I knew Thursday was Ghana be a long day, but I wasn’t smart enough to realize the half of it when I woke up that morning. Joline and the kids left on Wednesday with the Gregstons for Gulu, so I was alone Wednesday night, but for only part of the night. My driver picked me up at 3:15 a.m. on Thursday to take me to the airport for a quick trip Ghana.
The church we attend on campus at Pepperdine partially supports a Christian school founded and run by one of our Pepperdine alums, Joseph Dzamesi (pronounced Jah-muh-see). The Missions Committee at the church asked me to journey from Uganda to Ghana to visit Joseph and the school to provide them with some encouragement. This also provided the perfect opportunity to visit one of our law alums, Stanley Ahorlu, who helps coordinate the summer program Pepperdine Law has with the Ghana Supreme Court for two of our students. Stanley was also going to try to introduce me to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana if he was in. (Both Joseph and Stanley are from Ghana and returned a few years after they graduated).
Other than the fact that I was a bit tired, the trip started off well. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to catch my 5:10 a.m. flight. Things quickly went south. As he leafed through my passport, the guy behind the Kenya Airways ticket counter said, “Where is your visa to enter Ghana – I don’t see it in here.”
I just stared stupidly at him as I mentally beat the crap out of myself for not even having thought about a visa. I have no idea why it never occurred to me, but it didn’t. Not even for a moment, not even once. “Um, I’m Ghana get one at the airport in Ghana when I arrive,” I said, more as a question than as an answer.
He looked at me like I was a moron, then proved it – “You didn’t go the Ghana embassy here in Kampala to get one before you boarded the plane? It is very quick and easy.”
The only comeback I could muster in reply was a goofy embarrassed stare and the word, “no.”
He handed me my boarding pass as he shook his head and pointed to the boarding gate, confident, I am sure, that I would be back in Kampala sooner than I was scheduled to be. As I walked to the gate, I contemplated my options. First, I could postpone my trip and beg for a refund of the nearly $1,000 ticket. But Joseph was traveling the three hours from his hometown to the airport and had moved his schedule around to accommodate my visit. Besides, what would be my excuse to Kenya Airways – I am too stupid to plan ahead (though I purchased the ticket nearly a month ago) so please give me money back? Second, I could press ahead and see if I could talk my way into Ghana. After all, Uganda allows visitors to buy entry visas at the airport. Surely Ghana does also, right? I decided to press forward.
After filling out my exit documents between the ticket counter and gate at the Entebbe, Uganda aiport, I approached the immigration booth. I handed my passport and boarding pass to the nice lady behind the counter. “Ghana fly to Ghana, huh?” Flip, flip, flip. “Where is your visa?”
“Ghana get it when I arrive,” I said with much more confidence than before.
Same surprised look that betrayed a hint of pity for the idiot standing in front her. She mumbled something like, “Not my problem” and stamped my passport.
The one-hour flight to Kenya where I would lay over for three hours was uneventful, though I will confess to feeling a mounting sense of dread about what would happen when I arrived in Ghana. In Kenya, I found a lounge with internet and logged on to the Ghana immigration website. Near the top of the page was the following notification:
“All foreigners entering Ghana, unless covered by para 3(1) require Entry Visas. Entry Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Ghana and may be obtained from a Ghana Embassy, High Commission or Consulate abroad.”
My eyes frantically scanned down the page for any potential exceptions. This is all I found:
“Referals (for British Diplomatic Missions and Consulates)
I. Entry Visas may be issued in accordance with the Visa Regime to the following categories of persons without reference to Accra.
1. Members of Diplomatic and Foreign Consular officers “de carriere” travelling to or through Ghana on official business.”
So there I sat in Kenya, about two hours before my six-hour flight to Ghana, once again trying to figure out if I would get on a flight back to Kampala and admit failure or just press ahead and see if I could talk my way in. Then I remembered something.
When Bob Goff came to Kampala, he brought with him some cool new business cards for me, which named me Chief of Staff to the Uganda Consulate. Bob is Uganda Consulate.
Even though the exception explicitly contemplated British Consulates, I figured it was worth a try. I tried to channel my inner Bob Goff to figure out what he would do. I concluded that Bob would smile, be really charming, and tell the truth when he arrived at the Ghana Airport. I decided to give it a shot.
When I boarded the plane, I instantly realized there was a problem of a different kind. My boarding pass had me in Seat 22G, but there were only three seats on each side of the center aisle: A, B, C on the right, and D, E, and F on the left. The stewardess apologized and said the G really should have said “D” (I always try to get an aisle seat so I have more room to work on my laptop). Well, when I got to 22G, there was rather large Kenyan woman in my seat. The middle seat next to her was open and there was a purse on the window seat. She saw me looking at the seat she was occupying and at my boarding pass and said, “I am sitting here, you can sit somewhere else.” Before I could question her, the stewardess said over the intercom, “We need to leave so just take any available seat – don’t worry about sitting in your assigned seat.” Big Kenyan lady gives me a wide grin and smugly says, “You heard her, just take any open seat. This one is not open.”
My blood pressure spiked, but I tried to maintain control. “Is the seat next to you open?” She just shrugged and looked the other way. By this time, the passengers waiting behind me started grumbling at me to take a seat, so I squeezed by her and started to sit in the middle seat.
“Whose purse is that in the window seat?” I politely asked through gritted teeth.
“It’s mine. I am saving that seat for a friend who is coming.”
My turn to sport a wide grin and smugly say, “You heard the stewardess. Any open seat . . .” I handed the purse to her and plopped down into the aisle seat and gave her devious smile. She was not pleased.
Just after we took off, she started to doze off. “Excuse me. What is the time difference between Kenya and Ghana?” The next three times she fell asleep, I woke her up so I could use the bathroom. The last time I got in, I knocked her hot coffee all over her lap and then laughed in her face. OK, so maybe I didn’t wake her up, never used the restroom, and never spilled coffee on her but I sure wanted to. Is that wrong?
Once we arrived in Ghana, I took a deep breath, put on a smile and strode confidently to the immigration booth. I handed the officer my passport and my two Ugandan business cards – one showing I worked for the Ugandan High Court and the other showing I was a “diplomat.”
Flip, flip, flip. “Where is your visa?”
“I don’t have one yet; I need to get one here,” I said with every ounce of confidence I could muster.
“We do not issue visas at the airport; you must get them before you arrive.” He made no effort to mask his exasperation.
I pointed to my business cards, and said, “I work for the High Court of Uganda and I am here for one day. I plan to meet with Chief Justice Dotse later this afternoon. I would like a diplomatic visa, please.” All of this was entirely true.
“Where is your diplomatic passport?”
“I don’t have one,” I said as I again pointed to my business cards as if they were magical.
He sighed and instructed me to stand to the side as he consulted with another officer. A few minutes later, the other officer called me over and said, “You should have gotten a visa before you came. Make sure you do so next time.”
Joseph was waiting for me outside and he took me to see Stanley, the law alum. They were old friends from the years they overlapped at Pepperdine. (They were two of three Ghanaians at Pepperdine in the late 1990s). After our meeting with Stanley, we headed north to Joseph’s hometown of Ho. (And yes, I giggled the first time I heard the name. I am not just an idiot, I am also immature). Unfortunately, the Supreme Court Justice unexpectedly had to leave town, so I never had a chance to meet with him.
Joseph has a wonderful family – Jennifer is his wife and his three kids are Justin (6), Jason (4), and Janelle (1). They cooked a fantastic Ghanaian meal of chicken curry, rice, fried plantains, avocado, and pineapple. Since Ghana is three hours earlier than Uganda, I was beat and turned in early. I also got up early to finish preparing my fifteen-minute devotional/sermon to the five hundred kids at the Sonrise Christian High School that Joseph started and now runs. This school is only about six years old, but is already the top-ranked private school in Northern Ghana.
After a tour of the school, we headed back to Ghana’s capital city, Accra, which is noticeably more developed than Kampala, Uganda. The roads are much wider and very well paved, unlike in Kampala. The buildings are also bigger and newer, and everything is much cleaner. Several years ago, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) were banned, so everything seems much more orderly. Given its deep water port, Ghana has a huge shipping industry that powers its growing economy. It is also only one of a small handful of African countries with single-digit inflation, and is one of only a few African countries where there has been a peaceful transfer of power after democratic elections. I am confident that I will be back to Ghana in the next few years.
Fortunately, the redeye trip home went by quickly, thanks to some well-timed pharmaceutical assistance.