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Network Infrastructure and Rollout. Fancy climbing this ladder!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"14 hours" - Monday 31st July 2006

It was Monday morning about 10.00am; we had finished signing a contract for a new project building tower sites in the north of Benin. We had arrived in our Ghana Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger cabsters. Things had gone well, all we had left to do was negotiate the lease on the office/apartment and then I would set off with my driver back to Ghana…

We parked at a roundabout near the landlords offices and left the drivers with the vehicles. For 10 minutes the vehicles were unattended and in that time the front drivers door lock was forced on the Hilux and the small bags taken. For the first time in 2 months I had left my passport in a bag that I didn’t have with me. Now it was gone!

When I returned to the vehicles and was told what had just happened I went cold, here I was in Cotonou, Benin, 7 hours away from Accra, with no passport, or visas to get through 3 countries…..aaaarh! I can relive the feeling just by thinking back! The feeling of despair and utter loss for what to do is vivid. What compounded the situation was that in 36 hours I had plans to leave for the UK and be back with my family and then onward to Kenya in a few days time.

In my passport were multiple entry visas for Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast. There is also no embassy in Benin or Togo. They are managed from the embassy in Nigeria! Could I get through to the number? Not a chance.

So as the sinking feelings continue to get stronger we weave our way through the bustling motor bike taxis and busy Cotonou to the police to get a police report, which would theoretically get me through the borders back to Ghana. The central police station was mayhem since the whole country would close down tomorrow for Independence Day (26 years of independence from France), so we diverted to the Commissariat de Police Cadjehoun a district, and went through the report process. (A 2 hours event which is another story for another post!)

With the letter stamped, typed and signed, the advice from my Accra office was to move away. The British Embassy in Nigeria’s number was continually engaged! Great thanks for the help. So on we went. It was already 2:00pm so we had to negotiate the border crossings to get to Ghana before dark. Once in Ghana we could relax and slow down.

Benin/Togo Border.
The Police report was in French and gave the details, as a document it explained really well the theft and the things stolen and had a lot of weight. The Benin immigration were a bit embarrassed that it had happened and after a little encouragement to help me (in my not so fluent French) the one guard persuaded the interviewing guard to let me out….Next Togo entry! So I walk into the garden shed to the border police, and hand my police report over and he looks at me and says you have no visa, explanations later he passes it to another guard…10 minutes later and 10 people pushing in front, this guard says follow me…so then we meet the top border guard in traditional outfit and he looks at me and then at the paper and then at me and with a slight head nod, I’m through….man was I relieved. On the way over to the vehicle one of the border guards needed a ride to Lome the capital which was on our route, and in return we had free passage through the vehicle checks which saved us about 20 mins…..(at this point I’m thinking that things are going well)

Togo/Ghana Border
The Togo guards seeing the stamps I already had on the police report let me out and wished me well, so after all this French I breathed a sigh of relief, it was 5:00pm and I walked in to the Ghana Immigration office.

Ghana Shock!
What a surprise was waiting for me. When I entered, I was quickly passed to the top immigration officer who was standing 6ft and more in his green uniform with hands behind his back, ridged in his pose. Before I could get through half of my explanation he interrupted and refused to listen, ordered me out of his office back into Togo saying apologies were not enough, that I didn’t have the correct papers and should return to Cotonou, Benin, sort it out and then return with the right paperwork! I was dumbstruck, yet immediately I knew he wasn’t going to move, so rather than antagonize him, I passed the car stopped told my driver and walked by foot, with a pocket full of papers in my pocket across the border back into the “in-between” zone where the trucks are parked to await customs inspection. I just stood there, what ran through my mind as I visualized how I could get that all done and be back in time for a UK flight the next night was a total feeling of loss. I had come so far and now this huge BLOCK, like a stronghold blocking the way.

My driver arrived and expressed how he was embarrassed that one of his countrymen could be this inflexible….well over the next hour, several phone conversations happened in Accra Immigration and with the border officials. The outcome was that the immigration authorities instructed the immigration border to let me in, but the border officer refused and eventually the message came “you cannot enter!” At the same time my driver a local started to work on a plan. There was a border crossing a little north of us which would let us in…….

……..3 hours later I made it to Ghana. What I can’t write here is how.

Border crossings in Africa are unique, each one is different and my passage to Ghana resembled in my mind something from a Bruce Willis movie, without the guns and cameras. It was like a Brother Andrew border crossing. In person I can explain it all….14 hours of total uncertainty which turned into a series of very certain steps.

Sometimes we get blocked but it doesn’t mean the road has ended, sometimes we get delayed but it doesn’t mean we are not moving…the lows and very lows of the Monday 31 July 2006 will be eternally imprinted on my mind….and I’ve only been here 7 weeks..

Here’s to more African adventure but a little more toned down please….

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

da da da daaaaaa da da daaaa da da da daaaaaa da da da da daaa.. INDIANA JONES!!!! woot woot! hehehe lol! WOW what a ride! that must have been so scary! oooo errr! i'm so proud of you!!! i love you daddy! only one more week left!!!!!!! :D:D:D i love you!!! MWAH!!! caz xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Wednesday, August 02, 2006  
Anonymous patrick said...

WOOOW!

I've just got back from my family holiday in Turkey. I have SO MANY emails and blogs to catch up on. This has to be the most interesting read by far! Although this sounds like one great ordeal, it's sounds thouroughly exciting aswell! :D

Hope to see you sometime in the not to distant future. Let me know how things are.

~Pat~

Saturday, August 05, 2006  
Blogger kieron said...

God is with you my friend. Your boy Alex is with us now and tonight he is coming with me and Ryan and Guy and Chess to see Superman. He is standing right next to me and sends you his love and says he cant wait to see you.
Take care Andrew and DONT leave anything else in a car....stuff it down your pants.
Love Kieron.

Saturday, August 05, 2006  

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