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16.07.2005 Feature Article

Papa Samo Goes Home: Part 1

Papa Samo Goes Home: Part 1
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I recently took a vacation from work and school so that I can make my annual trip to the land of my birth and origin-Ghana. I would like to share my experience with those who care to know. I have lived in the U.S for quite sometime, and was not able to go home within the first few years because of my immigration status. Anyone hustling or living in the land of the Obroni knows what I am talking about. The First Leg: Why Ghana Airways Failed I live, work, and until June 18th, was getting my much needed education in Atlanta GA. I must say that I have been blessed enough to be able do things and pursue dreams that most people could not. I decided to take a much needed break from work and school to go home to visit family and friends, set up some projects, and generally, just see how things are going in Ghana. I left Atlanta via American Airlines to Amsterdam on May 12, 2005. If I had my way, I would rather have boarded a direct flight from say, New York (or even Atlanta) to Accra, but who am I to even think of this? Our only airline, Ghana Airways, has been run to bankruptcy by incompetent management, corruption, bureaucracy, and just sheer ignorance. So, I am stuck with these foreign airlines that treat their African customers like dunces. I remember the very first Accra-New York flight in 1994. I was one of the passengers. The route looked so promising and convenient, yet we could not maintain it for even a decade. What a shame. On that flight, all the crew where Americans. There was this one particular flight attendant (air hostess) whom I thought was trying to hit on me. As I downed shots and shots of red wine, it dawned on me that she was treating every body else the same way. Poor me. After dealing with the Ghanaian business culture all my life, it was just not right for an employee of a company to smile at me, keep trying to make me feel at home, and also, get me drunk. All I knew was “customer non-service” where a shop owner, a waitress at a bar, or an “officer” at a public institution usually frown or try to make you know that they are in “charge”. I found out that the lady was doing her job as usual, and in her line of duty, customer service: making the customer happy is the ultimate goal. On my return trip two weeks later, the crew was all-Ghanaian and I noticed a remarkable change in attitude. My first treatment of “customer service” was when one of the PRESEC students in our group decided to sit by the window after we had left the JFK airport, and there was permission to unhook our seatbelts, and move around if we so wished. The air hostess yelled at him to go back to his assigned seat. I was fuming at this time. The MD-11 we werein was not full, there was no way the pilot was going to stop in the sky to pick up more passengers, and I knew that our next stop will be in Accra. So I asked the lady if she was expecting any passengers later on. This did not go down well with her majesty. She sulked her teeth, turned her head, and gave me one of those eye twitching and distorting treats. You see the one that could knock you off as feather. I laughed, and most of the passengers joined me. Then came feeding time. In those days, I needed a good “appetite” before my meals. So I asked her lordship if I could have our locally brewed Mandingo that happened to be on the list. She declined my request, and admonished me that I was too young to drink liquor. I produced my passport. She saw my age, sulked her teeth again, then turned her head, and proceeded to bring me one small bottle of the “appetite”. Nothing spectacular happened until we got to Kotoka. About a year later, I decided to further my education, and also seek greener pastures in America. Ghana Airways was still plying the Accra-New York route. The only snag was that I could not secure a ticket. I had to see someone who knew someone who in turn knew somebody. After about two weeks of not seeing the right “someone” for the ticket, I gave up and purchased a relatively expensive ticket from KLM. It really broke my heart. I went through Amsterdam, got “abused” and “molested” by this half-caste guy of an immigration officer who wanted to know who was in my room in Accra when I was packing my luggage and stuff. I told him I was there alone. He wanted to know my reason for going to America.
I replied that I was going to do things.
He asked “What things?”
I said many things
Then he said, “Step aside sir”
I obliged.
About thirty minutes later, my hand luggage had been searched, my certificate and transcript from Legon had been fished out, and a red tag had been stuck at the back cover of my passport. Thanks to Professor Kwesi Yankah of the “Woes of a Kwatriot” fame, I knew what that sticker meant. I waited until I boarded the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit before I removed that round red flag from the back cover of my passport. Folks, I spent my money with KLM only to be treated like a criminal. What really hurt my feelings most was when a friend of mine who got a Ghana Airways ticket told me that the flight from Accra to New York was not even half full. Not even half full, yet I could not get a ticket! No wonder Ghana Airways went bankrupt. Enough of the past. Now back to my trip.
So it came to pass that because I have no choice but to choose between British Airways, Alitalia, and KLM I was forced to choose the latter. I rejected British Airways because they will fly you to Gatwick, and then try to charge you an additional amount of money to convey you to Heathrow. Besides, I think the staffs at both of these Airports are very rude. Additionally, British Airways charges too much money. With Alitalia, I vowed to never use their services. The last experience I had with them was not pleasant. After I bought their ticket, I was informed to secure a transit visa. As with most European countries, I thought I could just mail in my filled application forms, two passport sized pictures, relevant documents, passport, buy money order for the visa fee, and pre-pay an over night FedEx fee for them to mail my passport back to me. No: Not the Italian consulate in Miami. I had to be physically present for them to make sure I was not an agent of a terrorist group because of September 11, 2001. Needless to say that I had to drive over ten hours from Atlanta to Miami only to secure a multiple visa for six months at a cost of twenty dollars! In those days, our dear own Ghana Airways was functioning. Prior to purchasing the Alitalia ticket, I called the Ghana Airways rep in New York, and tried to purchase a ticket. He bluntly told me that the flight from New York to Accra would not be a problem. My problem would be the trip back to New York from Accra. In short, Ghana Airways could take my hard earned money, guarantee me of half of the deal the money is meant for, and leave me out in the heat. The case of some Gambian students who claimed they could not take their final exams because they were compelled to stay in Accra for an extended period of time by Ghana Airways was still fresh in my mind. Since Ghana Airways could not deliver, I reluctantly went with Alitalia who lost my baggage for close to two weeks. That is why I went back to KLM.
The flight this time was very refreshing. As usual, from the U.S to Europe is predominantly white folks with very few of those of colored pigmentation. Within a span of eight hours, I slept, watched two movies, used the rest room, slept, ate two half-filled meals, sipped a lot of red and white wine, and slept some more. At Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, no immigration officer was at the door to ask questions. I guess they have realized that Americans are not interested in settling in their country. The flight to Accra was four hours away so in order to kill time, I together with some Americans who were traveling with me decided to hit town. More on that later.
Just before the four hours was up, the gate attendants announced to us that our flight was going to be delayed. By this time, there were so many people waiting for the Ghana flight. One thing I observed was the fact there were more abrofo than the black folks. I spotted an old friend whom I had not seen in years at the smoking section close to our gate. I went over to talk to him. There was this white guy with one of our beautiful sisters. After he heard me speak, he asked me in Twi if I lived in America.
said yes.
He wanted to know whether I was from the Ashanti Region.
I said yes.
Then he said how come you don't have the Ashanti lips.
I said do Ashantis have a particular lip?
He pointed at her lady companion and started giggling.
I started to laugh.
He said he loved those lips, and that is why he is trying to naturalize as a Ghanaian.
He turned to one of the Americans in my entourage and asked where he came from. The guy answered America.
You have the wrong color to come from America.
The guy said yes, and then in a playful manner said you are crazy men.
They finally announced for us to board our plane. Old women, people with children, and finally women, were to board first. Everyone else should wait till later. Kwaku Duah Berchie John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods Atlanta, GA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Kwaku Duah Berchie
Kwaku Duah Berchie, © 2005

The author has 15 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwakuDuahBerchie

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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