Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Looooong way home...?

I am back! Woooo-hooo! 

Back to bloging, back to Africa, back to serving the poor! I must say I was very happy to return to Africa! When the plane lands and they open the doors and that thick, dusty, stinky air hits you... wow. Africa doesn't compare to anything! :)
The view from my old room in Budapest
So I left home on a snowy afternoon with 3 suitcases - they were almost empty, I just needed them back on board and they didn't fit into each other, so you can say I had a lot of stuff. Due to bad weather conditions we arrived to Brussels almost 2 hours late, which for once wasn't too bad - it made my 12 hour layover time a bit shorter.

"bus station" in Accra, Ghana
Brussels airport at night - boring! You'd think the shops are open 24/7, that there are always people around you, but in reality I was pretty alone all night long. I found myself a restaurant that looked abandoned so I sat down next to a plug and had a Mentalist marathon. Around 3 am a waitress showed up to clean and slowly people started to appear after 5am. I had to wait till 8 to get access to the Africa section of the airport and once inside I had another 3 hours to wait before boarding the plane.

Vendors selling food, drinks and all sorts of stuff to the people
already sitting and waiting in the "bus"
As soon as I sat down on my seat I fell asleep. I think this was the first time in my life when I missed the take off. :)

I must say the food and service with Brussels Airlines is really good. We even got ice cream at one point which really made my day! While I was out we flew over some snowy mountains, we left Europe, flew above the sea to Africa, saw the African desert and after oh-too-many hours finally we landed in Accra, Ghana.

It's still the bus station... :)
I had a proper visa so entering the country was easy for once. Finding my bags was a bit tricky. As soon as I got the bags a vigilant young gentleman approached me to offer his services... :) Come on guys, I meant TAXI!!! :) Unfortunately for him I knew the local prices so after listening for 10 mintutes of his reasoning and nagging I walked away to find my own transportation. I walked 10 meters when another man came to me, I told him the address and MY price, he agreed so we were on our way. I spent the night at a house of a daughter of a friend - yeah, this is how it goes... Thank God for a worldwide Christian Family I have!!! There is always a bed or a couch in every city!!! :)

Street view from the bus
Next day I was escorted to a local intercity bus station. Apparently the 3 hour drive from Accra to the Togo border costs only 10 Cedis. I paid 12 for the taxi driver the night before for a 15 min. drive. Oh well... Just to ensure my suitcases end up unopened in Togo with me I paid for another seat next to me for the luggage. Of course this is Africa, shortly before we were to leave another van showed up and they said that one leaves sooner so we should all get out. :)

the bus from the inside
Another 15 min later I was sitting comfortably in the last row with my bags and A/C!!! Air-conditioning in an African public transportation vehicle!!! That's a first! :)

I feel asleep again pretty fast so I missed most of the journey. When I woke up we were at the border town and people started to leave the van. We reached our final destination and before the van fully stopped local ladies were attacking the van yelling something in a local dialect and pointing at their heads. The driver told me with his broken English that they are porters who want to earn some coins by carrying my bags to the border. Great!

"Good Day" in African English... 
I was wondering how I will cross the borders barefeet with 3 suitcases, a handbag and a 1 meter long chocolate bar (seriously! It's exactly 1 meter long, perfect Christmas gift for my chocolate addicted husband-to-be). I negotiated the price with a tiny lady who picked up my 2 bags as if they were empty - granted, they were half full only with light things, but still... That was quite impressive! She started walking and I quickly followed her before she disappeared.

The walk to the broder was uneventful, however I felt every set of eyes on me. I guess locals are not used to a single white girl walking with lots of luggage around here. :) Thank God nobody bugged me too bad, I got some friendly comments and welcomes, but I quickly walked away. I must say behind my smile I had a serious heart beat and I was quite nervous. At the border they saw that I was a foreigner and yelled at me to go into the building. My porter was instructed to drop my bags outside while I went in. Naturally I didn't want to leave my bags unattended, but I shouldn't have worried. Another helpful fella jumped to greet me and offered his services. He told me to go in and he will watch my bags plus find a taxi for me...

The Ghana-Togo border from the Ghana side as I walk towards the gate  
Inside they tried to give me a hard time and they couldn't believe me when I told them I traveled alone. They checked every stamp in my passport and asked silly questions. Finally the soldier told me to proceed to the next desk where the custom's officer went through the same list of questions with me. By then I realized they are just bored and want to look important so I looked serious and started to give long, detailed explanations. Soon enough he was fed up with my lengthy answers and gave me the stamp. :)

No Man's Land between the 2 borders
I went outside only to find all my bags neatly packed into the trunk of a taxi and my "friend" was waiting patiently outside. He urged me to get into the taxi as they would drive me over the border. I wondered how much it will cost me... We drove for about 50 meters when he parked the car and told me to get out. We walked to the Togo immigration shack where 2 tall guys with massive firearms demanded my passport. My "friend" simply yelled back at them in French. I tried to smile and look friendly. :)

Leaving the border on the Togo side
I handed over my visa exemption letter in French. When he saw the Mercy Ships logo he started smiling and became very friendly. He told me in English that I am a "Special person who is always welcome in Togo". I got my stamp and I was heading towards the taxi. My "friend" helped me negotiate the price from the border to the ship (unfortunately for them I knew the proper price so I could just laugh at his first AND second price. I still ended up paying more than normal, but I was tired and just wanted to get to the ship. I gave a couple of Cedis for his services (?) and off we went.

15 minutes on the beach road and I saw the familiar containers and cranes and my heart started to beat faster. Coming to think of that it's a bit sad... :) I mean harbours are usually at the shady part of town, full of dirt and danger... and yet, for me it feels like coming home... ummmm...
The M/V Africa Mercy hiding behind a container wall
Of course my taxi couldn't go into the port, the friendly officers kicked the taxi driver away with 1 swift movement. I asked them to give me a phone so I could call somebody on board, but it turned out to be unnecessary; he already ordered a port security vehicle to pick me up. :) The driver of course was hitting on me and wanted to visit me on board - I told him my husband would love to get to know him. :) Strangely, this litlle white lie always works like magic! :)

So, long story short I got back to my floating home safe and sound.
Darren seemed happy to see me... :)

We went for lunch and while eating I heard all the stories of him being grumpy first then quiet and sad and how he was moping around missing me. I think it's a good sign :) YAY!!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dolphins video

The benefit of fast internet connection and broadband... :)

Darren made this video on the sail from Freetown, Sierra Leone to Tema, Ghana.

(video only works through the blog, if you signed up for the e-mail update, you need to click on the link)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Good bye 2011 - Hello 2012!

With this collage I am saying good bye to this amazing year and with great hopes and expectations I am looking forward to 2012.

The ship is already in Togo, I am joining the ship in a few days to start a new, 6 month long Field Service in Lomé.

Have a Blessed New Year Everybody!