Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Reaching Ghana

4 July 2010
I started my journey from home in Mumbai at 23:00 on 3rd July. My family and my friends Mickey and Sujeet had came to drop me at the airport. With tearful eyes of my wife Tejaswini and mother, I said bye to them and entered the first security gate of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai.
I had taken and also received without asking a lot of suggestions from friends and relatives who had some experience abroad. There was a bit of anxiety since I was going to set foot on a foreign land for the first time. I was lucky that just immediately after passing through the first security gate, I met my old classmate, Vallabh, who works in the airport. He guided me about how to proceed through various checks and counters. There were very long queues at almost all the counters. One security person told that it is always like that on weekends, when majority of the people try make their travel.
The Kenya Airways flight taking me up to Nairobi first was bit delayed so I ended up spending 2 hours at the airport. It was nice experience to explore this glossy place  but everything was very expensive. It was interesting to watch passengers of various nationalities. At last the flight took off at 4:15 am. With last call from my Indian sim card I said bye to my family members and switched the cell phone off.
After some time the journey became boring. There was nothing to see outside the window since it was very dark and I started to feel heaviness in my head. I could not sleep properly as I had to keep my bag near the seat and being economy class there was not enough of space near the seat. The food they served on the plain was almost tasteless except the pieces of fruits which were really very fresh. Most of the passengers were Indians, mostly Gujaratis and to my surprise there was an option of Jain food available in the flight by prior notice.
The plane reached Jomo Kenyatta airport at Nairobi at 10:30 am Indian Time (IST). I did not change any time settings of my cell phone because I wanted to keep track of how much time I was spending on the flight. The airport in Nairobi was nice experience even though it was small and less glossy. The staff was very helpful and guided me correctly towards the proper gates. The toilets were clean. Here everybody had a smiling face. The shops were not very glossy but seemed customer friendly although I did not purchase anything. I wanted to make a call home but they started security check for the next flight for Accra which was to leave Nairobi at 12:00 (again IST) so I had to hurry towards the queue. Kenya is 2.5 hours behind India.
The flight was delayed by an hour. Here I forgot to collect my cell phone which I had to put in the tray as part of the security checking procedure. The security personnel had taken it for checking and I did not see it while collecting my luggage. Fortunately the lady at the counter came in the seating area and asked about the cell phone which nobody had collected and I got it back. I met one Pakistani guy called Imran in the waiting area. After seeing each other, we smiled at each other, I feeling that he will be Indian. He had all the updates about India and asked me questions about Bal and Raj Thackeray. He seemed to be more updated about Hindi films than I am. He was going to Freetown in Sierra Leone where the next destination of the flight. This was smaller plain but this time despite the feeling of spinning of insides of my head, the experience was good. The food they served was great. I again purposefully made the option of non vegetarian food to make myself used to it.  I peeked in the neighbours dish to see what they had served in the vegetarian option and to my surprise there was pulao and curry.
The aeroplane reached Accra at 18:00 hours IST and 12:30 Ghana time. There was nothing special in the airport except the welcoming messages for the returning World Cup Football team of Ghana. I had no hassles clearing through the immigration and customs. One lady just checked my passport and that was all. The drivers from the hotel Sun lodge where we are going to stay for next week, were already there to receive us. There were in all six volunteers who arrived at the same time. Four of them were in the same flight as mine but of course we did not each other during the flight. There is one Indian volunteer Raj who is from Jamshedpur and came via Delhi and Dubai. There is one Filipino lady and two Kenyans and one Ugandan. It must be a big task to co-ordinate these travels of all these volunteers coming from difference locations in the world. But somehow every thing was nicely in place. At the airport, as one finds in India, many people came forward and started to render unwanted help with the luggage. The driver who was receiving us had to bark at them to tell to go away.
The hotel is good and the staff is also very helpful, but it is very difficult to understand their accent and I have to ask repeatedly what they want to say. While in the restaurant, I did not know what to order as everything on the menu seemed foreign to me. Seeing my confused face, the waitress asked whether I shall like to have what my other friends have ordered. I said yes and found a big heap of potato chips and big peace of chicken. I really wanted some light snack, a Vada or an Idli would have been proper but that was the moment of realisation that I am going to miss them for an year.
Rahul Chakraborty who was with me at my batch at the time of selection and PfC (Preparing for Change) training had came to meet me. It was great to meet him in person although we had been in touch via emails and online chats. I also spoke with Rose another Indian volunteer from Patna who is based near the same place where I shall be based i.e. Bongo in the Upper East Region. There is one couple Nandhini and Mani who are from Tamilnadu and been in Ghana for last three years. They had also come to meet us. There are many other volunteers who have come here to assist us new volunteers. There seems to be very big and closely knit group of them and everybody is very friendly. I shall get to know more about this community of volunteers, who number almost 80 in the whole of Ghana and spread across different regions of the country, tomorrow when in-country training starts.