I had a little telling off recently from one of my readers, reminding me that bloggers are not supposed to just go quiet, not posting for over a month, leaving their readers wondering what has happened to them. The trouble is, when you get to your fifth year of living and travelling in the same places there is far less to write about. Things that once seemed strange become routine, and none of you want to read about the routine parts of my life, do you?
But as there has been nothing interesting happening over the last month or so I will oblige my readers by telling you about last Sunday.
I woke up in a hotel room in Monrovia. I got up, showered and dressed, with the CNN news on in the background, and finished packing my stuff into my suitcase, then went down to breakfast. This hotel has a little open terrace attached to its restaurant, so unusually no need to take a cardigan to protect me from the air conditioning. I collected a bowl of papaya and mango, a yoghurt and some rolls with butter and jam and sat down out on the terrace. Ignoring the foreground buildings, there was a nice view – a few trees, a small lagoon and beyond that a sandy ridge and then the ocean. I thought sadly how I’d not had time to walk down there, the usual story when I’m away on these visits. I’d been working during all the daylight hours all week (plus a few late nights), with just a couple of hours off the previous afternoon but at that time there was a major storm, with thunder and lightning and heavy rain. The rainy season has already started in Liberia and we’d had many impressive storms during the week.
Breakfast over, I took my suitcase down to reception to check out, five minutes before the driver was due to collect me for the long drive to the airport. But someone had changed the password on the hotel computer, so the receptionists couldn’t get into the system to retrieve my bill. I waited whilst they made several phone calls in an attempt to track down the password, as several more guests came down to check out. Meanwhile no driver had appeared from my organisation, but I overheard a couple of other guests asking if the hotel-airport shuttle bus was on its way, so I slid my case over next to theirs – one problem solved!
Finally, half an hour later, the receptionists got our bills printed, we all paid and I got into the bus (apologising to the other occupants who’d had the foresight to pay their bills the night before).
Check in at the airport was uneventful, the flight was on time (which makes a nice change), and we arrived in Accra at around 12:30. Kotoka International Airport in Accra is not set up for transit passengers, but I already knew where to stand and wait for the man who deals with transit passengers. Normally the first step is for him to laboriously write all our details into a big register, before ushering us past passport control to collect our luggage, but today there was one man with only twenty minutes to make his connection, so we were all taken with him straight through a side door and along innumerable passageways to finally arrive in the departure hall, where the man at the Emirates check-in desk confirmed that his flight was already closed. At this point the rest of us pointed out that none of us yet had our luggage. “Do you know the way back to the luggage hall – the regular way?” we were asked.
Yes, we did – outside, across the road, down the slip road into the car park, under the tunnel and into the arrivals area. Surprisingly only one person stopped us to ask why we were going through customs, etc in the wrong direction, and so we collected our luggage and made the same journey back to the departure hall.
By this time it was after 1pm, but the Nigeria Airways check-in didn’t open until 6pm so there were still five hours to kill, with no lounge to wait in and no real point in spending money going into Accra as I had my luggage to deal with. Besides, I didn’t have a valid Ghanaian visa, so strictly shouldn’t be leaving the airport although there was nothing in practice, apart from my luggage, to stop me doing so.
So I found myself a seat and settled down to wait. I had a book with me, and had sat near a TV showing Super Sport 3 (one advantage this airport has above others in the region), so managed to entertain myself reading the book from cover to cover and watching a repeat of Gary Neville’s testimonial match from the previous week.
Eventually it got to 6pm, so I went through the check-in process. First to customs who took a quick look in my case before putting their chalk marks on it, then to the weighing machine where I collected my little hand-written slip of paper showing that I had one suitcase weighing 9kg, and finally to the check-in desk. Where I was told there was something wrong with my ticket so I would have to go to the Nigeria Airways office to get it sorted out. I did so, back to check in, then up the stairs to passport control.
Here when I got near the front of the queue my passport and boarding pass was examined to ensure I had all I needed to pass to one of the desks. I explained that I didn’t have an exit form because I was in transit. “What time did you get here?” the official asked me. I told him, and to my surprise he asked to see my visa. I explained that I didn’t have a visa, that I hadn’t left the airport but had been in transit there all day. He got quite cross with me and told me that a transit visa was needed by anyone with more than five hours between their flights – but that he would let me off this time.
(I checked later and he was right, I should have had a transit visa)
Of course as I went through the x-ray bit they called me over to search my bag – thoroughly too. Apparently an old lipstick at the bottom looked suspicious on the x-ray machine.
Through all of the formalities, I went to the small bar to get something to eat and drink, and as I sat there I looked down at my boarding pass for the first time. It said that my destination was Banjul, not Dakar, and my heart sank for a moment – but fortunately my luggage tag said Dakar. I knew my ticket was for Dakar (the next stop after Banjul) so I figured that the check-in clerk had probably just written Banjul by mistake, but in any case, once I was on the flight, no-one would realise I was supposed to get off in Banjul…
Nobody said anything at Banjul, and I finally got out of the airport in Dakar at 1.30am, brushed off the hustlers trying to sell me phone cards or change money, and argued over the price of a taxi. I got home at about 2am and went quickly to bed knowing that I had to be up again in six hours to go to the office.
So now you see how some parts of my life out here can be pretty uninteresting!