A-holes At Kotoka International Airport
February 11, 2012 § 3 Comments
I’ll start with three things, and then I’ll set today’s scene for you.
Have you ever heard the stereotype about how the French are rude people? If you have and believed it true, then you haven’t dealt with black people. My people are the rudest and mean-spirited people you’ll ever meet. Find a black person from middle to low income background with even a hairsbreadth of authority over others and you’ll find a certified asshole. In the U.S. they’re immigration officers, DMV personnel (DVLA for us here), and pretty much every position where you find you may need assistance for information. From my experience, the non-blacks who also sometimes occupy these same positions are generally ok with their jobs. They may not be happy making $10/hr, but when you don’t have anything else in the pipeline, you -like them- are content with what you have and you quietly bear all the B.S. that comes with the position. It’s also likely most of these people barely made it out of high school. There aren’t very many avenues to climb that social ladder from those rungs. So what happens?
You find you hate your life. You probably can’t stand that crummy apartment you can barely afford. Shoot, I could crank out 1500 words in 30 minutes about what happens to you. But the important thing is that you end up in a seat behind a glass window watching people come and come, come and go, and this goes on and on 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and slowly but sure you go from happy with the job, to forcing that smile, to resenting them for even existing. Then surely enough, every millisecond of their presence pisses you off, and you end up not caring to hide your feelings about them to them. That’s the first thing.
The second goes back a good 17-20 years. Somewhere in the mid 90s the foreign embassies all managed to lose a few screws and marbles and started issuing visas to people who had no intention of returning. They also issued sensible ones, but for the period between 1995 and 2005, there was a massive exodus of Ghanaians from these shores. My dad used to earn a living advising and assisting a lot of these people on getting visas. I’ve met too many people who had no business being abroad but they’d come (often fresh from the Asante Region) with their 3rd grade English and guess what…they’ll score visas! It was amazing. Upwards of 80% of my DEYIS class of about 260 are now abroad. Think about that for a second. If you were smart enough, your ass left Ghana. I was one of the first to leave (with my family) in 1995. I didn’t keep track of who left until facebook opened up to non .edu people. If you didn’t leave- and I guess I’m simply judging here- you probably felt like a pathetic failure. Now take that scale from my single J.S.S. class, and apply it countrywide.
So many people didn’t and still can’t get out. The window started tightening after 9-11, and by then, the gatekeepers had figured out all the tricks. So what happens when you didn’t get out through a foreign university sponsorship, or family, or the born-there-but-grew-up-in-Ghana dadabas (who you’d see leaving after 18 to secure their British citizenships), or… again, I could list a lot, but what happens when you don’t have that pathway out of Kotoka? Well, you end up- if you’re lucky- working in one of the few crummy government jobs like those “youth and employment” gigs at Kotoka International Airport. Great score, right? Maybe, initially.
But like how some blacks (mostly black Americans aka Akata) in the U.S. get, you slow, or perhaps very quickly start to hate your job, but you can’t find any else, so you stick with it. What’s worse though, is you have to watch a lot of all these people who managed to leave during that massive decade-long exodus stream in and out of that airport rubbing their 1st world experience in your face EVERYDAY! That sure would piss you off, wouldn’t it? The only job you got was a job managing people who were a lot smarter (and often luckier) than your dumbass in getting away. Now how would you handle these people when you have just a lil’ power over them- even if it’s only in that 90 minute window they’re forced to put up with a nobody like you?
The third: the day I left the U.S., my shuttle dropped me off at the entrance at JFK, I strolled in with my three bags, looked around for a few seconds, then walked on to the ticketing machines across the carpet path. I wasn’t sure how to use it, but it asked for my passport, so I whipped it out. I still had my 2 check-ins and 1 carry-on with me. I inserted the passport. The machine read it and recognized my information. A few more clicks including my reservation number, and voila! A ticket was printed!! It took less than 2 minutes; 3, if you include my exit from the shuttle. After than, I meandered though a short maze-like queuing path and arrived at bubbly ticket attendant. Another minute later, my 2 bags were weighed (underweight, no surprise), tagged, and put aside to be taken away. In all from the shuttle van to the x-ray machines, it took less than 10 minutes. I know this isn’t the norm for most of you, but I learned a long time ago how to cut down the needless delays. Pretty simple right?
How about Ghana? Remember this was JFK where there are probably more daily or even hourly flights than Kotoka handles in a week. So you’d think a tiny airport should be a LOT more efficient in passenger management than places like JFK, or even Newark or O’Hare (all places I’ve flown out of numerous times). On the night my nearly 58-year-old, 5’2” heavily overweight mother sporting a bad left should which made her check in her carry-on from JFK than inconvenience anyone with packing away or retrieving that thing from the overhead bin… on the night she left Accra, things went as smoothly as I expected. From the main departure entrance to the weigh station where I finally left here- and even to the top of the stairs where they give you your mug shot and take digital prints of all your 10 fingers like a criminal; and not forgetting the magnetometer, and pretty much all the way till your feet are off Ghanaian soil, you, like us, will be dealing with first-grade assholes.
There were lots of people flying out that Saturday night. I was hoping we’d be done quickly enough for me to get back to East Legon to catch the start of the Black Stars’ match against Mali (not the 3rd place match). No chance there. We already knew both bags she was taking back were underweight. That should’ve been simple enough. There wouldn’t and more importantly shouldn’t be any need for weighing to check if we were under the 50-lbs limit. It’s for this very reason why the check-in area was very crowded with processing backed up, but before that, the “security” outside set me off. It’s happened twice before when I left Ghana this past year, with them demanding my ticket each time. This time, I dunno, but with my mom in tow, I could care less. I asked them “I don’t have one. What would you do?” “Mom, let’s go.” I didn’t even bother waiting for an answer.
We then went to the on a far right wall with several automated ticket booths, but those were for people with only carry-ons. At the time of day and even that day with virtually all international flights, how many people did the airport’s ingenious management team imagine would be traveling outside Ghana with just carry-ons? We did the next logic thing: proceed to the ticket counter, but this is Ghana…we don’t do common sense. One of those degenerate inbreeds stopped us
“Go in that line”
“But all those people are weighing their bags. we just need to check-in. our bags are under 25 kilos”
He’s unsure what to say next. It seems his programmers forgot to add response answers for that scenario. He sheepishly pointed to another line which seemed next to the bag-weighing line. We cut through to get on the tail end of that line. That annoyed the next asshole who felt his authority had been challenged and needed to flex his power for us lil’ people.
“Go back to the end of that line”
“How does this make sense? Our bags aren’t even 20 kilos, so why do we need to weigh them?”
“Go on that line!”
Fine. We join this long queue with typical Ghanaians who seem to pack their homes when they travel. But I wouldn’t let him have the last word as I responded in Twi:
“A Ghanaian gets a post and thinks he’s bigger than you.”
As we approach the scales, I observe this same idiot asking about people’s nationalities and handing people with U.S. passports these immigration forms. They were in a place where he had no need to hand anything to anyone, or even be there. It was safe to say everyone in line could read and easily discern for themselves which forms to take based on their nationality. In fact, there was no need for all three assholes to be manning 1 scale. When it’s our turn to weigh my mom’s bags, this dude decides he’ll stop us and let 2 people who weren’t in line with 7 check-in bags come and weigh theirs. I’d have none of it.
“No! They aren’t in line.”
“Come” he said, as he motioned for them to cut in weigh their bags ahead of us. I had belittled him earlier, so this was payback. Not with me; not in this lifetime. I’ve learned very well that you always let someone who isn’t in your stratosphere know where they are and where they belong in this country. You can be bitchy about it, or do it in anyway you feel appropriate. The main point is to let ’em know they can’t push you around. So I let loose.
“We didn’t need to weigh our bags. Instead of getting checked in, we have to deal with you and get in this line for no reason. It’s no wonder this is third world. Whether you like it or not, they’re not going before us.”
Then turning to mom and making sure this guy heard us well…
“They’re all over the airport. Youth and Employment nobodies. I can leave Ghana anytime and come back and they’ll all still be here. Every week they line up at the U.S. embassy trying to get visas, and when they’re rejected, they come and take out their frustrations on us because they know they’ll never get to leave. It’s not them, they have ‘post’.”
Boy was he pissed. He said to me “are you traveling?” “No.” “Then you can’t be in line.”
“Buddy, I brought her here and will not leave until she gets on that plane. This is a public place. I know my rights. You can’t tell me I can’t be here. My mother tries to explain that she’s got bad shoulders, but I cut her off.
“Don’t do that. You don’t need to explain anything to them. This is why they walk around talking rudely to people because no one dares challenge them.”
He now demands she hand over her U.S. passport before giving her the immigration form. I was really peeved right now and made sure the whole line behind me heard what I’d say.
“NEVER GIVE YOUR PASSPORT TO THESE PEOPLE,” I said pointing dismissively. He has no business demanding your passport. The only people down here who need to see it are those girls (pointing to the counter) and even then only open the page with your I.D. info. You’re leaving so they can’t even leaf through the pages. Kai! He thinks he has power.”
He then looks back and calls someone to get him security. I loved that one. I responded.
“One phone call, and you’ll be unemployed by tomorrow morning. You think you have power? I’ll show you real power.”
I reached for my phone and went into my address book. For the longest time, I’d played nice with people like this guy, then something snapped recently and I realized I knew a lot of influential people and had a lot of pull- including two men who wielded a lot of power at Kotoka. One was actually in his office in the tower that night, and we’d only had fufu a week before. I started reading his name tag under my breath and then dialed. He finally looked scared.
“Boss, it doesn’t have to go that far,” his immediate super (who had just joined in) pleaded. A few passengers behind motioned for me to calm down and that he won’t do it again. I came in cargo pants and a t-shirt so he thought I was a push-over. A suit and tie and more importantly white skin, and this dude would’ve been kissing my ass. It’s usually when I notice that they’re selective in whom they show their rudeness that I get even more pissed. My mother finally pleaded, “who are you calling? It’s ok. You should go back to Joe (my aunt’s son waiting in the car). I’ll be fine. Just Go.” “Call me if he says something,” I said back to her. Then I said to my new favorite target “we’re not done. I’ll be back for you (then mentioned his name).” And with that, I was back out the front doors, back to the car and on the way home.
Call me what you will, but when it comes to my family, especially the kids, all bets are off. I’m super protective of them, and if trouble is coming from Ghanaians I have no regard for, you can bet the very worse of me will surface and take over the nice guy I usually am- especially when they’re people unhappy with their jobs and lives who feel the need to take it out on innocent travelers.