Ah Yes, This is How Things Work in Africa

The plane touched down on the runway in Accra, Ghana, and the passengers immediately burst into applause. We were thankful to have made the long journey from Amsterdam — and many much further. After having two hours of mechanical difficulty before even lifting off the ground, we were all relieved to have made the journey safely. We were surprised by the cool rain that was pouring down on the hot tarmac, but relieved to get a temperate welcome rather than a scorching one.

Our trip to Ghana had already provided the opportunity to make many new friends. At the boarding gate in the Amsterdam airport, a crowd of Ghanaians pressed in around us to hear our plans to visit Ghana as a part of a vision trip to investigate if we could see God using us there, and in what ways. “I would like to give you my phone number, so you can call me if you need help,” was the response from multiple people in the hours along our journey.  We received recommendations on where to live, who to trust, and how to avoid being taken advantage of as foreigners. “Remember that there is one price for Ghanaians, and a higher price for foreigners.”

Ah yes, that is how things work in Africa.

We had traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo just two years prior, and the memories of corruption were still fresh. We had been held by the police more than once, forced to pay to be able leave the country, denied boarding passes to get on the plane, had Addie’s passport stolen by airport officials, and were abandoned by our paid translator. Anyone with even a little authority in Congo, especially the police, used it for corrupt purposes. They knew that we white mzungus were traveling with plenty of cash for unexpected emergencies, and they were all too happy to provide such emergencies to relieve us of our money. I knew if my perception of Africa did not change, I would never be able to live there, in a constant state of paranoia. I needed Africa to be redefined in my mind, and in my heart.

After 4 hours to get through Ebola screening, immigration, baggage claim and customs, we finally walked out of the airport at around midnight — more than 30 hours since our trip had begun. Fortunately, Rev. Joe Ocran and his wife Jemima were waiting for us, welcomed us warmly, and drove us to our hotel for a brief night of rest.

As we rode through the dimly lit streets of Accra to our hotel in Tema, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our last trip. The smell of dust, burning trash, and car exhaust mingled in my nostrils as a familiar reminder of the smell of Africa. I was amazed that even though we were hundreds of miles away from the Congo, the aroma was still the same, as were the roads. Even though it was late at night cars and motorcycles weaved dangerously in and out of lanes of traffic. Potholes were the rule, rather than the exception. The midnight streets were still abuzz with activity.

The one difference was the jovial Joe Ocran, the National Superintendent for The Wesleyan Church of Ghana. A dual citizen of both Canada and Ghana, Joe was a delightful host who chuckled affably at the culture clashes we were already experiencing. We laughed most of the way to the hotel in Tema, where we would stay for the next two days.

As we drew closer to the hotel, the streets became darker, the roads became more uneven, forcing us to slow, and the police were visibly more present. I could see their eyes searching our vehicle. I suddenly felt very white, even in the darkness.

At last, we caught the attention of a pair of police officers at a roundabout, and they motioned us to the side of the road to inspect our vehicle. They approached with flashlights fixed on the interior of our vehicle. The dark veil of night could not hide our foreign identities.

“Ah yes,” I thought to myself, “This is how things work in Africa.”


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