Bad Travel Karma, Traveling Light and Late

Well, we’re on the plane, and we’ve already had an adventure.

Met Dick, Susie, Funmi and Sola (if you don’t know them, look back at the first post) at O’Hare and we flew to JFK, spending time together in the Delta Skyclub there. Sola and Funmi showed us photos of the wonderful trip they had with their three children, climbing 19,000’+ Mt. Kilimanjaro a few weeks ago. What an unforgettable family adventure. My favorite photo was Sola celebrating his birthday on Kili with a cupcake and a candle.

Down to the gate for check-in, only to discover that the Kipharts’ 5-year visas had expired in May. The visa form is very poorly designed, highlighting the date that the passports expired, rather than the visa expiration date. In fact, they’re so poorly designed that the people at O’Hare had looked at and approved the Kipharts’ visas.

Enter Funmi, who immediately befriended the ticket agent, who was from Senegal, and enlisted his help to solve the problem, and told Dick and Susie not to worry about it. While Dick was calling Joe for help in Ghana, the gate agent made several calls, got approval for them to board and told them that a Delta agent would meet them in Accra and guide them through.

This was a great lesson in handling a difficult situation. Instead of getting all exercised, arguing with the gate agent, or yelling at or abusing him, Funmi made a friend and got him to help solve “our (including the agent’s) problem”. The question was never whether, but how, it would be solved. We five boarded and clinked champagne glasses to celebrate Funmi’s success in our seats together in business class.

Here are some random facts about Ghana that I lifted from Wikipedia, augmented by recent NYT articles. Accra’s population is almost 4 million; Kumasi, where we’ll be staying, over 2 1/2 million, in a country of some 24 million, located just North of the equator. A stable constitutional democracy which gained it’s independence from Britain in 1957. Its first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, dreamt of a united Africa, but was overthrown in 1966 by a CIA-approved coup. A series of other coups ensued and eventually Jerry J.J. Rawlings took over in 1981. After two unsuccessful runs at the presidency, John Mills was narrowly elected in 2009, but died several weeks ago. They will be holding an election this December.

The Portuguese were the first European colonial power in the 15th century, but others followed. The British, attracted by gold, called it the Gold Coast and the French, enchanted by the trinkets worn by coastal people called the area to the West the Ivory Coast.

In addition to gold, Ghana exports cocoa, timber, electricity, diamonds, bauxite and manganese. The country remains heavily agricultural, and about 25% of the population lives on less than $1.25/day. Recent discoveries of oil portend economic growth.

English is the official language, but more than 100 ethnic groups speak many other languages.

Back to the plane. All five of us are quite excited about this trip. In a very real sense we’ve been preparing for it for months in meetings we’ve had and in innumerable emails that we’ve exchanged over that period. Now, it’s time to stop the emails and see whether some of the plans we’ve discussed can be put into place in real life. In addition to the Kipharts’ commitment and energy and the expertise of the Olopades and others, this will require buy-in from the team that Dick and Susie have assembled in Ghana (which I think we already have) and the active cooperation and participation of governmental officials, local chiefs and the people in the villages. Any implementation is bound to take some years, and will almost certainly encounter bumps that nobody can now anticipate. But the potential payoff for the Ghanaian people involved is great and the process will be both exciting and interesting. It’s a privilege to be a fly (hopefully not malaria-bearing) on the wall for all of this.

Little sleep on the ten hour plane ride. Read quite a bit of the next assignment for Carol and my book club, Bill Bryson’s, A Walk in the Woods about his hiking on the Appalachian Trail, much of which is hilarious and filled with some interesting facts, history and scientific information. Favorite factoid so far: the average American walks 1.4 miles a week, or about 350 yards a day. The book is bogging down somewhat half way through, though.

No problem with visas in Accra. Kipharts are able to purchase them. We wait a long time for our luggage, very long. In the end, one of the eight bags we checked arrived, the others preferring to stay in New York for a few more days, as the next flight is not until Tuesday. So, unintentionally, we’ll be traveling very light. Fortunately, as the Olopades are doctors, Dick will be able to get some medication that was packed. And for the rest, we’ll muddle through.

All of this visa and luggage stuff consumes almost three hours at the Accra airport. We set out for the long drive to Kumasi armed with the ten used country CDs I brought. I’m riding with Joseph, Jonathan and Benjamin, the accountant. The rest are in another SUV.

The good news was that we avoided what used to be a very bone-jolting 4 1/2-5 hour ride to Kumasi. The bad news was that the new, smoother route was 6 1/2 hours. Benjamin kept up a steady conversation that was somewhat hard to understand at times, but pleasant. He was aware of the well that Carol and I had donated and expressed great gratitude. He was also interested in hearing about the grandchildren and some of the travel we’d done.

After a few hours, we stopped for a bathroom break, and Sola switched to my car. Great to hear about his family, the land, both in a village and in the city that he’d inherited from his father. His grandfather had been a chief. Sola and Funmi at one time had considered buying land in Senegal along the coast, but the French language barrier was a deal breaker. His siblings all seem well-educated and successful, as are Funmi’s. One of his sisters lives in Ireland.

Sola was amazed at the wide open expanses of land we drove through, comparing them to far more densely-populated Nigeria. He commented on the gentle, kind nature of Ghanaians, as compared to the brusk Nigerians.

After about an hour, the SUV Sola and I were in over-heated an we were forced to pull over. After futzing around for 20 minutes or so, we determined that the Kipharts, Olopades and I would continue on in the good SUV with Freedom driving. Peter, Joseph and Benjamin stayed to deal with the other vehicle.


Another three hours remained to Kumasi, two of them now in the dark. About 8:45, some nine hours after we landed in Accra and twenty-seven hours after setting out for O’Hare, we arrived at The Four Villages Inn, our home for the next four or five nights.

Carol and I have stayed there twice, and it’s very comfortable and homey. We were greeted by Chris, the Canadian proprietor. His wife, Charity, who is Ghanaian, doubles as a wonderful cook. Tonight the gumbo was particularly fabulous, and I had two bowls, complemented by two large, cold Star Beers, the local brew. Also greeting us at the Inn were Ida, her son Joe Jr, and later, her son, Daniel, who we had met in Chicago. Dr Annie, lively as always, was there as well. Everyone asked about and said they missed Carol.

The dinner conversation was delightful, and involved different combinations of people talking to one another at different times. I think my favorite piece of it was Dr. Annie and Funmi talking about how on Funmi’s earlier trip this year, they’d been having breakfast at the very table we were at and encountered a Chinese guest who obviously was in very bad shape. They diagnosed the case as malaria, prescribed treatment, Funmi gave up her room for him and by the next day, he was a very lucky fellow, well on his way to recovery.

Peter and the others arrived about an hour later to join us. After visiting with them for a while, we all retired, quite exhausted and likely to sleep very well indeed.

I promise that tomorrow will be a more interesting look at Ghana, rather than a catalogue of our travails.

2 comments to Bad Travel Karma, Traveling Light and Late

  • Wendy

    Not a dull start! Way to go, Funmi!
    Pretty extraordinary story about the lucky Chinese guest, too!
    Staying tuned . . .

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