Thursday, October 4, 2012

Warm contentions and panic attacks

Tuesday evening, Accra, Ghana, October 2, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

More adventures: while I was at the office again the others, Turay, Jim & the Burns’s, went to look at the last three wells in the Freetown area (connected with the Waterloo project), and afterwards went downtown to visit with Robin, the man that supplies our water pumps, because he knows some people that could give us bids on a borehole that we will be drilling at the Mercy Hospital in Bo.  The downtown area is like most of the pictures we send home, incredibly crowded.  It is difficult to find a place to park so most people double park in front of shops.  There is no room because vendors selling their wares set up in front of the ‘official shops’ taking up any parking spots.  Turay said to just leave the car parallel parked in front like most everyone else does. 

Turay captures the keys!
Returning to the truck they see that the police had put a boot or lock on the front tire with a handwritten note saying that there was a 100,000 Leone fine (about $25) for double parking and to call the phone number to get it removed.  Everyone was milling around including various policemen that were showing up from time to time. One policeman came by and seeing that they were locked up said that this was no way to treat a missionary couple that had come to their country to do good things.  A couple of other policeman said it was none of his business because he wasn’t in the same department so he left.  Turay ends up calling the number and tells the original policeman to unlock the boot and he’ll pay him the money, never intending to do so because it is a bribe.  When the guy shows up he locks up another car that had pulled up behind our vehicle.  Turay tells the new locked up guy that if he is a witness, he’ll get his tire unlocked too.  Turay and the policeman go around the corner so that he can give him the lesser amount of 50,000 Leones, which he had offered the guy (he didn’t want to be seen taking this bribe).  When they returned to the cars he unlocks the boots on both vehicles but denies he ever got the 50,000, which Turay demanded back.  He again said he did not get any money, but Turay had his witness.  There were many who joined this argument and as things became rather heated the policeman decided to get out of there.  As he starts up his bike Turay pulls his keys out of it, venders and others joining in the fight.  They take the guy’s bike and pull it into the shop while it is still running.  The policeman really wants to leave now because the issue has become very hot and he wants to get away; he finally gets his bike and leaves, but Turay still had his keys!  He had ALL this policeman’s keys, so even though he didn’t get the money back (it came from Jim’s pocket), he felt triumphant.  He was going to go on the nightly TV news because they love doing corruption scandals, but then he got called away by his political party that night and couldn’t do it.  He was so happy.  You have to picture this scene, which we see repeatedly, where men get into shouting and shoving matches.  Turay was in his ‘pit bull’ mode and Sister Burns was frantically praying in the back seat, asking them to just pay the fine, but Turay did not want to do that—if they pay now, they will boot every missionary car every time if they think they can get the bribe!  It got very crazy.   Turay finally gets into the car, giggling and Burns’s can’t believe that after all that shouting it is over and the pit bull has returned to laughing?  The Burns’s are getting quite an education.

I hope you are not as confused as I am in telling that story!  I sure missed out on all the adventures this week, but then, I will tell you of a bit of a freak out we had at the airport.  We are at the Novotel in Accra, Ghana, breezing through the airport like we never have before—we would have been so delighted if it weren’t for the stress we’d been under.

Departing Freetown on the Sea Coach, formerly the Pelican.  They have newer boats and reception areas previously absent.  They have no competition now that Eco Water Taxi’s wharf dropped into the sea and they are rebuilding it.

We said our sad goodbyes to the Burns’s and then took the motorboat across the water.  Jim was upset that my luggage showed up on the first trip, but we had to wait for his to show up 20-30 minutes later.  We like to get to the airport before the ferry shows up with a very large crowd, but the airport was not very busy so we were greatly relieved.  However, we got to one man that was checking passports asking us where we were going (Accra, then Liberia the next day) and claims that our visa to Liberia has expired!  What?  How did we get this wrong? 

The airport is as hot as always and Jim was sweating profusely and was not feeling very happy anyway.  As we are fretting about what to do Jim calls Sister Randall who tells us to call Daniel Abeo in Accra, who handles visa problems.  They both told him to stay at the Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone and not go to Accra because we would never be able to get on the plane to Liberia and the only place to get a visa would be to stay in Sierra Leone!  In the meantime I am frantically e-mailing our boss Ty Johnson in Salt Lake City and telling him of our plight, along with Daniel Abeo.  We finally got hold of Daniel and they all claimed again that we would be stuck in Accra and not to go.  We see our luggage being loaded on the plane and Jim is thinking there is no way we were not going to get on that plane even if we skipped Liberia altogether and went home!  Besides, all the boats had stopped running and there was no way back to Freetown and we would have had to stay in airport that has no air conditioning, sitting in a plastic chair sweating all night!

I checked all my records on my laptop and saw from old e-mails that this visa had to still be good.  Here is why he thought it was not: in Africa they put the day, month, year, but in the US we put the month, day and year.  The Sierra Leonean man insisted that it had expired in July, not in December as the date read 12-7-12.  We checked our old visa and it was written the same way—the American way--we were sure it expired in December not July as this man insisted.  I was pretty sure it was good and that we could prove it--either way, we were not staying there!

New reception area for Sea Coach—there used to be just a concrete slab and a few chairs to sit on.  Now they even have a TV and toilets—bad ones, but there nevertheless.

Because we were not sure how this was going to play out, we had a fairly anxious flight to Accra.  When we arrived Jim decided to talk to someone from immigration and the man said very quickly—it was good—that is the way they write it in Liberia!  All that sweating and worrying about whether or not we should stay or go, all because the guy didn’t know that in Liberia, they do it (as in many other things) the American way…relief and whew is what you are getting from us here! 

So, here we are at the Novotel Hotel, having breezed through the airport without any crowds.  We are going to take our first hot shower in three weeks!  I look, at the moment, like a drowned rat.  From my hair blowing in the sea breezes to my sweating in the airport, I plan on looking and feeling like a new woman very soon! 

On the plane I met a woman who was living in a remote jungle village for 2-3 weeks and who has done this a few times over the last couple of years.  She is with some Christian group that volunteered to go and meet with a pastor there who visits more regularly working with this one village.  She teaches school children and has become quite close to people in this village.  We could not believe that we were nearly neighbors—she lives in Simi Valley, and for those who don’t know, it is one of the towns not far from Thousand Oaks.  We had a lovely visit, talking about the challenges of working in Africa.  Most of the people in this village are Muslim, but as in most of Sierra Leone, they peaceably get along with Christians.  Slowly the village is converting to
Christianity with the help of their pastor who is working to help them support themselves, farm more effectively, get clean water, etc.  So many people are trying to help Africa in any way that they can.

Farewell to Freetown.

One of the experiences she told me about is the way these villagers treat their babies.  When our babies cry we comfort them and hold them and try to figure out what the problem is.  When they can’t figure out what the problem is they slap them on the cheek—not hard especially, but to let them know not to cry!  We talked about this and realized that this is why African children grow up tough—in order to survive their environment, they indeed have to be tough.  She did say though that when she comforted their babies and children, they put up with her!

Okay, Jim has had his shower and now it’s my turn—I suspect if you listen very carefully, you will hear the oooohs & aaaahs from here…

Love, from Accra.

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