Kafka, Terry Gilliam and Ghana

on Sunday, 03 November 2013. Posted in Africa Travels



This is one of my first experiences after arriving in Africa in 2009: I thought it was worth sharing. It is long so I shall upload it in stages.

Part One:

I made a big mistake. The Emirates Airlines counter person told me I was 17 kilos overweight and she wasn’t talking of my waistline. They have a strict 30 kilos maximum and I presumed, like most other flights I have taken, that I would be allowed 46 kilos. I had to do something. Either I dump some stuff, try and pack it into my carry-on luggage, send the bag separately through cargo mail, or pay the extra weight fine, which came to 600 UK pounds, which was more than my flight.

I didn’t have much time to make a decision and so I decided to send the bag via cargo mail. It was the wrong decision. I should have bought a larger carry-on bag and stuffed the heavy stuff in there and hoped for the best but in that moment, I made a decision, paid the already large fee to send it through cargo mail and went back to the counter with my now lighter luggage. I was told it would arrive 7-10 days later at Accra, Ghana.

Two weeks later, I have slightly adjusted to being in Ghana - the totally impossible traffic, caused it seems by extraordinarily slow road improvement (as in 5 years and one road still has no surface), really bad planning as both roads exiting the downtown area are being worked on at the same time - well, not really worked on – and every other possible inconvenience which seems to be the daily fair of life here.

So, I thought it was time to go to the airport to pick up my bag. I arrived around 2pm and was told where to go. Arriving at the office I was greeted by a woman carrying a badge who said she was there to assist people obtaining their luggage. So I walked in with her to the customs office. I was then told that I had to go to the cargo area to pick up the documents from the company who handled the bag and the woman said she would take me there. OK, that seems reasonable. So we jump into a taxi and headed one mile away to the main cargo area. However, on arriving there it is clear my new friend doesn’t know exactly where to go as there are many cargo companies there. Already the energy is somewhat fraught and chaotic. She seems very keen to help (maybe too keen) but I am not sure, given that she said she has been there 15 years and that she really knows the place. People are also telling us different things and so I call the company in England to see if they know which cargo company I need to find. As I get through on the phone, we get into a taxi to go back toward the airport. As I try to listen to the man talking to me, a huge row erupts in the taxi and the driver stops, tells us to get out and get another taxi. I have no idea what is going on as I’m trying to hear the man on the other end of the phone.

In Ghana, people often seem to be arguing when talking to one another. They can speak loudly and intensely so when an argument does occur you think it is going to end in a homicide. So we get out of the car and into another taxi. Luckily I have heard the name of the company and we head off to another area. So far so good, I think. The company office is found, they have the documents but then I realize I have no money at all. My friend who I came to the airport with had all the money, so I had to go the hotel next door that luckily was willing to give me some Ghanaian cedis for some currency I had. So, I paid the handling fee and off we went back to the airport with the required documents. As we approach the customs office, the officer is leaving the office and he tells us he will be away for another 45 minutes. Or, I could come back tomorrow. He then leaves and my new friend, who has now been joined by an associate/assistant tells me rather urgently that I should follow the man as he’s going to another area and that we need to get a form from him so I won’t have to pay duty on my belongings. However, by now, I am already tired – it has already taken over 2 hours - and I am not sure ‘my friend’ really has my best interests at heart. So, I decide to leave and try again tomorrow.