We left Lagos at exactly 7am that morning to Accra. From Lagos to Accra on air is only but about 40 minutes. Since it was my first time of going to Accra, I was quite excited and was very sure I was going to have some very good time. My mind flashed back to the ‘Ghana Must Go’ era 1983, when the Nigerian Government ordered all Ghanaians living in Nigeria to go back to Ghana. When the Ghanaians were leaving Nigeria at the time, they used a kind of bag to pack their luggage and hence the name ‘Ghana Must Go’. I imagined what the temperature, food, culture and people would look like. Then a soft voice came from behind: ‘…please put off the earphones and switch off your phone.’ It was the air hostess and she wanted me to switch off my phone because the local laws in Ghana and Nigeria does require phones to be switched on during flights (according to her, flight mode is not allowed). I was only playing music which I think is fine. I initially resisted but for the fact I never wanted to get attention or spoil my mood, I had to give up. Eventually, one of the air hostesses I got talking with asked me if I was Nigerian. She smiled and told me she knew from the way I insisted and argued with her colleague… She told me Nigerians are stubborn when you want to deny them of their rights. I asked her a few things about Accra before disembarking completely.
The first problem at the airport started at the immigration post where the officer attending to me requested I specify the address of in Ghana where I was going to. I told him I had someone waiting for me outside. He told me point-blank that he will not allow me into the country except I provide an address. He advised me to go and call my contact on phone so he could send me an address. I went out called and Francis my friend who was outside. He tried to send me an address but the message could not deliver to my phone. At that point, I decided to call him and I could not make out anything from the name he was telling me. Some part of it sounded like ‘…Kakalika’ but I eventually learnt it was Manprobi, Kakalika when I left the airport. While in misery and thought of an address to put on the form, I noticed some pamphlet that advertised a product sold somewhere in Accra called Osu. So, I decided to assume I was going to a place at Osu and I filled an imaginary address with the Osu Street as my destination. When he looked at it, he nodded me a welcome to Ghana with his stamp on my passport. I eventually learnt that I could have just told him I was on transit, which was actually my situation. Good a thing, when I tried this other option during another travel across Ghana, it worked but I was only given 48 hours to be in the country before leaving.
Outside the airport was Francis. He welcomed me. Francis and I have been friends for a while. He is a teacher and he works with one of the public schools in Ghana. He had requested for permission to come pick me from the airport. He tried to convince me to spend more time in Accra before continuing to Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire but I refused because I was and I am still now of course in love with Abidjan. First, because I had a very nice experience the first time I visited and also have several friends there. Secondly, I was learning French at the time, so the Ramadan Holiday will not be a bad time to learn one or two things. Finally, because during the Biafra-Nigeria civil war, the French was able to convince Cote d’Ivoire to help Biafra. So, these reasons made me go there very often. He showed me a few places in town before we continued down to the Kaneshi Park, where I could get a bus or shared taxi to Elubo, the border town with Cote d’Ivoire. I paid a sum of 30 cedis ($6) for the bus and at that time, Francis however had to go back to his work while I had to wait for other passengers to come and fill up the vehicle. It was a long wait indeed. Sitting close by was a very slim young man “…comment tu te appeles?” I queried in French trying to be friendly and also seeing he understood little or no English. That’s one of the few French sentences I could make then. He quickly responded Ahmed. He was putting on a Muslim cap which convinced me he was a devout Muslim. He was somewhat dirty but always had a smile. We could not communicate much due to the fact we spoke different languages. He spoke French while I spoke English. At the time around 2014, I could only say my name and ask a few questions in French. We communicated further using phones. He would type a question in Google Translate and translated it to English for me and vice versa. During the wait for the other passengers, he opened his bag, brought out a half-eaten local bread or what Lagosians refer to as “Agege Bread” and gave me some. Honestly, I wanted to refused the bread but I told myself it may create a different impression if I rejected it or if I accepted and threw it away. I bet he might have noticed the uneasiness when I was putting it into my mouth, chewing it and forcing it down my throat. I regretted doing this when I asked him with the aid of a translator (Google Translate) what he did for a living. He told me he travels most Francophone countries where he heals the sick and exorcise evil spirits which make people suffer and remain in poverty. I became very terrified when I learnt this. I was terrified because he talked of evil spirits but the fact he said he goes to heal people who are sick. At the time, Ebola virus was ravaging the entire West Africa and several care givers like doctors and nurses who are very precautious contacted the disease, now to think of a traditionalist who has no formal education telling me he is going around West Africa to take care of sick people. I felt like vomiting the bread but it was too late. He also talked about helping people in poverty and I wondered how he could be helping the poor when he himself was looking wretched and poor.
In any case, the conversation continued and we talked about several places in Abidjan. We got to the Ghana-Cote d’Ivoire border at Elubo at around 6pm. We crossed and got another vehicle to Gare de Bassam park in Abidjan which cost 5000 CFA ($5). We were lucky to have arrived around that time because as I was told, the border closes at 6:30pm. When we waited for the bus to get filled up, I learnt one thing unusual about me. I was screaming at the driver to hurry up and get us out of there. At a point he too became impatient with me and started shouting back at me. I picked up a few of what he said which one of the passengers confirmed to me he said – ‘…You dare not try that your Nigerian impatience thing on me. You Nigerians are always fond of doing that all the time. I am not going to take that honestly.” This made me see that impatient side of me which I never knew about. In any case we were joined on the trip by one other gentleman who was travelling to Abidjan, Abdulrahman Abdulrahman who spoke both French and English fluently and so, we needed no software to do translation. We talked about marriage, politics in Abidjan, cost of living in different places in Cote d’Ivoire and so on. It was discussion, they mentioned to me of a place called ‘Biafra’ in Treichville, Abidjan. I was excited to hear about this and decided I was going to stay in a hotel around Biafra. It was during one of my visits afterwards that someone told me it was named Biafra because some of our gallant Biafran soldiers and civilians landed and settled there during and after the Biafra-Nigeria civil war. The duo was with me till we settled for a not- too- expensive a hotel around there in Biafra – ‘Hotel Bourse de Travaille’ and it was around 11,000 CFA per night ($20).
It was a nice time there. The next morning, I went to one of the shops around my hotel which was ran by a Burkinabe. I sat there and interacted with the children who came to buy things from the shop. I called them for very short conversations and in fact, in some cases, they were able to teach me one or two things as most of the kids were brilliant and spoke both English and French. I also appreciated a research work I read about that advised it is ok and helpful to learn a new language with books meant for children. Those times I spent with the kids was just priceless.
Ramadan was fun in Abidjan also. The whole city was colourful and people visited friends and family. There were a lots to eat and drink. I contacted one of the first Nigerians I met and became friends with when the first time I came to Abidjan, Lateef. I was happy to know he lives a walking distance to where my hotel was. His mum also was a chef and had a canteen where people come to eat and so he invited me over. The rest should be history if you know how much I like to take rice abroad.
The next evening was the climax of it all. Unknown to me, Salif Keita was coming to Palais de la Culture, a hotel and a cultural resort in Abidjan. This was on the same street as my hotel and it was a lot of fun going there to watch the man perform. Salif is one of the few African musicians that has been performing for more than 40 years and I counted myself privileged to have been to his show. He was on stage for almost 1 hour 30 minutes and he entertained the hell out of us. I was just watching a man I have admired and enjoyed his African tunes singing on the stage. Something different about him was the fact he never stressed himself to sing. At a point he just had to sit and yet he sang so loud and melodious. However, I was wishing and praying he sang ‘Mandjou’ or ‘Baba’ which are my favourite songs by him but he did not. My stay in Abidjan was nice and wonderful.
I left Abidjan the next day back to Lagos. It was a nice trip and I enjoyed it.