Kafka, Terry Gilliam and Ghana: Part Four

on Wednesday, 13 November 2013. Posted in Africa Travels

We are done. The forms have been inputted and off we go back to the customs office where apparently we have to get the forms checked through, to ensure all fees have been paid and processes followed and then we will be given the name of a customs officer who will be inspecting my bag. We go into the office and there are quite a few other people waiting there. We approach the customs officer and wait there. We are then told to go and wait in the chairs. On sitting there, a man says to me, “Be patient, you have to be patient”, implying that it’s not good to harass the officers doing their work, or you will be only kept waiting longer.

This was the second time I had been given that advice. There was one other office earlier that I haven’t yet mentioned as I can’t remember in which order it came and why we were there and when I was waiting I was wondering what was happening and I think now it was another different customs’ office that again had to check that all the documents were in order before we would proceed. At that office, most of the officers were on lunch so we just had to wait for probably 20-30 minutes. Hence the suggestion for patience!

Another 30 minutes or so and we have all the forms and have to go and find out which officer will look at my bag. We are given a name but he is not in the office so we head off to the warehouse where we are told he may be. However, we can’t find him there and go back to the office to see if he is there. Yes, he is!! and we are told he will come to the warehouse. We go back to the warehouse and I have to get a security pass to go in, paying a 5 cedi deposit. On the way there, I am asking her – my friend – why I had to pay in the last office the 90 cedis when I had already paid the handling fee to the company that handled my bags  coming in the country. At this point, she began to get really upset and started speaking fast and intensely, in the company of the security guys who were handing out the passes. She didn’t like it that I was accusing her of trying to cheat me when all she was doing was helping me get through this process. Why would she want to do this etc etc? I calmed her down as I just wanted to get through it, but after I realized that it is just part of the system there, that the last fees were really just an institutional pay off to get the process done. It wasn’t like a little baksheesh to grease the process; it is just a fundamental part of doing any business here, even though I was simply trying to get my personal belongings.

However, I had another worry. My bag contained many homeopathic remedies and pamphlets, which I know the customs man could question, either thinking they could be drugs or that I was wanting to sell them and that I would have to pay duty on them, or some other thing. I had a letter with me just in case, stating what I was doing here in Ghana but I didn’t know if it would help.

So, anyway, back to the warehouse where we trace my bag. Oh my god, my little bag, it is there and after 8 hours in total, I am finally in the presence of my bag. So, we wait there for the customs man and after about 30 minutes, he arrives, inspecting many other imports, mainly commercial products, and I unlock my bag and take out my stuff. He sees the boxes and asks me what they are and I tell him, showing him 3 of the boxes. He then tells me to pack my bag, which I do. I ask my friend what is happening and she said he has gone off to inspect other cargo. Apparently he had mentioned that there were many medicines there, and wandering what I was wanting to do with them, so I was waiting for him to come back and ask more questions. But he didn’t, but he also didn’t release the bag and so I had to wait another 40 minutes or so as he looked at other bags before he went back to office. At one point, he passed by me and I began to ask him what the process was now. My friend then also interjected and he said to her “So you want me to bend the rules just because you are working for a white man.” Oh dear, that wasn’t really useful.

So, a little while later, we head back to the office and wait for him to come back, hoping all will be well. A little later, he comes in and we wait some more. And then lo and behold, we have the papers in our hand. Unbelievable! It is getting close. We then walk to another office where a woman inputs yet more information into a computer and we take her form with all the other ones into the warehouse and into yet another customs office where the officer tells me to wait outside while my friend processes all the documents yet one more time.

She comes out, forms in hand, and we take them to the security man at a table near the warehouse who stamps the release form. A man then picks up my bag and we bring it back to the same security man for another check. We then carry the bag 20 feet and it is again checked by another security man. It is then carried out and to the outer gate where it is again checked by another security man. We then walk through the gate; the bag is put down and the man carrying my bag sidles up to me and asks for some money. I give him ½ cedi. He asks for more and all I have is an old cedi coin which is no longer valid currency. Another man, on seeing this coin says, “You are a Ghanaian, you have the old money.”

I think I am free. I ask my friend about 10 times, only partly in jest, whether I am really done or whether there is some other procedure to go through. Apparently not. We walk to the outer gate, where I stop and beckon a taxi. I give my friend – and her friend – 20 cedis, plus 2 cedis more for her taxi. I put my newfound bag into the taxi, get in and off we go, back to the conference center at the Osu Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, a mere 8 hours later that day.

In spite of the ridiculous amount of money it cost to get this bag here, and knowing I made a stupid mistake in choosing this option, I am simply relieved. Maybe this is just one more initiation process in my accommodation to being in Ghana. Maybe I will have the patience to endure the constant obstacles - the mad traffic jams, the obsolete ATM’s, the strange diffusiveness at any effort to achieve anything – all it needs is patience, humor and a profound belief in a higher power, one that is threatening to desert me at any moment!!