I’m Ghana Tell You a Little Story…
I’ve been back to Africa too many times to count since that first trip, and to some wild, wild places – like Somalia, Central African Republic, South Sudan and dozens more. So coming back to Ghana–definitely one of the “tamer” countries in Africa–wasn’t anything too adventurous. In fact, after posting up this time in such underdeveloped nations as Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, it was actually a treat to return to one of Africa‘s more developed regions. While it’s nice to be somewhere so “in the middle of nowhere” and downright antiquated, like Bissau for a while – as a spoiled American, I can only tolerate dirt roads, bad internet and limited food choices for so long before I start to get a little antsy. The welcoming sight of smooth highways and high-rise buildings that a city like Accra or Dakar (Senegal) offers, is always something that gives me kind of a little sigh of relief after being “away” from city life for some time.
In December (2020) and January (2021), I’d have two layovers in Ghana. I wasn’t expecting much besides some chill time at the airport hotel, but life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, right? I’d end up meeting a really great new friend in Accra–before even leaving the airport–that would make my time memorable there.
I’ll be brief on this serendipitous tale of meeting the right person at the right time, but it’s worth telling. Part of traveling the world, besides the things you see, are the people you meet. It’s part of the experience, and something that you can’t read about in a guidebook–and doesn’t always happen–It’s usually pure chance.
The Natives are Restless
It all started when I arrived at the airport in Accra from Sierra Leone. It was past 9PM and the arrival gate was an absolute zoo. Multiple flights had arrived at once and every single, solitary passenger was required to take a Corona test right there at the airport. This entire ordeal would be a lengthy three- or four-step process and the airport was not equipped to handle this many people at once. What shortly ensued was a combination of unorganized lines and ever-moving stanchions, with airport employees doing the best they could to file folks into the right line. It was like herding cats. It didn’t take long for passengers to not follow directions while one poor lady (employee) single-handedly tried to corral different groups into different lines. The whole “six-feet apart” rule combusted in a matter of seconds, and soon you had 600 sweaty and tired passengers smashed elbow-to-elbow, most of them completely ignoring the directions given by the one lone airport official.
A stoutly lately in a green dress, on arrival from Cotê D’voire, began yelling at the employee, refusing to take the test because she already took one in Abidjan. I understood her frustration at having to take a second test, but I’d studied the rules of entering Ghana, and you indeed had no choice. Everybody was taking a test on arrival, no matter what. The airport officer moved a stanchion to let some specific people filter into a newly opened line, but her attempt was futile: You’d have better luck at an orderly movement of a mob of midnight madness shoppers entering Wal-Mart for $19 TVs. One man hollered with disdain to the employee, pointing out that he’d been waiting for hours, while the passengers of a flight that just arrived were now getting moved ahead of him. Chaos ensued. It was a “running of the bulls,” but with humans, as the people broke loose from their assigned “corrals” to fill up the newly opened queues. I did not participate. I was the lone passenger who just stood still there, following the instructions to stay put, while the masses rushed passed me like a giant school of fish late for class. I just sat back and attempted an empathetic smile (behind my mask) to the poor worker that finally just shrugged her shoulders and sighed. We both realized there was no containing this crowd.
I too, under any other circumstance would have probably been just another angry passenger – but I was still on high from having escaped Sierra Leone. Just hours earlier, I was being denied entry into the Freetown airport for not having the right “test.” Just standing in Ghana at this moment was an absolute miracle, so you wouldn’t have seen me frustrated even if I’d ended up having to sleep in that damn airport – I was just so lucky to be in Ghana at all!
What happened next was something for the books. Perhaps it was my devastatingly good looks and charm, but more likely, a bit of karma quickly returned for being a patient passenger amongst the heathens. What was about to happen even had me bewildered and befuddled as to how a guy can get so lucky…
It happened so fast, and I’m not even sure how – but somewhere during my stop at the second “station” to fill out a health and travel questionnaire, one of the young ladies on duty dropped a quick “flirt” with me – something along the lines of, “I want to travel with you,” after seeing my long list of recent destinations on my form. I don’t even remember my reply, but before you know it, she was slipping me her phone number, folded up inside a tiny piece of paper. I felt good walking down the airport corridor, my ego slightly inflated. “I still got it!,” I joked inside my head. I honestly couldn’t believe any female would want to get to know me in this condition: borderline filthy, with mud on my shoes, dirt on my calves, disheveled everything, and sporting a shirt I’ve had on for three days that must’ve smelled like sour milk. “Who in their right mind would…?” I shook it off as a nice moment, and who knows, maybe I’d call this young lady tomorrow.
The good karma suddenly doubled down, as I was in the next line of hundreds and felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Give me your passport,” said the lady who had given me her number. “Follow me.”
Either I was about to be given the V.I.P. treatment or I was being hauled off to jail because they found the drugs (JOKE!) But I didn’t want to assume anything until I knew more. But yes, sure enough, this nice girl began taking me (and my passport) from window to window, bypassing each line to get me fast-tracked through a process that would’ve had me in that airport until 3AM.
Walk You Home
What would have taken hours, now lasted only about 12 minutes, and soon we were walking out of those airport exit doors, leaving thousands of passengers in line behind me. I couldn’t believe it – I was being treated like royalty and I had no idea why. My new friend–let’s call her Virginia–even decided she’d take a break from work and walk me to my hotel, which was a half-mile away. We soon said our goodbyes but met for breakfast at the hotel in the morning. The whole thing was just unbelievable, and besides the rock-star treatment getting out of the airport, Virginia was an absolutely sweetheart of a person.
I’d leave for São Tomé later that next afternoon and needed a fresh Corona Virus test, which Virginia hoped coordinate. I would’ve been lost without her! After the visit to the clinic to get a stick shoved up my nose, I headed over to the hotel to pack up and checkout. I enjoyed a nice flight to São Tomé that evening.
Ghana do it Again
My itinerary called for another 20 hour layover in Ghana – on the way home to the US from São Tomé. This time, Virginia met me right at the end of the jet bridge when I landed – she was standing by to grab my documents and give me the express service again. To be clear, this “service” I speak of cannot even be bought – it’s not an option for anyone! I felt so lucky…again! It was almost déjà vu as I cut though the crowds in seconds and was soon at my hotel, escorted by this friendly young lady, who’d never asked for anything in return. We had breakfast the next morning, but this time, it was her day off. Virginia and I spent the afternoon at Labadi Beach, enjoying music, the sea breeze, and food and drink from vendors working on the sand. I enjoyed getting a chance to see what the locals did on a Sunday, before heading back to the hotel to pack up once again and prepare for the onward journey. It was finally time to go home.
Dee Plane, Dee Plane!
I couldn’t wait to have dinner on the plane. No, not the plane that was flying me home – but the giant, old DC-10 that was parked out in front of the airpot. La Tante was a restaurant housed in a giant, retired jetliner – one of a handful of “plane-restaurants” around the world. There’s been a recent trend to convert old aircraft into dining establishments, and I’m for it. I noticed the first one in Afghanistan, and was actually pretty sour about not being able to visit it! I was not going to miss my chance in Ghana! So before my flight, I invited Virginia to join me for a meal at La Tante, soaring high above Accra at 35 feet. It was fun!
Girl, I’m Ghana Miss You
After the meal, Virginia and I said our goodbyes. I wanted to get to the gate early – I was taking no chances. The last two and a half weeks were filled with too many close calls: at least six or seven instances where I nearly became “stuck.” From border closures to visa denials, to having the wrong Corona Virus test…on one occasion I was even threatened jail by Le Commissaire! Many stops ago I’d abandoned the reassuring, “I should be good from here on out” thought – including tonight! Who knows what calamity awaited me at the check-in counter, immigration window or even simply the main entrance to the airport! Thankfully, there were no hang-ups getting out of Ghana, and I had a sweet direct route over to JFK. Wouldn’t you know it though, that arriving into New York, our plane’s wing flaps would malfunction. The first landing was aborted. We flew south to burn fuel, before circling back up to JFK and making a harrowing landing sans flaps – with over a dozen emergency vehicles all lit up and on standby for us. Truth be told, the plane’s wheel-brakes worked fine, and besides feeling a hard brake and short stop, we were totally fine. I just thought it a bit comical that problems and issues on this trip had arisen from the very first flight out of San Diego, all the way to the literal landing back in The States, with dozens of calamities and clusterf__ks along the way. Part of me was sad that this was the end – but I was more relieved than anything. The odds were against me this trip, in every way. A feeling of accomplishment swelled as I walked in the front door to my house that Monday morning. A super tight and fast itinerary through ten West African counties amidst a global pandemic, and not one stop was missed? Unbelievable. Do I recommend this challenge to others? Not in a million years!
This entry was posted in Africa