The Ghana Diaries #2

Sunday, 7 November 2010 at 11:33

I have been to Amsterdam many times, but always arriving by ferry and transported into Amsterdam Central by bus, this was my 1st visit to Schipol Airport and I was impressed. It's big, it's busy and if you enjoy the whole eat/shop/drink at the airport thing there's plenty to amuse you . . or you can watch commercials in the huge screen outside!? The quickest way into he City Centre is by train, so having purchased return tickets I went to catch one. Haha – not so easy, information is bang up to date . . in Dutch . . so unless you can find someone to ask you're snookered! I found myself wandering around between two platforms with at least another dozen Europeans (German, Spanish-mental note-learn more languages-which ones 1st? Twi surely so I may still get lost on the way back), experiencing the same problem, boarding a train that seemed right and quickly alighting before it left having discovered it was not! We thought we'd eventually cracked it only to discover that we had boarded an express train for which we should have paid much more. But we were assured it was not our fault, the pressurized doors had closed so we couldn't get off, and it would be ok – the driver would be notified.

Ok, I was sorted, I danced off the train at Central Station confident I wouldn't have that problem the following day.

Oh it felt so good to be there again! I'd so missed this beautiful City with it's laid back way of life, it's tolerance and lack of prejudice, it's warm hearted relaxed attitude, and it's welcome and enthusiasm towards all who go there. I hadn't booked into an Hotel but I wanted to walk, and I wandered contentedly around the Centre, breathing in Dam Square and just generally happy to soak up the atmosphere but time marched on and I decided it was time to make sure I had a comfortable bed for the night. I had apparently chosen to stay on a night that coincided with a Marathon, (don't know which one, my head was focused on making sure I wasn't sleeping in the railway station!), but I managed to book a room. Ahem . . now I love the buildings in Amsterdam, tall, narrow, (the Architectural history is fascinating!), but this room was up four flights of steep, crooked stairs and I was pleased I wasn't coming home at 4am having fully experienced all the delights Amsterdam has to offer! The room was very basic for the same price you would normally pay for a five star hotel but never mind, it provided everything I needed. I went out again, picked up a few essentials including a decent bottle of red and just had to drop by a Coffee Shop . . returned with my purchases and was asleep by 10 30, a new experience lol

I checked out, had breakfast on the way to the station and marched in there only to find there had been an accident on the main line to the airport so there were no direct trains, reminding me that when we have learned a lesson once we then need a new one! We had to get a different train and change . . and again, having asked directions they sounded completely different to those we were feebly attempting to read! But if other travellers could do it so could I, and eventually I found myself on the platform with many of the confused people I was with the day before. Here was safety and comfort, all going back to the airport had lots of luggage so were easy to spot, we could get lost together – but we didn’t thankfully! And here I was back at Schipol Airport.

Friends and family often say to me, “How do you do this on your own, I couldn't?” But honestly I love the adventure. I won't deny there are occasional moments of serious misgiving, but at such times I simply remind myself that it IS an adventure – and every time you get 'stuck' you ask your Angels for guidance and add it to your library of knowledge and experience for future referance, works for me!!

I understand that airport security had to be increased but really! My gripe with UK Airports is the rip off of having to pay through the nose for even the smallest bottle of water cos you have to buy it after you get through security . . and what DOES happen to all those toiletries they confiscate?? Schipol demanded we check in about 90 mins before departure, and having done that there are no accessible toilets or shops without having to leave the departure lounge and go through security again! Come on people get it together, there has to be a more user friendly – less exploitative way – WORLDWIDE! KLM however were excellent to fly with, couldn't be better looked after with drinks and snacks every hour or so and a substantial and appetizing meal – at least on long haul flights.

I had telephoned Imoro from Amsterdam and he explained he had been ill with a chest infection so was sending his friend Salomey to collect me in Accra, and as he knew I would be tired from the journey, she would take me to stay with her family and I would come to the Orphanage in Duayaw Nkwanta next day. She would be holding a sign reading 'Mums Love Orphanage'.

I felt the rise in temperature about 30 mins before the plane touched down, and after an hour of passport control and luggage retrieval I wandered passed the line of people holding signs until I found Salomey. She greeted me affectionately and led me from the airport. I explained that I needed to change money, (a few years ago when I arrived in Delhi there were plenty of places to do that inside the airport, this was different), I changed the money necessary to pay for a taxi but got only half what I should. A lesson learned!

As we drove through Accra children wandered amongst the crazy traffic with baskets of stuff on their heads to sell. One girl,about 12 or 13 years old I guess, was crying because she had lost the money from her sales and I wondered what exactly that meant for her.

Whenever I leave the UK and experience the roads elsewhere I'm reminded just how safety conscious we are lol! In some ways it's refreshing not to be constantly aware of what CAN happen if you don't wear a seat belt for e.g., but most of the time, once you get used to it, the chaos is amusing to watch. I remember on the journey from Delhi Airport watching cows roaming up the dual carriageway towards the oncoming traffic and wondering if I had come all this way only to die before I reached my destination?! I soon got used to it, and I must admit that if I hadn't had five amazing weeks in India, Africa would have been more of a culture shock. The two are very different but there are also lots of similarities.

Having found a taxi driver to take us home for a reasonable price we chatted on the way. Salomey's family live In the suburbs of Accra, but everywhere I came into contact with people I was greeted with cries of 'Welcome'. Salomey does not usually stay at home, she works and attends college elsewhere but she had made this journey for my sake. Her family made me feel so at home. I was shown to my room and a bathroom I could use, they live in a big house with lots of rooms. Her Dad works for an NGO and meets, greets volunteers as they arrive and takes them to places of interest. After a good nights sleep, while Salomey went to the hairdressers her Dad took me to a local European supermarket so that I could stock up on things I needed. Her Mum advised me on lots of things and they asked me to come back and stay with them whenever I was in need of a rest, or when I wanted to lounge around on the beech and also asked that I invite my children and friends to come and stay. My biggest problems . . were the heat, and making people with such kind intentions understand that I could not eat so much! And those are still my biggest problems!

Music played outside my window as I crawled into bed exhausted and I fell asleep that night with the smells and sounds of Africa filling my senses and an acute sense of belonging, it was emotionally overwhelming but beautiful!

On Saturday afternoon, having reluctantly declined the offer to stay the whole weekend because I felt I needed to touch base, Salomey declared her intention to make the bus journey with me, (this meant she had dedicated her WHOLE weekend to getting me to the Orphanage safely), but I was so grateful she did. Her Dad took us to the bus station and we by passed lots of scouts touting for business straight to a bus headed for Sunyani, but then the bus won't leave till it's full, so we left 45 mins late. It's a seven hour journey by road! The roads are very bumpy, and by that I mean you are quite frequently lifted from your seat, and often driving under sections of road that are works in progress. The feint hearted from Europe are probably better off travelling with their eyes closed lol, and there are few stops along the way. But eventually, totally exhausted and probably with more bruises than we cared to mention, we arrived . . and there were Imoro and Ritta, (the most senior of the kids at the Orphange) waiting to greet us.

To be continued . . .

Copyright Rosa Montague.