Friday, April 23, 2010

First Night in Accra

When I bought the plane ticket to Africa I mostly thought about the destination. I didn't stop to realize all of the amazing places I would be flying over. We reached Ireland as the sun rose. I could see the mismatched green fields and rock quarries, and then Dublin. The Isle of Mann, my mother's ancestral home, could be seen off in the distance as we crossed the water to England, and then a longer crossing before we descended into the Netherlands. Amsterdam is a network of square, green fields crisscrossed by canals, with stripes of colorful tulips. The long rows of buildings are laid out in regal-looking rectangles. We spent a few hours in the Amsterdam airport, met up with one more of our group, and spent two hours wandering through an art gallery and flower shop inside the airport.

The connection to Ghana was interesting. I had heard than Africans do not tolerate lines well. Whenever anyone started talking on the intercom there was a rush to the gate door, and staff would have to tell people that only Business Class could board, or only rows 8 - 16 could board. The room smelled like sweat and a thousand types of cologne. Many people were laughing with strangers and others were bickering over seats. The flight attendants rattled off every message in Dutch and English; I thought it ironic that many of the passengers probably spoke neither very substantially. Some looked like executives, but many others seemed like they had never flown before. I ended up sitting next to a young Ghanaian who worked as a Quality Control analyst for a fruit company in West Africa. We talked about the market queens project and he gave me good background information on the agriculture market in Ghana.
There wasn't much to see as we flew over France and Spain, but as we crossed over Algeria and into the Sahara, the clouds parted to reveal sand dunes, strange red and brown formations, and jagged stripes of different-colored minerals. As we approached Mali the sky below turned an ugly brown from the sand storms and we couldn't see much. The sun set and we flew over Niger, Burkina Faso, and part of Togo as the clouds built. While we flew over Ghana I saw the most wonderful lightning storm of my life. Huge mountainous clouds would flash like lightbulbs and throw out streaks of lightning. It was a magical beginning to my Africa trip.
We descended into the sprawling city of Accra. Everyone burst into applause as we touched down. I was hit by a dense wave of hot, wet air when we left the plane, and we crowded like cattle through the doors. The airport itself felt like some kind of cattle auction. As we passed through the throng, some guy with a badge grabbed my bags and walked me the twenty feet through customs. I thought he was going to look through my stuff, but instead he asked me for a 20-cedi tip for carrying my bags. I ignored him and kept walking.
Outside the airport is a large waiting area that looks like my old school cafeteria. People lounged on benches under an awning watching Michael Jackson and Eddy Murphy dancing on a large screen. Women milled around selling Fanta and Coke from basins on their heads.
We found Isaac and Mr. Narteh waiting for us in the parking lot. They took our bags and after waiting for the rest of our group, we headed down to the Pink Hostel. Mr. Narteh had brought us some sandwiches--a fried egg between two pieces of thick white bread. The others were paying one cedi per hour to use the internet.
I was so tired when we got to the room, I barely made it to the bed. I threw down a twin sheet and collapsed in a heap. We tried to plug in a power strip but didn't check the voltage. Something exploded, despite the adapter, so we were too scared to charge our phones or computers.
One more night in civilization, and off to the island.

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