Planes, changes and automobiles

I’m incredibly fortunate to continue being hosted by the missionary/teacher family in Accra. Because the university is between sessions and the school is 90 minutes into the hills without easy or direct transportation, the Jacksons have hosted me in the city so I’m not in the rural area alone.

Mary Kay Jacksons is the missionary (and civil engineer); Charlie Jackson is the teacher (math and computer science at Ashesi).  Last week, Mary Kay invited me to join her on a trip to the far north of Ghana with a four person delegation from a St. Louis church which has been raising money to build a school and to fund borehole water well drilling (see their HelpGhanaNow website for great video).

Great timing; great opportunity. (In a relational country, one can’t easily just drop in for sight seeing)  Ashesi doesn’t begin for several more weeks so, with text books now in hand,  I have flexibility to prepare for classes as we go.

I thought it would be a Tuesday to Sunday trip. I find it’s a Tuesday to Tuesday trip, and we’ve only just really gotten under way two days later (today is Thursday). You see, the back bone of this story is the universal phenomena called “lost luggage;” the context for the story is navigating Ghana. The complicating West African variables include organizing systems, infrastructure, traffic patterns, and road hazards that I simply do not (yet?) understand.

The original plan was for the Mission Society (LINK)  van to pick up me and Mary Kay at her house, then we would pick up the four St. Louis travelers about 12:30 at the Accra airport, and then continue on by road to Sakote  (approximately 14-17 hours) arriving by Wednesday night for formal school dedication ceremonies Thursday morning. .

As 12:30 approached 1 pm in Accra on Tuesday, we began to wonder if in fact the travelers were having trouble with luggage (Mary Kay received a text Monday night from the St. Louis group that their bags might not have made the close Atlanta connection). By about 3 or 4 p.m., we have lots of information, no St,. Louis luggage, and a new plan. We would wait until Thursday morning to go north, go north by plane instead of van, send the van ahead so it could greet us at the airport (Tamale, which I keep mispronouncing as the Mexican food tamale, instead of as the Ghanian city Tah-mah-LAY) which is 2 hours from our destination (Sakote).

The van dropped all of us back at Mary Kay’s house and headed north. Making the most of our 36 hour wait period, Mary Kay arranged 2 cars for us to collectively go west to a beach hotel where we could relax as well as visit one of the major slave castles (her house can’t sleep all of us anyway). That sounded easy. Accra traffic is horrendous, many of the roads are bad, and vendors seem to come out of nowhere.

Here’s a description of the route from a book I’m reading, “King Peggy”:

“Though Accra was only sixty miles away from Otuam, you never knew how long the trip would take. This afternoon it took them two hours just to get out of Accra. The road was jammed all the way to the city limits and for a mile or two beyond. They crept alongside beat-up cars with black smoke roaring out of the tailpipes and lopsided public minibuses called tro-tros, stuffed with passengers and crowned with a tottering heap of luggage roped to the roof. There were large dust covered trucks carrying merchandise between Accra and the hinterland, and the official shiny SUV so popular with top government officials and successful business men, always in black or steel grey. Peggy smiled to see the air=conditioned SUVs and stifling tro-tros all equally stuck in the same unmoving line.

Loacal residents made good use of the tie-up to sell idle travelers a startling variety of goods: blankets, bath and dish towels, boxes of Kleenex, rolls of toilet paper, children’s towys and rubber balls, meat pies, phone cards, dog leashes, superglue, pens, apples, fried plantains, and sunglasses on a large square board. They hawked machetes, which were used to open coconuts or cut grass (most people didn’t have lawn mowers), and water, aarge and small bottles, as well as little plastic baggies of water for those who couldn’t afford the luxury of a whole bottle; people bit the corner off and squeezed the water into their mouths. And they sold tiger nuts, which looked like small, dimpled peanuts and for centuries had been eaten by agin men as a sexual stimulant, a kind of African Viagra.

Sometimes there was a veritable stream of vendors, one right aft the other, marching between stopped cars, deftly dodging the motorbikes that drove between the lanes. As bad as traffic was, the vendors made it worse. Often, when a ten-minute light finally turned green, drivers were waiting for change from a vendor who kept it in a basket on her head. When, due to violently honking horns, the driver started rolling forward, the vendor running alongside the window, by then the light might have turned red, ande everyone would be forced to idle with windows open, since very few people had air=conditioning, and breathe in the retch-inducing exhaust fumes belching out of a thousand cars. Bored to tears, they might decide to buy something, and then the delay would happen all over again.” (p. 55-56)

Note: I highly recommend the book (King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village, by by Peggieline Barteles and Eleanor Herman). It’s written for Americans about Ghana and the cultural distinctions that Peggy, a Ghanaian-American, experiences as she returns to her home village of Otum. Interestingly, the late president Mills also came from Peggy’s village! We passed the turn off for Otum as we drove to Cape Coast.

We arrived shortly after dark. Getting there, one car was pulled over for inexplicable reasons, and the other hit two sheep wandering the road (the sheep lived to tell about it; the car had significant side damage and a side mirror sheered off).  It’s probably no surprise for you to read that the beach hotel did not have internet.

Beach hotel near Elmina

Gathering for breakfast


Elmina, west of Accra

Market day in Elmina (west of Accra)

In fact, by the time we returned to Accra Wednesday night, half of the St. Louis luggage was still missing too!

Why stop there on logistical challenges? Mary Kay had attempted to fix supper for all of us now back at her house, but the gas went out (and therefore, so did we!). The computer system at the airport had been down on Tuesday, which now was a possible contributing factor to the realization that we were one ticket short (missing a boarding pass for Jim from St. Louis, whose luggage was still among the missing) for the 7 a.m. flight Thursday (which was now less than 8 hours away). (Jim’s wife heard the story when he phoned home last night. She reportedly remains confused why he can’t just duck out to the Ghanaian equivalent of Walmart. He tried to explain what I’m learning, it just doesn’t work that way here!). With or without luggage, the St. Louis group was going to the school-dedication. (Eventually, I got on the flight too, buying a business class ticket and giving it to Jim who could use the extra leg room and could sure use the turn of logistics-fate).

Waking up at 4:45 a.m. to go back to the airport this morning was not a problem at all. That’s the time when the neighborhood rooster starts cockadoodledoo-ing anyway!! (It’s only in the American movies that roosters wait until dawn to crow.)

We’re now speeding along towards the school dedication. Mary Kay says they’ll hold the dedication until we arrive. With or without luggage, the delegation represents those who funded the school project in the first place.

5 responses to “Planes, changes and automobiles

  1. MG, that gives a whole new meaning to lost luggage. As always, you are a generous traveling companion. I am sure Jim’s legs and spirit will be forever grateful. It is a fascinating conversion of the human spirit to abandon all expectation and live into what is. I can’t wait to hear how the dedication goes.

  2. Hmmm, after reading your latest blog, Mary Grace, I no longer think I had it so rough with running water and electricity absent and sloshing around in the rain and mud in the Amazonia basin, while birding in Ecuador in July. Geez, I’m not going to bore you with anymore details; I obviously was at a “luxurious resort” (relatively speaking) and just didn’t appreciate it! Don’t we all just love adventure!!

  3. I am so glad to hear of details of my fellow friends trip from Living Word to Sakote,Ghana. I was on mission trip with Pastor Michael and Jim in March 2011 when the land was dedicated for the school. The people of Ghana are such a joy and are beautiful children of God. Say hello to all my Living Word friends on mission in Ghana.

  4. Hey MG, Thanks for the perspective. Always tough to travel but I really have no cause to complain about returning from Hawaii….except that I am leaving Hawaii. I do think there is something about the just have to “go with the flow” that really makes the difference in enjoying the experience versus just being miserable with all the hassles and delays. I am glad that you can enjoy being the observer and note taker along this journey. Do what you can to enjoy the ride.

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