Imagine you have a cotton ball in your hand. Now take the cotton ball and divide it into 8 equal parts. Do you have an image in your mind? Good. Keep it. We’re going to revisit it later.
Before we deplaned, the angry male flight attendant sprayed the hull with insecticide per WHO regulations. It stung my eyes. I think he must have broken up with his boyfriend recently. He carried out his duties with a permanent scowl, and hollered at Vivian when she tried to go to the bathroom. Granted, we were about to land and already in nose dive position, but he didn’t have to be so mean about it!
The arrival hall was beautifully decorated with the colors of Christmas. There was a red carpet leading into the immigration area. Green and red arches that twinkled with lights hovered above it. I grinned and picked up my pace, dragging my carry on behind. Suddenly, I hit a bottle neck. There was a very official man with a neon vest on checking for yellow fever cards. This was new.
“Please, if you don’t have your proof of yellow fever vaccination, go and see that lady of there,” he was instructed.
To be honest, I have only been vaccinated against yellow fever and that was in 2006. It cost me $100, and the authorities have never checked for it the two times I’ve been to Ghana since. This new mandate on an old mandate was something I was unprepared for. The government was actually enforcing its own rules!
“How much does it cost,” said a confused elderly Ghanaian man. He was also apparently shocked by this whole “yellow fever thing”.
“$15 or GhC20,” the female worker yawned.
It was a bargain. I paid $60 in the States for the shot.
We clustered around and waited for instructions. Of course, there were none. Out of the 3 people manned at the station only 1 was doing any actual work, which is typical in any government environment. Finally, a man passing by advised us to go and see the scowling lady in a bronze and brown wig listening to hi-life on her transistor radio. She was administering shots. Why she never said anything is beyond me.
There were 4 people in the line ahead of me. I watched as they entered a curtained booth and walked out frowning. I struck up some light conversation with a pretty girl ahead of me. She was tall and slender, and if it weren’t for that ratty sew in she was wearing, she would’ve been the picture of perfection. She walked into the booth and moments later walked out without another word. Soon I discovered why everyone came out frowning.
“Good evening,” I smiled.
The bronze wig lady (let’s call her Millicent) gave me a stony glare and curled her lips.
She unscrewed the lid of a blue plastic container – kind of like those 3 gallon protein shake containers you get at Sam’s or Costco – and lifted out a dirty foam covering. Eww.
Milicent then unwrapped a new needle and took out a brown vial from the container. She dipped the needle into what looked like an empty vial. She swirled it around, tapped the needle on the edge and turned to face me.
“What’s the dosage?” I asked.
“Heh?” she snarled.
“The dosage. What is it?” I repeated.
She paused before she answered me. Did she not know?
“Relax,” she said with irritation, pushing my lifted bicep down.
Without performing any of her tasks with gloves, she stuck the needle in my arm. I waited for her to inject the serum, but she didn’t. The needle and chamber were bone dry and empty as Jesus tomb. She hadn’t even injected air into my arm. I had just been taken and fleeced of $15!
She took a small piece of cotton, separated an even more miniscule piece of cotton (the one I asked you to imagine) and wiped my arm, which was not bleeding. She hadn’t vaccinated me against anything after all; just bruised my muscles. Still, if this charade is what it was going to take to get me out of the arrival hall, then so be it.
Millicent left the booth and then went to preform her alternate duties of checking documents at the corded off area. She didn’t wash her hands. Come to think of it, she didn’t wash OR sanitize her hands in between administering any of her medical functions. You see why disease is rampant globally?!?
The Jew in me is angry that I paid $15 and got nothing in return, but the Jew scientist in me is also happy that I was not actually injected with any foreign substance. The environment in the booth was unsterile, and the serum couldn’t have possibly been kept at ambient temperature. Aren’t you supposed to keep vaccinations in the fridge or some other environmental controlled area?
After wading through a line of workers who looked at my name and poked fun at me because I cannot speak fluent Twi, I finally made it outside where I was accosted by taxi drivers and dudes in white shirts and black ties.
“Is your daddy coming for you? Or your husband?”
Two men asked me the same question. Ah. Why did they care who came to pick me up?? Smiling and playing the game I told them a friend was coming to get me and that I was okay.
“I need to see your baggage ticket and your passport,” said one of the men.
I sighed and fished out my ticket. I couldn’t find my passport though. I pulled out books, paper, pencil shavings, sanity towels…stuff women keep in bags. Exasperated, he let me go and said it was ok. I grinned coyly and made my way out of the door.
A quick scan of the crowd told me my BFFFL had not yet arrived to pick me up. She’s very hard to miss. I walked further into the throng of people waiting for their loved ones outside and was again approached by a sundry of men.
“Do you need to use my phone to call the one you are looking for?”
“Do you need a taxi?”
“What is your name!? Where are you going?!?”
It was all so confusing! I tried to escape and was again confronted with two men who wanted me to use my phone to call my friend. I informed him, as I informed 12 other men that I didn’t have her number saved. I really didn’t. One of them actually gave a helpful tip and told me to go to the information desk to have her paged. The girl behind the glass window was on her cell phone.
“Give her the name of your friend!” he shouted urgently.
“But she’s on her phone…”
“No!” he objected. “She is at work, she has to help you!”
He had a point. I politely asked her to page Nana D for me. She turned her nose up with a “heh?”
“I said please page Nana D for me!” I yelled.
She smiled and complied immediately. Why do some Ghanaians want you to be wicked before they do you a kindness? I didn’t have time to contemplate it because Nana showed up at that very moment. The two men who had ‘helped’ me hounded us until we got to the airport toll both. They yelled at Nana in Twi.
“Ah. But we’ve been helping her and you won’t even acknowledge us?” they protested.
“Don’t worry,” she assured them. “Nyame will bless you.”
One of them looked like a drug addict, so she was less inclined to pay him for his service, which was to observe the other guy walk me to the information desk 10 feet away.
That night, we had a good laugh and toasted to my arrival with a cold drink and two balls of banku. A mosquito bit me on my ankle. But I didn’t care.
I’m so glad to be home, even if I’m not inoculated against the dreaded yellow fever epidemic that the airport workers prophesied would seal my fate in the absence of a $15 ransom.