The throng that passed through with the young man dispersed; it had been exhilarating to see such a mass of people moving pugnaciously in one direction; I was glad I was on the sidelines. I continued to watch the party while we waited. Gradually each owner was found and they manoeuvred their vehicles to one side – since there was no space left anywhere down by the village end, I was amazed how they managed to wiggle these cars out from their logjam. One car they never found the owner, so ten men picked it up and bodily moved it to one side. We finally were able to ease our way out, going back and forth several times to come out of the space, and then backing up a good half mile through the crowds and cars to a point where we could turn and face our road. It was the most interesting day I ever had in Ghana, but it did not leave me satisfied.
I’ve described almost everything that was good about Ghana in the last couple of posts. Most of the time was tedious and frustrating. Rarely was I actually shown any bureaucratic hostility, normally it was just the general sluggishness of progress that sapped my energy. There were a few occasions, though, where the system tried to work against me.
The most testing of these came when I had to extend my passport visa on the way out of the country. I suppose I should say it was my own fault, but I always hold back from blaming myself when I can lay my hands on a couple of other scapegoats.
The problem started back in the UK when I had applied for my visa. I knew exactly when I was supposed to travel and when I was supposed to come back. I had the air ticket in my hands and applied for a six week visa. My passport disappeared into the system for a week or two and came back, with a one month visa, five days short. I only had a week or two available to me before I left, and decided to chance it. I’d been told that it wasn’t a problem to get an extension out there. I even thought it was worth taking the chance and when you got to Accra airport on the way out, you say “well, my visa ran out, but I’m going anyway so just expel me from the country on this lovely Jumbo Jet which happens to be parked on your tarmac”. Others had sucked through their teeth and said “Oh, I wouldn’t try it”. The reason for not giving me the total length of stay originally was obvious; Ghana wanted more money from my visit.
I left it, and turned up at Gatwick for my flight, but even in Britain I was thwarted. The BA stewardess wouldn’t let me on the plane without changing my ticket back to before my visa ended. She told me I could get another ticket sorted out in Accra when I got there.
I travelled, already wary of the bureaucratic trouble I had got into. I spent a couple of afternoons trying to get my ticket changed at the BA office in the centre of Accra. Accra had some of the worst traffic jams I had ever seen and it took over an hour to drive down from my hotel on North Ridge to the centre of the town. When I got there, a lightning strike from one of the many thunderstorms at that time had outed the computers, so they couldn’t change my ticket. The second time I went, again with a long journey from the suburbs, they were inexplicably shut.
I was told there was a BA office in Kumasi, a fact I found incredibly surprising because it was not served by any BA flights. On the dual carriageway into town stood a small office with the old dark blue and red BA logo. Next door was a Forex and a KLM office. I wandered in and had my ticket changed very easily. That was a relief, but I still debated with several people about my visas. In the end, since so much else had been an issue in Ghana, I decided to be legal and I went down to the Administrative block near the Military museum that had the passport office. I went in and asked for a visa renewal. I was given a form to fill in and told to hand it back to the office with an official letter from my employer in Kumasi. I went back, wrote a letter for Quashi Sam to sign and filled in the form. I took it back. I handed over form, letter, money and passport. I expected it to be stamped immediately then and there. They counted the money from behind a metal grill and then said “Come back tomorrow for your passport”.