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Posts Tagged ‘Ghana

Back in 2005, when I shipped a container, it involved me showing up at the harbor with the agent, navigating various fees and finally opening the container. Much to the dismay of inspectors, I didn’t even have a car in it. What was I thinking wasting all that money and space, just to make sure I could ship a bunk bed, a baby grand, and my precious books?

There was no money to extract from me. They asked my daughter to open her box of rock collections because they couldn’t believe she shipped little stones. They harrumphed and took off. (If you have space in your container, invite others to share space and cost!) When I shipped a car a year later, apparently bunched with other cars on ship’s deck and exposed to the elements, it was a much cheaper affair. The car arrived intact and was ultimately delivered to my house by my fabulous agent. (kiss, kiss, agent!)

The shippers don’t always tell you the following, so beware: when you arrive at airport customs in Accra, ask to fill out a PUBD form, Passenger Unaccompanied Baggage Declaration. Just because you’re flying while your container rocks on the sea is no reason not to fill the form at the airport. I forgot this time around. If I had gone back to the airport, within, say a matter of two weeks or so, it would have been okay. But I found out about the form after a month. It was a nightmare I’d rather you didn’t experience. Not only will you pay a penalty, you’ll be subjected to the most painful bureaucracy, traveling back and forth between a customs office outside the airport known as Aviance, and airport customs, then immigration, then back to Aviance, pay the penalty and finally get to fill out the blasted PUBD, all yellow and delicate like onion skin.

A new development (new to me, anyway) is the need for a tax identification number, for which you get to be a guest of the Registrar General’s building, a veritable zoo of buzzing, circling petitioners and overworked administrators. Might take a day or two of your time. Might I suggest you keep your Ghanaian passport updated if you have Ghanaian or dual citizenship? Gone are the days when officials bestowed benign smiles on you, saying, “Yes, you have an American passport but we know you’re a Ghanaian. We understand that sort of thing. Your name is Ghanaian, you speak Ghanaian and act Ghanaian. Welcome home, akwaaba!” These days, your Ghanaian-ness is not a given. After all, there are non-nationals who cheat the system and buy passports, so the government isn’t yielding.

If your passport has expired, arguing that you yourself have not expired won’t fly. It won’t earn you a national ID card nor a Ghanaian tax identification number that will save you from paying taxes on your old tv or craigslist couch you insisted on shipping. You will pay taxes on your fingernails, if possible. So, update your Ghanaian documents, okay? Now, it makes no difference if you’re shipping a car. Foreigners and Ghanaians pay the same taxes. Rather exorbitant. (Try to get your quotes or estimates before the following Tuesday, because every Tuesday, the rates change. Rates are pegged to the dollar, and curiously enough, they never go down. Pay quickly!)

Before I forget, insist on the ship giving you an original Bill of Lading so you can claim your belongings. Although Ghanaians tolerate e-tickets when it comes to airplanes, e-documents are still viewed with suspicion. Pay no mind to Mr./Ms. American shipper who blithely emails you an electronic copy from his or her iPhone. You’ll endure calls and admonishing from your Ghanaian agent who will urge you to call your shipper for a DHL delivery, or send a telex authorizing release from the ship upon indemnity of blah blah blah that will leave you weeping into your pillow. Especially when the USA shipper doesn’t understand what the fuss is and won’t even take your calls or respond to emails. Of course, all this is avoidable if you ship door to door. More expensive but probably worth the avoidance of a migraine and desperate phone calls to America, listening to someone say press 1 for this and 2 for that while your cedis or dollars tick away to the annoying music in the background.

Shipping door-to-door provides a hassle-free experience. You just send a container or boxes through a company/agent, and prepay duties, charges, etc. That way all you have to do is show up at the warehouse to pick up your belongings. Some will even deliver to your house. Now, isn’t that lovely! And when you do get your car and you’re cruising past the tro-tro minivans, you’ll admit it’s worth it!


Da a ehia Opoti na ehia Daye. When Opoti went broke, Daye also went broke. 

This Akan proverb is based on a story about a man named Daye who was dependent on Opoti for sustenance. If you depend on someone else for your survival, your fate is linked to theirs. The day they go bankrupt, so do you. Same with depending on the government or any other entity. Self-reliance is the best policy.

Sunlight dancing through the darkness of a bread fruit tree in Ghana

Last Saturday, with temperatures soaring above 100, I was driving on Richmond Highway in blinding sunshine when my car locked down and refused to budge. The car is equipped with a safety mechanism that makes it rebel when the engine reaches a certain temperature. Beside me sat my friend’s teenage daughter, with her younger brother stretched out in the back.  My first plea was, Dear God, don’t let anyone hit us!

I had no idea where the hazard lights’ button was, so I opened the door and got out to wave and direct traffic. We were in the middle of nowhere with nothing but greenery and some town houses tucked behind them.  Meanwhile the car was sweltering and I was worried about the children cooking.  Suddenly, there pulled beside me a white car filled with three of the blackest people I had ever seen… please don’t jump all over me. I’m black myself. But here’s the thing.  When I was growing up in Ghana, I knew no Jamaicans, and the only people with rasta-like hair were dirty, mad men.  What’s more, the night before, I had dreamt about being stranded on the highway, with cars full of black faces passing me by. The dream had filled me with sadness, when I saw the guys I thought, Oh no, here it comes. That they wore scruffy jeans and had thick rasta hair falling all over their backs only served to increase my anxiety.

I slid back inside the car and shut the door. The driver peered inside and asked if I was in trouble, but the cat had my tongue. I could only pant. Then he spoke Twi to me and voilá, the cat let go. They were Ghanaians. I felt safe. (Funny how prejudiced one can be.) They came out of their car, poked around, got me to start the car again and offered to drive behind me to the townhouse they were visiting. “We don’t want the police to tow your car”.  So stopping and starting, my car made it up to the townhouse where a visitor’s parking spot awaited next to a shady tree.

The guys made us take refuge in the shade and brought us bottles of iced water and extra ice in glasses. What’s interesting is they were from Maryland and had driven to Virginia to help settle a quarrel between a girl and her boyfriend.  The couple was inside yelling away, that’s why they didn’t invite us in. These guys stayed with us until they were sure someone was on his way to pick us up, after they had offered to drive us.

“Today is Sunday,” one said, “God’s day. No one should be stranded by the roadside in the heat.”

Call it Fortune, Supreme Being, the universe what you will, but I believe in the God who sends us refreshment and traveling mercies now and again when we need it, if only as a reminder of love in this harsh world. And I learned an awful truth about myself, how much I judge people by their appearance.






Okay, so it wasn’t a romantic trip, but it was lovely doing the Notebook thing with Tolu and his friends on his birthday. We cannoed on the river and then had a very yummy dinner.   

Bright and the lovely Sonya who has all the boys a-flutter 🙂

Tolu and Dennis




We glided to this tiny island that was full of birds,–those are the white flecks in the trees. Unfortunately, unlike the swans Noah found in The Notebook, the birds never let me get close enough to take great shots. Still, it was a beautiful sight, all those spotless white birds flying over the water and around us.



Interesting wall motif at the Golden Tulip

More of the Golden Tulip. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a swim now!!

                                             At night time, there’s nothing like dancing by the pool, under the moonlight while a live band plays. Of course I did that with my sister and a bunch of kids, but still, it was wonderful.

A few days after the graduation, I got to hang out with the “Shuwaa” boys. Don’t ask me what that word means, I couldn’t tell you. But that’s what Tolu and his three close friends in Ghana call themselves. Unfortunately, the fourth one is in the U.K., missing out on all the fun (Hi, Enoch) 🙂

Bright and Tolu, while waiting for our orders at a restaurant in Sarbah Hall

Dennis, Bright and Tolu, saying hello to Enoch

There's nothing like Fufu and light soup with goat and fish!

Digging into his rice and chicken stew

Finger-sucking good, no metal to interfere with the yummy taste 🙂


With the witty one, Akua Baning

The three graduates, Bright, Tolu and Dennis. So proud of them. giddy giddy SHUWAAAA!!