The six weeks between agreeing to go on the trip (five technically if you count the time it took to organise time off work) originally seemed like plenty of time to get everything ready, but seemed to disappear much more quickly than I had anticipated. The main issue I faced was that I am possibly (probably) one of the most laid back people on the planet when it comes to organising something. That is to say I am super disorganised – meaning that things such as booking a yellow fever jab, which normally takes somebody all of five minutes on the phone, took me a couple of weeks. There was also the simple task of buying a mosquito net and repellent, which the vast majority of people would have bought in advance of the trip, which I had to go out and buy in a hurry on the day I was travelling to London. As for the malaria tablets themselves I had to beg Boots to give me some on the day I needed to start taking them (2 days prior to leaving) because it had completely slipped my mind.
That said, after a hurried attempt at packing and a fairly smooth trip down to London (aided significantly by my dad who was extremely patient with my three-hour delay) by Friday 3rd I was where I was meant to be (Julian’s house), with most of what I was told to bring, enjoying a last pasta bake and meeting the team. Most of the team anyway – Julian’s childhood friend and charity lawyer, Ellis, was running a bit late. A couple of hours later, suitcases packed and Ellis still missing, we did what any good team would do and went to bed – it was now eleven o’clock and the taxi was arriving at 6.30am the next morning. That night, sprawled awkwardly on some sofa cushions on the floor of the upstairs landing of a house full of relative strangers, I fell asleep feeling like an excited child the night before a trip to Disney Land.
6:30am rolled round – as ever – far too quickly. A slightly less enthusiastic me crawled into the shower for what I had been led to believe would be my last ‘shower’ shower for some time. Julian had warned us that our accommodation was likely to have a bucket shower system – something which despite sounding very exciting – made me think it may be worth having a proper wash before we left. Ten minutes later, I was getting dressed, my teeth had been brushed, and I heard the noises of an extra person downstairs. It seemed we had our lawyer, we were all packed up and ready to go, and the taxi was waiting outside. Despite an initial worry that all of us, in addition to the ten large suitcases (we had packed two cases each to cater for all the goodie bags), would struggle to fit in the taxi, a bit of creative packing and cosy seating meant that we were flying along to Heathrow in no time. All was going smoothly and to plan, and the team was able to switch from worrying about logistical things to more pressing matters, namely the need to find a suitably large breakfast for our send-off meal in the airport.
Bags checked. Eggs Royale consumed. Morning beer drank. Cash withdrawn. Coffee Attained. Airport done. It was time to board.
I won’t bore you with a description of the flights – we basically flew from Heathrow to Amsterdam, panic ran all the way through Amsterdam to end up in a queue to board our next flight, then boarded a bigger plane to fly the remaining 6 hours to Accra (Ghana’s Capital). That familiar sense of relief passed over me as we touched ground in Accra – and suddenly I realised I had no idea what to expect to find outside that tubular hunk of metal. The usual scramble for baggage ensued and before long we were slowly marching towards the front of the plane, about to get our first experience of Ghana. The childlike feeling of excitement and curiosity washed over me again as I crept closer to the door. Pleasantries exchanged with the flight crew, I rounded the corner, stepped out, and took my first breath of Ghanaian air.
Whoa was it hot.
It felt more like I had taken a gulp of warm water than a breath of fresh air. As soon as we all gathered at the bottom of the stairs, we had a mutual moment of taking layers off whilst doing the typical British thing of commenting on how warm it was. But the thing is – it really was warm – to the point where stating it was necessary. I explained to the others that I felt like I was swimming rather than walking – there was a sensation of being immersed in a warm liquid – however I quickly abandoned this (and the arm actions) when I remembered I barely knew these people and they were already looking at me like I was a weirdo. Beads of sweat were appearing within moments and by the time we had reached the terminal building, we were relieved to feel the icy breeze of air conditioning through the open doors.
Walking through the terminal the most noticeable thing was a massive sense of national pride. Huge Ghanaian flags adorned the walls, the pillars and any other blank surfaces. Two ladies in traditional dress welcomed us into the airport and the novelty increased when we had to pass through a heat scanner – presumably checking us for any infectious diseases, but at the same time providing a little bit of excitement as it triggered that worry (for no good reason) that one of us may actually be carrying a fever and therefore be banned from entering the country. However, that was where the entertainment very quickly tailed off , with us ending up in a very long queue, the end of which wasn’t even in site, to get through immigration.
And so began a long game of waiting, not helped by the fact that we seemed to be the only 5 people in the airport capable of politely forming a queue (so yes, probably the only British people), or the fact that every now and then the power would go out – leaving the airport completely blacked out. In all honesty the first time this happened, a part of me genuinely believed we were under attack, and that this was it. However, the nonchalant attitude of the numerous staff members, followed by the subsequent three or four additional black outs soon made it clear that this was routine in Accra airport, and our minds were soon distracted by an entertaining game of A-Z. The nature of which was to deteriorate with time into the trip, but which at this time focussed on things such as musical groups and vegetables.
Eventually we made it through immigration and into the baggage hall where we (thankfully) collected all ten of our suitcases, made a last-minute dash to the flushing toilets and headed towards the exit. On leaving we got a taste for how helpful Ghanaians can be. They were so helpful in fact that it was really a little bit irritating. For example, having somebody ‘helpfully’ forcefully remove your bags from your hand, whilst you are trying to exchange money, before demanding a tip for moving them a few feet with you as you progress in the queue. The queue which isn’t really working to its full efficiency anyway due to the number of locals who seem to have missed the point all together and just push to the front regardless of the number of people waiting.
Eventually however, we did make it out of the airport, into the heat, where we met Dom, our local contact who by coincidence also turned out to be an absolute legend. Dom led us to our taxi, a journey on which (once again) we all had to fight for possession our bags with the locals. The same locals who then tried to ask for a tip just for offering to take our bags in the first place. With the heat and the general unfamiliarity of our surroundings this could have been really stressful – however, we were all on a high, keen to get started and have a look around, so we laughed it off, clambered in the taxi and set off into the night for the three hour trip to our accommodation.