Thursday, 13 September 2012

Year two

Friends who have spent time living overseas say that the second year in a different country is easier. Your new home city is no longer a mystery; the weather and seasonal changes don’t catch you off guard; you have an existing circle of new friends and generally know what to expect.

And so it proved. Stepping off the plane at Kotoka International Airport, the tropical air smelt instantly familiar: warm and damp, with a faint tinge of burning plastic. Porters in bright yellow jackets sat stood about on the runway, smiling broadly and doing nothing.

In the terminal, every wall was plastered with adverts for phone networks, each with their own distinctive colours and boasting that their coverage is the cheapest, the best value, Ghana’s most popular, the most reliable – an instant reminder that in this country, the mobile is king.

At the immigration desks, the queues shuffled forward at a torturous pace, the young men behind the glass screens in absolutely no hurry as they mulled over each bit of paperwork. By contrast, it took less than five minutes back in Ghana to be asked for our first ‘dash’, or bribe; the lady organising the lines asked us if we wanted to join the now-empty delegates line, “for some small compensation”. We declined; it was a little too soon to resign ourselves to the fact that almost every task requires a backhander.

We passed the sign politely advising visiting “paedophiles and sexual deviants” to “take their business somewhere else”. A surprisingly quick trip through customs – the officials were too busy negotiating the ‘extra duty’ on other people’s goods to bother with us – and into the chaos of the arrivals hall.

A generic Ghana photo
Taxi drivers swarm around new arrivals, preying on their bewilderment to get overinflated fares. Prior knowledge proved useful this time; ignore all calls, hold on to your bags, and keep walking to the official taxi rank outside. (The one time we did get hooked by one of the hawkers, his engine caught fire less than three minutes from the airport). One ridiculous price later – there’s only so much you can haggle, despite experience – and we arrived at our newly built flat in East Legon.

None of the jobs that needed doing had been completed in the preceding six weeks. The door still stuck, the washing machine was still unconnected, the toilet seat broken. Eric, the caretaker, assured us they would all be done. “Soon, soon, I am just waiting on a few things.”

Akwaaba. Welcome back to Ghana.

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