assumed it was spelled ‘Repelling’ as in ‘to back away from’), was something I never thought I would do. Especially not in Ghana, and certainly not as a part of a mountain biking excursion through the Shai Hills Nature reserve with Ghanaian outdoor adventure group Bravehearts Expeditions.

How did I get here?

I work as a Staff Associate with Tetra Tech ARD International Development Services based in Burlington, Vermont. I provide backstopping support on USAID programs in the Deputy Project Manager capacity and was selected for a short-term, two month assignment based in Accra, Ghana to provide administrative and operational assistance on a biodiversity and climate change program.
Similarly to how I spend my time on the weekends in Vermont, I am a firm believer in living weekends to the fullest, taking advantage of where you are and exploring. My assignment in Ghana was no exception to this life philosophy I have of adventuring in order to feel recharged to take on the work week.

Bravehearts Expeditions was one of the groups I joined on a weekend camping and mountain biking trip to the Shai Hills Nature reserve in the Volta Region. My Brave Hearts Expeditions trip leader was Jay Jay Segbefia Dziedzorm, who I learned received a United States African Development Foundation Grant (USADFG) in 2014 for his work with Bravehearts Expeditions. You can learn more about Bravehearts Expeditions, Jay Jay and the USADF Grant by watching this short YoutTube video here.   

We arrived at our campsite at Shai Hills Nature reserve on a Friday evening after dark. Upon arriving, we cooked some cassava around a camp stove, then immediately went to sleep. Upon awaking, we were greeted by dozens of baboons; not at all bothered by our presence and just going about their morning activity of grooming one another other.
After getting a lesson on how to use radio walkie talkies and compasses and testing out our mountain bikes, we were ready to hit the trails. I learned fairly quickly that biking in extreme heat (well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity that makes the air feel like a sauna, that I would only be able to withstand about 20 minutes of Savannah mountain biking before needing to throw my bike to the side of the trail, sit under a tree, and rehydrate with lots of water. Two days of this stopping and starting again biking led me to incredible views of open grasses and shrubs that made me nostalgic for ecological restoration work I had done in Illinois on Prairies growing up. The group would shout out when they saw Antelope and yell ‘Erica, did you see that?!’ I was so focused on maneuvering my bike through the rocky, red clay terrain that the closest I saw to seeing the antelope that the rest of the group saw was just out of my peripheral vision.

When I learned that we were going to rappel on Saturday, I told Jay Jay that I would sit that activity out. He said he understood my choice, but that I may change my mind once I saw the others successfully rappelling. I had already made up my mind that this was something that was not for me, but after all 10 of the other group participants successfully went down the side of a boulder – I ended up taking the plunge too. I figured the odds were in my favor if everyone had already made it down safely. I am so glad I did! The feeling of overcoming what was mainly a mental obstacle made me feel like there was nothing in my path I could not handle. As I’ve trekked through difficult hikes, work tasks, and general life happenings I have tried to keep this wisdom with me.


If anyone travels to Ghana and is up for the challenge, I would highly encourage you to look up Bravehearts Expeditions and join them on one of their excursions!


Blurry Baboon at the Shai Hills Reserve Campsite

Bravehearts Mountain Biking Group

Erica Rappelling

Mountain biking break to hike to the summit of Mount Hioweyo - which used to be an old cave.


Tent set up at campsite

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