Monday, October 3, 2016

The Crazy Gang's Mushrooms & Ghanaian Espionage

Dormaa Ahenkro was a real eye-opener.  Used to being in border towns & usually wanting to get over the border and not hang around, I was confused by this town, it's wealth and atmosphere.

Generally in West Africa, I try to be 30km from a border, they're not the most safest of places to be and can get volatile.  The Elubo (Ghana) Noe (CI) border further south is one border I ensure I'm well away from at night.  However, Dormaa Ahenkro was the 'Silicon Poultry Valley' of Ghana as I exclaimed to a friend in Accra that night over the phone.  The town was obviously wealthy, people were lovely, incredibly laid back and I found a gem of a little guest house complete with French electrical wiring (no more problems with my French plugs going into UK type sockets!).

After a feast of jollof rice and chicken at the 'Canteen' I found a taxi to return me to the guest house with the thought of a long restful night of sleep.  How wrong I was!!!  I was sitting in the garden's  concrete gazebo in the dark when an Obruni caught me relaxing with a Star beer.  Absolutely shocked to see an Obruni in this little unknown corner of Ghana, I started talking to him.  He was German and in business with a Ghanaian setting up mushroom farms.  The business partner soon joined us, we had a hilarious evening of chatter which went on far too long before I found my bed again.

In the morning, I was invited to join them for a mushrooms & moringa breakfast, absolutely delicious, all cooked on a small stove in the gazebo which was still littered with the previous night's beer bottles!  They asked me to go with them to meet a local chief and promised to drop me at the border shortly afterwards.  By 9am we were ready, my bags were in their pick-up and I went into the guesthouse briefly to pick up my small backpack, on my return I discovered they had locked the car keys into the car.

To put the situation into perspective, the Ghanaian business partner didn't drive and didn't realise this could happen (the keys were in his jacket in the pick-up), their driver didn't have a clue about mechanics & it was Sunday morning, so the whole town had already gone to church.  One of the boys of the guesthouse found some wire & we started trying to break into the pick-up to no avail.  The town's main mechanic was sent for, one of boys went to find him, he eventually turned up with most of the male congregation of the nearby church ... Meanwhile, my new found friends aka 'The Crazy Gang' settled back into last night's chairs in the gazebo with cold beers ...
The centre of Dormaa Ahenkro
By 11am we were finally on the road, I was given a tour of the town with some lovely old colonial type buildings then off to see the Chief.  The meeting went well and we headed for the border, 8km from town.  I went directly into immigration, I was told to take a seat and hand over my passport so he could fill the form in; he was quite young & junior in rank.  This is where it started going wrong, I told him I'd fill the immigration form in (last time this happened in Ghana in about 2007 it took them 4 or 5 attempts to fill out a card without a mistake and wasted 45minutes or so!).  He thought for a moment and opened my passport, he went through every Ghanaian stamp in my passport, of which there are many and then asked me to show him my work permit.

At this point I was a bit miffed and surprised by him, usually the junior officers don't look too much; however I have nothing to hide.  I asked him why he thought I was working in Ghana, he told me that I must be working in Ghana to have come through so many times.   I made it clear that I don't have any job in Ghana.

"So you are a spy" was his next question!  Trying to figure this out in my head.  Here was a junior officer now accusing me of spying on Ghana, for who? why? when (it's not as if my 2-3 day transits gives me enough time to do any spying).  I laughed at him and asked him why he had come to that conclusion as he was opening his desk drawer.  His manner changed & he was looking rather flustered, it turned out that there weren't any immigration forms ... this changed the situation as he went to another cupboard in the office, then out to the waiting room but the forms it seems were nowhere to be found.  They had run out!

He returned, semi-apologetic saying that he would call his senior officer but still wanted explanations as to what I do in Ghana.  I ignored this and asked him what I was going to do if there weren't any forms, because I wanted to be in Cote d'Ivoire as much as he didn't want this 'spy' in his office.

Eventually an arrangement was made and I escaped his office with an exit stamp in my passport to add to the other hundred or so in there!  I found the Crazy Gang behind the little Duty Free shop drinking some more cold beers & then discovered that we couldn't go over the border in the pick-up as the 'Obruni' couldn't leave Ghana and was the only one able to drive.  My immigration officer found us all there and asked what the problem was, we told him, he offered to drive me to the Ivorian border and suddenly became very friendly, my espionage status was obviously downgraded!!!

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