Thursday, April 14, 2011

Randy Vick West Africa Winter 2011 - BOUND FOR HOPE


When you travel missionary style, you take the cheapest airfare possible and though you save a considerable amount of money you pay the price in other ways.
I am traveling to Monrovia, Liberia from Kansas City, USA, via Atlanta, USA, New York City, USA and Accra, Ghana. KC to Atlanta is a couple of hours with a couple of hours layover, then a couple of hours to NYC with a couple of hours layover. A very nice gesture by a lady, business class passenger, on my flight from KC.  Just prior to take off she approaches the gentleman sitting next to me, a Staff Sgt in the U.S. Army, and offers to let him have her business class seat. In an equally nice gesture he asks her to give her seat to one of two younger servicemen on the flight, one in the Air Force and one in the Army. I'm not sure how she makes her choice, but the young soldier makes his way forward to business class.
My flight is 40 minutes late leaving Atlanta, because as we are taxiing for takeoff, a passenger who they say has a history of heart trouble, is having trouble, and we return to our gate where paramedics are waiting. A lady leaves the plane under her own power and I pray she is ok. My layover in NYC is shortened by half, but I will make up for it in Accra with a 7 ½ hour layover. The 10 1/2 hour transatlantic flight is uneventful, although I am freezing and exhausted as I step out of the airplane into the open air of Kotoka International Airport. Even at 8 AM the heat is quite a shock. Breathing in the moist tropical air is like inhaling nectar after the Midwest winter we've had.
One never knows what to expect when traveling in underdeveloped countries, but you take it as it comes. I'm assuming this airport must be better organized than the airport at Monrovia, as Ghana has been stable for many years now and with its Atlantic coastline, it is becoming a tourist destination for Europeans.
Boarding a bus on the tarmac we are driven to the arrivals hall, and a bit of air conditioning. Just a bit, but it makes quite a difference. I see a small man standing beneath a sign that reads TRANSIT and figure I'd better take a shot. A pleasant young man, he assures me that if I wait with him for a few more expected passengers, he will guide us all through the process. The next passenger I meet is a gentleman who is also going on to Monrovia, I hear him say, so I strike up a conversation. An African-American who works for the State Department, we have something in common as he will be working for State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, or INL and I worked for INL in Afghanistan. He is on his way to Monrovia to begin a one year assignment and I have to admit I'm a bit envious. I am surprised to learn that we will not be flying on to Monrovia together however, as he has a morning connection on Nigerian Atlantic, on a real jet and I'm traveling the missionary way. I will be on an Ethiopian Airlines, propellor driven Dash 8 late this afternoon, actually operated by Africa Sky Airlines. When our young guide gathers his band of merry followers we begin our airport journey at customs. The customs officer wants assurance from me that I will not leave the airport, as I do not have a Ghanaian visa. Then its off to collect our baggage, and I'm very thankful to see my suitcase on the conveyor belt as I was not sure it had made the switch in New York due to our late arrival. As our little baggage train convoy winds through the airport, we are waved through numerous official checkpoints, with help from our guide, and we are finally out the door, across the parking lot, around the corner and up a very long ramp. The heat and humidity are taking their toll now and I am thankful for the person who thought of putting wheels on luggage. Finally we reach the summit and are back inside the semi-air conditioned airport at the Departures hall, where my luggage is inspected and stamped by customs and now I wait.
My ticket counter will not open for several hours so I find a somewhat quiet corner and park myself on a steel airport bench. The Delta flight from New York had the worst seats I've ever sat on in a commercial airliner. Vinyl and no cushion and this steel bench is no relief for my pained backside.
Then out of nowhere a lady appears pushing a ticket counter on wheels. She finds a spot in the middle of the terminal and its check in time for Africa Sky Airlines. Once I've checked my luggage I locate an internet cafĂ© and drop a line to my family letting them know I've made it this far. Not sure when I'll next see the internet.
Time to board and 20 of us walk down a flight of stairs to the tarmac where we board a bus for our plane. When our two male flight attendants give our preflight safety briefing it's a little different. The flight attendant standing directly in front of me, notices the lady across the aisle from me is not paying attention and he reprimands her and she dutifully watches him closely for the rest of the briefing. Give Africa Sky Airlines credit, this is a very small plane, but the flight attendants serve a rather tasty meal, although two days of nothing but airplane food might have reduced my expectations.
We're west bound, flying almost the same airspace over Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia we flew when eastbound into Accra. Thankfully the flight is uneventful and we land at Spriggs-Payne Airport in downtown Monrovia, rather than Roberts International Airport, which is 40 km outside the city. Not sure how they managed it but we've arrived an hour ahead of our scheduled arrival time.

No comments:

Post a Comment