When you're going to be working in a country you don't know well, most journalists will hire what we call a fixer. I don't know how the term came about but I assume it's because they make stuff happen.
They are always locals who know the country and speak the language, and usually have some understanding of what's newsy so they can help. They do everything from use their contacts to find out how to reach sources to help you get a local sim card so you can do your job more smoothly.
I've had great luck with the fixers I've had on this trip.
Joachim, in Tanzania, does a lot of work with Farm Radio International and happened to be working with a colleague of mine from CBC News who was in Tanzania at the same time as me. Joachim is a young guy with big plans. I was told Tanzanians always have two or three jobs on the go, and he's an excellent example of that: he fixes electronics, as well as fixing for journalists, and he teaches Swahili. That was an excellent way to pass the time on our four-hour drive to an interview.
Marc, in Haiti, reminds me of one of my uncles - a tall, lean photographer with a hint of a smoker's growl to his voice. He was born in Haiti but spent years in America, so he knows a lot about his country, as well as having a sense of what I want to understand better about it. He also seems to know at least every third person we run into, whether it's at the Canadian embassy or out and about in the area around Port-au-Prince, and he's been a field producer on a number of documentaries and news stories so he's got deep knowledge about weirdly specific stuff.
Both Joachim and Marc have translated interviews for me, found me decent hotels outside of major cities and taken care of whatever snags come up (which has, of course, so far included negotiating with immigration officials.) Both have saved me money by knowing what to ask for and how to ask it. I really wish I could have a fixer for every-day life (I suspect in politics that person is known as a chief of staff).
A few people have asked how you find a fixer. I had no idea until this trip, but the Travers Fellowship website has a good article about it by the Toronto Star's Michelle Shephard (who has far more experience reporting outside Canada than I do, in that I had none until now and she is a superstar). I simply asked other journalists and they connected me with Joachim and Marc. And I'm happy to pay it forward: these guys are great, so get in touch if ever you need someone like them.