Thursday, November 4, 2010

"I've always relied on the kindness of strangers..."

Today I leave for a long weekend in Dubai to meet up with my wonderful husband, LJ, who is headed there for work. My flight to Dubai doesn’t leave until 6:45 pm tonight, but given the notoriously unreliable service of the local airlines, I booked the 8 am CityLink flight to Accra, which left me with the 1:30pm flight or a 5-hour bus ride as back-up plans.

CityLink flies small airplanes but the one I was on this morning was smaller than either of their normal planes. This plane had only 14 passenger seats on it, 7 on each side, with very little storage space at the feet and no overhead bins. On a normal flight, my 40-L backpack stuffed to the gills barely fits under the seat and most definitely did not fit here, so I just shoved it under my feet without any fuss from the two-man crew. Food and drink service—bottled water, a juice box and a muffin—was pre-dispensed onto the seats in plastic bags, oddly enough with a picture of Snoopy on them. The safety briefing consisted of the Australian South African co-pilot poking his head out of the cockpit to tell us it would be a 40-minute flight and to point out the exits.

As a Westerner, I left the house at 6 am to head to the airport for my supposedly 6:30 check-in time.  Our caretaker, Kofi, was kind enough to walk me to the main street, carrying my suitcase on his head in the African way.  In the taxi to the airport, I saw Kumasi awaking from slumber all around me. The sun was a few inches above the horizon, casting an orange glow over the early morning mix of fog and haze. Children in school uniforms were walking along the streets. Ladies at their roadside stands were starting up their fires to prepare roasted plantains and groundnuts (peanuts). Life in Kumasi is much more aligned to the natural rhythms of daylight than in the US.

My 15-minute cab ride encompassed some of the more common stereotypes of interactions between an obruni in Ghana and a Ghanaian. My taxi driver, Yaw (pronounced “Yow”), informed me in his broken English that we were “best friends” and wanted my mobile number so I could call him when I got back from Dubai. I convinced him that I didn’t have my mobile phone on me (not true) and didn’t know my number (true). Instead he wrote his number down for me. Then he proceeded to tell me about attending his Presbyterian church every Sunday and how he lives by God’s word.

Yaw got me to the Kumasi airport this morning at 6:25 am. [Side note: When I say the word “airport”, I’m referring to something closer to the larger airstrips that Mark frequents. (Editor’s note: Mark is a college friend in Raleigh who owns his own plane.) I’m reasonably certain this is the smallest airport where I’ve landed on a commercial flight. The airstrip off Cairns in Australia was smaller, but that flight was chartered by Mike Ball Dive Expeditions.] When I walked into the airport, the lights in the 30-seat waiting room were still off. I was not the first passenger, though—that honor was reserved for two older obruni gentlemen who had arrived at 6. At 6:30, the lights came on and the airport came alive. In the restroom—one of the clean, well-stocked facilities in Kumasi, something important to remember in Kumasi—I saw some of the airline staff changing into their work clothes. Considering I was in there trying to clean the dirt off my pink shirt from the seatbelt in the cab, I understood why they would change into their gleaming white uniforms at work.

Waiting for the plane to arrive, I ended up talking to the two gentlemen, Doug and Ted, as well as a third obruni gentlemen of similar age. All three of them work in the mining business, with Doug and Ted hailing from the UK and the third gentlemen, whose name I didn’t’ get, coming from Australia. I had a very nice chat with him about my time in Newcastle, Australia, and some of the places I had been in Oz. He is spending a year in Ghana working for a gold mining company about an hour north of Kumasi.

I found out that Doug and Ted were on the same flight as me to Dubai, with Ted then headed to London and Doug to South Africa. After arriving in the terminal in Accra, I asked them for suggestions of what to do all day. They offered to drop me off at the Golden Tulip Hotel to pass the time while they visited the offices of various mining companies (PW Group was their first stop). It turns out that even before I asked, they were planning to offer me a ride to the hotel and back to the airport so that I wouldn’t have to spend the day in the Accra airport. Considering my best idea to that point was getting a dropping taxi to the Accra Mall, I took them up on the offer. I wasn’t sure what to do with my luggage, so they offered to keep it locked in the fancy 4WD vehicle of Samuel, their driver for the day.

Safely lodged here in the lobby of the Golden Tulip, I had my first latte in a month and am enjoying the relatively quiet and cool surroundings of this obviously Western-friendly hotel. Doug mentioned that he occasionally pops into the pool area to catch a quick shower before getting on a plane. Considering that we’re going of day 3 of no running water at the house in Kumasi, I may check that out later today.

1 comment:

  1. Give LJ my love, although in a totally different, hetero-appropriate fashion!