Sunday, November 18, 2012

"All you need is a little patience"

For those of you who followed me when I lived in Ghana, you might be curious why you have a message in your inbox saying that there’s a new post. Well, as I type this [evening on November 14th], I’m sitting in NYC’s JFK airport only two hours away from boarding a flight to head back to Ghana. This time around, I’ll only be there for ten days and it’s for holiday, not for my job (although I hope to do a bit of volunteering while I’m there).

The seeds of this trip go back over a year and half. Not long after I returned from Ghana, I had dinner with Maggie, the little sister of a college friend of mine. Maggie had joined the Peace Corps and had been assigned to Ghana. Not only would she be headed to Ghana, but is only about 2.5 hours by road from Kumasi, the 1.5-million person city where I lived on my assignment. In June 2011, she flew to Ghana, armed with my relatively realistic description of life (albeit city life) for an obruni (loosely translated “white man”) in Ghana. But I’m sure my experience there was different than hers. Back when I was in Ghana, a fellow PULSE volunteer had described our experience as “luxury volunteering”. We had electricity (most of the time). We had running water (all but those three days right before my trip to Dubai). We had someone cooking for us and cleaning for us (creating employment for the locals, much like the Brits did when they ran the country).

Fast forward a year to this fall*. Since Maggie left, I’ve been reading her blog and have been itching to head to back to Ghana to visit her and see how her life there differs from what mine was like. I held onto enough vacation time to make a trip to Ghana work, using the Thanksgiving holiday to extend the trip. One plane ticket to Accra, a new visa, and here I am, sitting at JFK.

But that plane ticket only gets to me Accra and I need to go to Kumasi. Let the West African chaos begin. There are two airlines that routinely** fly within Ghana, Antrak Air and CiTylinK. Based on recommendations from MCI staff, I always flew CiTylinK when I lived in Ghana. But this time around, I tried to set up a flight on Antrak, try being the key word. Once I booked it, I had 11 hours to pay for it, but Maggie couldn’t get to Kumasi fast enough. So I went back to the CiTylinK site and booked a later flight—for which I had to pay within 24 hours. Argh. Maggie gave CiTylinK a call the next day only to find out that they were “on break until December”. Oh really? Then why does the website let me book a ticket? Now I’m really glad I didn’t trust the online debit card payment system from their site. Maggie gave Antrak Air a call and sorted out a ticket on the flight I wanted in the first place.

While we were sorting these flights out, Maggie sent me instructions on how to get from the Accra airport to the Peace Corps office in Kumasi. Surprisingly enough, I recognized all the landmarks she listed and felt entirely comfortable with getting there by road if it came down to it.

The best part of this whole experience has been my reaction to it. I know that I wanted to go to Ghana to experience an unplanned, messy trip, but I still could have reacted pretty badly to this chaos occurring before I even got there. I’m pretty stoked that I didn’t react that way, that I really have learned to be a bit more flexible in my thinking since I lived there. Now if only I could figure out how to apply that flexible thinking more effectively in my American life…

*A season that is unknown in Ghana, as their four seasons are the main wet season, the mini wet season, dry season and harmattan (when the dust clouds drift down from the Sahara and make Ghana’s air as thick as Beijing or Los Angeles).

**Routine is a more loose term within Ghana. One of the airlines, CiTylinK, has the following message posted from this time last year: “We are sorry to inform our cherished customers that flights to Tamale have been suspended until further notice.” Turns out I probably should have paid more attention how quickly their services can change—and how slow they might be to return.

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