Ghana: Day One
Wednesday, October 8, 2003:
I haven’t been in Accra for two hours yet and I’m already so overwhelmed by everything I’ve experienced, I don’t think I can remember enough to recollect it all here in words.
The plane touched down at Kotoka International Airport at 8:05pm Ghana time. I’d been advised not to accept help from locals because they will inevitably expect an exorbitant “dash”- a tip for their going out of their way to be friendly and assist you. Needless to say, $20 later, I realized that I had fallen victim in my first five minutes on the continent. I learned quickly to stand my own ground. That soon came in handy, as I had to talk my way out of paying a ‘deposit’ on my luggage and getting my baggage hand-searched yet again.
When I finally hooked up with Emmanuel, his wife Julianna, his helper Michael and two others, all of my initial confusion and frustration dissipated. We all piled- along with my two 70 lb. pieces of luggage- into the “Dagbe Bus” (an old, rusty Nissan van) and headed for the Riviera Hotel.
After escaping from the mob of people around the airport, we drove what seemed to be the main roadway through the city before turning into a dirt alleyway full of bumps and potholes, reminiscent of the mogul hills I grew up skiing at Lutsen Mountain in northern Minnesota. Traversing back and forth among the road’s many peaks and valleys, we eventually entered the gates of the Riviera. The exterior of the hotel was not exactly what my western imagination had conjured up when I first heard the prestigious sounding name. However, I was relieved to see that very few people were anywhere in sight. The previous 18 hours, consisting of nothing but the populous planes and airports of Chicago and London, made me value the seclusion that lie ahead.
$26 USD bought me one night’s stay in room 201, with two single beds and a continental breakfast. Which brings to mind the question . . . are continental breakfasts different on different continents?
Emmanuel and company left me at the hotel, with plans to meet and depart at 9am tomorrow. It’s a great room, with two of the biggest cockroaches I’ve ever seen greeting me immediately upon arrival!
Try as I might, I couldn’t get either of my international calling cards to work on the lobby telephones. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to let family know I’ve arrived safely.
A glass bottle of CocaCola at the hotel bar cost 4,000 cedis (~45¢ US). I gave Joe a dollar, leaned back and began to take in all that had happened and where I actually was.
The walls are painted with dancers, musicians and palm trees. A cat runs by and leaps at some miniscule prey flying around in the room. The humid air gives my skin, clothes and writing paper a damp, sticky feeling, and brings that thick, moist, equatorial smell to my nose. As I’m running through all five of my senses, to be wholly conscious, in the now and fully experience this moment, something else grabs my attention. As I turn away from the bar where I’ve been so earnestly writing, I realize that what I had perceived to be the sound of a light breeze behind me is actually something more. Reaching the edge of the open bar patio area, I see a large Olympic-sized pool that probably hasn’t seen water in at least a decade. Beyond the pool and a staggered row of palm trees, peering deeper into the darkness, my eyes catch a glimpse of the longest line of whitecaps they’ve ever witnessed. The Atlantic Ocean. Lake Superior, eat your heart out, baby!
I look up and fix my focus on the only star in the sky. I am here! In Accra . . . in Ghana . . . in Africa!
I could return home at this very moment and always know that one of my greatest dreams has come true.
But . . . even better yet? This is only the beginning!