Thursday, December 28, 2006

Leaving Ghana

Well, she’s home. That was one of the best gifts for Christmas—the return of our daughter from Ghana. She and her boyfriend, who went over to Ghana to spend a week with her, returned two days before Christmas, connecting flights in London, in spite of the thick fog there.

Based on her recounting their journey home, their departure from Accra, Ghana was not quite so problem-riddled as mine. I had warned them that there were several steps to leaving Ghana. The flight to London that we took leaves Accra at 11:30 p.m. assuming it’s not delayed. Their flight was on time, mine was delayed. As soon as I arrived at the airport and walked into the airport, someone caught my attention and pointed to a line, informing me I had to go through Customs first. No signs reinforced that, but I took the person who informed me at face value. (I have since learned that one can skip the customs step with no real repercussions!)

So I got in the line. After inching along for several minutes, and after inadvertently dropping my jacket earning a “tsssssssstttt!” from a passer-by (to get my attention, which it did), an official in a uniform told me “There are two lines; please step to the left and come to the head of the line.” I tend to observe what people in uniforms tell me, so I did as instructed. Immediately, the patient people waiting in the main line were incensed at me for “jumping” line. I kept explaining to them that I was following instructions. To mollify the people at the head of the line, I waited until about three or four people went ahead of me before stepping up to have my suitcase examined.

I watched as an elderly Ghanaian man in front of me opened his two suitcases. The one suitcase was so over-packed that the clothes literally popped out as he opened it. The customs official poked through all his unfolded untidy clothing, declared him free to move on. She watched as he tried to stuff the clothing back into his suitcase so he could zip it closed. Finally, he got it shut, and the customs official slapped a piece of tape on it declaring “Ghana Customs”.

The next step in leaving Ghana was for me to get in the British Airways line. But first I had to read a notice which informed me that the plane was delayed due to high winds in London which had delayed the plane’s departure. If I agreed that my connection in Heathrow would not be affected, I could get my ticket. It didn’t affect my connection, so I checked in.

Then I went to the Immigration desk, showing my passport as I readied to leave Ghana. The usual questions—how long had I been there, what was the purpose of my trip, etc. Finally I was ready to go to the departure gate and wait for the delayed plane. The gate turned out to be a cattle chute type area with insufficient seats, and almost no air conditioning on a steamy Accra night. People sat sweltering, simmering for a long time, waiting for the plane.

I watched a young Ghanaian father with two small children. The little girl rested on his chest, sleeping, while the older brother bounced around full of energy and excitement. The father’s head kept bobbing down as he clearly kept falling asleep. The little boy would tug on his father’s arm and say “Read to me” and the father patiently obliged. After watching this interaction for a bit, I said to the father that if the little boy wouldn’t mind someone who he did not know reading to him, I would be happy to do so. The little boy, who was named Kenny and turned out to be “three, almost four” presented me with a Winnie the Pooh book of nursery rhymes. As I read along, I used the technique I had used with my children—reading, pausing, pointing out items for the child to identify. Kenny got impatient and pushed me to read more expeditiously. Some of the nursery rhymes were singing rhymes. When we got to the first one, and just read it, Kenny objected—you’re supposed to sing them. So, I thought, I hope I remember all these tunes: Hickory, Dickory Dock; Three Blind Mice; Do you Know the Muffin man and so forth. I must have done well enough, because Kenny didn’t correct me.

Finally, the plane arrived, was cleaned, refueled, and ready for us all to board. And so I left Ghana.

And now our daughter is home as well—leaving Ghana.


LauraHinNJ said...

What a nice gift for you!


I'd bet that dad at the airport appreciated your entertaining his son for a while - I wouldn't have done well as I don't remember any of those songs.

Anonymous said...

You illustrate a difference between Ghana and North America. We once lost Vaughn in a Baltimore mall when he was four years old: total panic until we found him, and certainly no trust in the many strangers present! A couple of years later we lost him in a Bulawayo park: our only concern was to watch the road to be sure he didn't wander out into traffic, and no fear of any strangers, who we knew would only help him.