Posted by: sean | March 28, 2008

Choose Your Own

Choose your own.

 

From above, Accra is a sprawl of lights.  On the tarmac as you walk away from North American Airlines Flight #125 (airline: fleet of ten; flights out of JFK: leave Sundays), everything is understandably more immediate.  You are excited.  Accra!  What will it hold?  It’s 5am and you have an 8-hour layover, time enough to find out! 

Do you – A) Proceed through customs and make your way to the baggage claim area? Or, B) Do a jig with the ground crew, celebrating life and the triumph of Machine over Gravity?

The AirportYou are tempted to do B, but elect A. 

At the baggage claim you wonder why you ever decided to buy the generic big black suitcase that every traveler has.  You experience a rollercoaster of emotions waiting for your black suitcase.  There it is! Alright, here we go! Accra here I come! Look at those suckers waiting for their bags! Oh. That’s not mine…  Oh wait! There it is! Back in business! Oh. That’s not mine…  Your bag arrives last – the ground crew was probably doing a jig with it out back; it looks jigged out.  You gather your bag, adjust your carry-on backpack, and head to the arrival lounge.

As you walk away with the confidence of man who has a standard black suitcase in tow, do you – A) Whip out your brand new prescription sunglasses? Or, B) Discover that someone has stolen your brand new prescription sunglasses from the side pocket of your backpack?

You discover B. 

Well, this is a bit of a let down.  You were vigilant.  You retrace your steps and conclude that a fellow passenger took them somewhere after getting off the plane and somewhere before you left the baggage claim area.  You decide not to let this cloud your experience, things are Ghana be fine.  You cringe at your horrible pun.  You head to check-in for your next flight.  You can’t find your connecting airline, Belleview (plane crashes in 2005: two).

The helpful girl at airport information – A) Directs you to your airline? Or, B) Tells you that she’s not sure “when your airline will be around”?

B.

You wonder how the airport information desk is unsure of the whereabouts of one of the airport’s SIX airlines.  Frustrated, you decide to head to the 24 hour internet café and establish Base Camp until you can check in your bags. 

The 24-hour internet café is – A) A friendly, fantastic place with an internet speed so fast you think about asking for a seatbelt? Or, B) Closed.

B.

You are beginning to get frustrated.  Through the window you see the sun rise over Accra; it looks inviting.  Unfortunately, you are tied to the airport until you can check your bags.  You decide to make the best of the situation and eat breakfast at an airport restaurant.  Tanta Lounge is empty, but open, and you order some eggs and a cup of tea. 

The waiter – A) Pours a deft cup of tea? Or, B) Pours boiling hot water in your lap?

B.

Hours pass. Enough time that you stop worrying about your sperm count.  You venture back to check-in and notice that the time of your flight has changed from 12:30pm to 2:30pm.  You establish a new Base Camp inches from the Belleview ticket counter – when they open, you WILL be first to check in your bags. 

Hours pass.  There is a line behind you.  Most people have your black suitcase.  There is a group of young Indians who seem to be connected by some sort of weak nuclear force and walk everywhere in a bundle.  They gaze with wonder at their tickets.  Directly behind you is an older Englishman who has what can only be described as a manservant holding his bags.  He keeps saying “TIA” (This Is Africa) in reference to the speed and insanity of the check-in process.  You are flabbergasted because you thought that phrase was only used in Blood Diamond. 

Hours pass.  Check-in time!!!  You whip out your ticket. You are ready. 

The helpful Belleview agent – A) Takes your ticket and welcomes you to the “Belleview Experience?” Or, B) Asks where your return ticket is?

B.

Apparently, not having a return ticket is a problem.  This is odd, because your colleague who bought the ticket for you was somehow able to buy a one-way ticket…  You argue and tell them that you will not buy a return ticket.  You speak for all your brethren behind you in line.  No one will be buying a return ticket, for we are all going there, to a land of promise, and will never return to this land of Belleview!.  You feel like Moses and have a sneaking suspicion that as you talk, your red beard parts.  The Belleview agent is unimpressed. 

Do you – A) Smite him?  Or, B) Take yourself and your bags over to the Belleview office, conveniently located in a separate building, and buy a return ticket?

B.

You make your way back to the Belleview check-in.  You feel bad turning away Ghanaians who try to help you carry your bags in exchange for “something from the heart”.  You want to tell them that this is now personal and that you have decided, in a huff, that you will suffer everything that this airport has to throw at you, and you will triumph by the sheer power of your own will. 

Sir, your bags are overweight.  This is expected and you ask the agent how much the fee will be.  The fee just so happens to be more than the amount of cash you have left.  Stupid $350 dollar return ticket, you think (you will be reimbursed in Monrovia for this, thank god).  Where, kind Belleview agent, might I find an ATM?  He shrugs.  By this time you will no longer lug your bags anywhere else and instead leave them plopped in front of the Belleview agent/Base Camp.

You return to airport information.  Hello, my airline is around now, but I need to find an ATM.  She directs you to the arrivals lounge, but her directions are unsurprisingly wrong.  You find yourself outside the airport (the departure and arrival lounges are in separate buildings).  You ask a security guard where the arrival lounge is

Guard: What do you want?

You: The arrival lounge.

Guard: Come here. What do you want?

You: The arrival lounge.

Guard: It’s here.

You: Where?

Guard: Here. Come here.

You: Is it through that door?  You gesture to a glass door, which is ‘here’.

Guard: What do you want?

You: Is the arrival lounge through that door?!

It is clear by this point that the guard wants you to bribe him. You will not bribe anyone.  You will buy unnecessary return tickets, but you will not bribe someone for basic information.

You: Is it through that door?

Guard: What do you want?

 

You have had enough. You walk through the door and the security guard chases you.  A guard behind the door pulls a weapon on you.

 

Other Guard: You can’t come in here!

You: Where is the arrival lounge!

Guard (deciding you will not offer him a bribe): It’s over there.  

You win a small victory.  You take out money and return to the Belleview agent.  Does the Belleview agent – A) Take your over-allowed-weight fee?  Or, B) Come out to meet you in front of the counter, tell you that has he already checked in your baggage, and ask you to just give the fee to him?

 

He does B.

You do owe him a fee, but you want a receipt.  He has no receipt.  Your baggage has been checked. You feel sad that you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to your black suitcase, it feels like family by this point and Base Camp feels empty, foreign. The Belleview agent says that he will meet you at your gate with the receipt.  You realize that he is just going to pocket your fee and remember your creed: I Will Bribeth No Man.  You walk away.  He runs after.  He has your ticket.  You can’t get your ticket until you pay him his fee.  You pay him half the fee, get the ticket and walk away.  You Bribeth A Little.

In the departure lounge you reunite with fellow passengers.  You talk with the older Englishman and some other random people.  One of the Indians speaks a little English and tells you that he is going to Freetown with his friends to set up a restaurant for expat Indians there.  An Aussie tells you about his similar airport experiences in Nigeria.  The older Englishman talks about TIA and though you nod in agreement, you are mostly just exhausted and you do not really believe him.  That was the Accra airport, not Africa, you think.  And, looking out the airport window 10 hours after you first saw the sprawling lights of Accra, long replaced by the midday sun, the only thing you are really upset about is that you couldn’t sneak outside the airport for an hour or two like you had planned.  In the Accra airport, you can’t really choose your own. 

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Responses

  1. I really hope the black suitcase was ok.

  2. You finish reading Moses Monrovia’s exasperating account of Accra’s hellport and experience a bittersweet smile, being thankful it wasn’t your own, but slightly wishing it was.
    You contemplate when the next enjoyable posting will be:
    A) when this post is finished;
    B) never again (internet don’t exist in Liberia Mutha Sucka!); or,
    C) whenever quick and easy internet is found in Monrovia and time is made to recap the intrepid expat’s latest exploits.
    You hope A, you doubt B and patiently await C.

  3. you should have handled these bribery situations more like steven segal and less like a little bitch…

  4. i agree with your baby brother.

  5. i wish ‘your baby brother’ would write a blog about africa…

  6. good point johnathan…..i agree with this point

  7. Sean! I’m hooked! Can’t wait to hear more of your travails…. : )

  8. I remember reading about Zaire under Mobutu when he stopped paying government employees. The writer described having to bribe over 20 successive people just to get through the airport.

    But don’t let the cynicism (and lingering colonialism?) of the aging British guy get to you. And try not to let your airport experience get you down. After all, Charles De Gaulle in Paris loses more bags than any other airport in the world. The airport experience is a global phenomenon.

    Please keep cataloging your experiences, Sean. I’ll be a loyal commentator.

  9. Andrew/Johnathan/baby brother,
    I appreciate your conversation with yourself, your schizophrenia is always welcome.

  10. Sean,
    Thankfully things have improved since your airport experience. We’re looking forward to hearing about ‘life in Liberia’.

  11. im so glad you are safe

  12. hahahaha – i lived in Ghana went I was escaping Liberia in the war of 2003 – and was traveling the day customers stormed Ghana Airlines and destroyed their office out of frustration. We had to line up outside to even get into the airport – but I was flying a European airline, so i was able to go. Now, I find the Ghana airport like a total dream next to Liberia, but Liberia has greatly improved since the UN is there.

    ATMs in Liberia?????hahahahaha.

    I never saw an ATM in the Ghana airport but not far from the airport you can find a few.

    In the old days, the Liberian airport was a real mess and everyone was on the take. And I soon stopped flying through Ivory Coast as one experience there was enough for me. I even flew into Liberia when they were using the airport in town. Now that is a story, as the war was on.

    Today, flying into Liberia is almost easy. Just have your papers in order and know what you are about! Just don’t piss off the ladies who search the bags or look like you are not connected to some important company or organization. You could be waylaid by many different groups of people trying to “check” your bags!

  13. Don’t think of it as a bribe, but rather a tiny little piece of your soul being stripped away.


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