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Feature Article of Sunday, 13 January 2013

Columnist: Chasant, Muntaka

My Journey Across West Africa Pt. 12: The Ride Back Home

My dear readers,

I know it is depressing, but all things must eventually come to an end one day or another. This episode brings the stories I’ve told about my travels across West Africa to a conclusion.

Journal entry – start

Date: 1/12/11 Time: 4:13PM Location: Lagos, Nigeria

This is a chaotic city. In a way, this is different from everywhere I have traveled through recently.

Journal entry – end

Commentary

I arrived in Lagos on a sunny December morning. It was most particularly difficult coming through this city. Nothing worked, as it should have. Motorists would hurl insults at me for trying to use the zebra crossing.

I could not find a hostel or anything, so I settled on a hotel that cost 6000NGN(GHS70+) per night. I unpacked only to find out that the water in the room isn’t flowing, the window wouldn’t open, and the bed needs fixing. I went to the front desk on separate occasions to inform the receptionist about these issues whenever I observed them. She assured me the water would start flowing soon, and she will come to check on the rest for me. I thought that the room needed to be changed for me, so I went back to the front desk for the third time, but she wasn't there. “Hello! Anyone here?” I said in a low voice. “Hellooo! Anyone here?” I pitched up my voice a bit. Still there was no response. “Are you there?” I said in a high voice, knocking on the desk at the same time. “Uh ho, you this Ghana boyyyyyy wetin again?” She responded from the corner, where she sat quietly. We both laughed after the encounter.

The electricity will go off and come back every five minutes. Motorists ignored traffic regulations whenever convenient, and did not have respect for pedestrians neither. In a way, Lagos reminded me of Conakry.

Hanging out few more days was no longer something I wanted to do, so I resolved to continue to Cotonou the third day.

I have become used to West African borders already, so crossing the notorious Seme Border (Nigeria-Benin border) was like a walk in the park. We become used to unpleasant stuffs when we have had to come in contact with them often.

Benin was such a peaceful and lovely country. I have always enjoyed my stay in Cotonou. The food was excellent, and the people were wonderful. I was less than 6 hours from home by this time, but I decided to spend a day in Cotonou to relax. They are always happy to receive Ghanaians. I went out to one or two bars in the evening to enjoy some local music.

I woke up early in the morning on December 4, 2011 and began the final effort. I was in Lome, the Togolese Capital by 11:00AM. I hanged out for a while around the Asigame market before heading out to Aflao border. To my surprise, the Togolese side of the border has improved tremendously. They have put up a new building, and there was less harassment by the immigration. However, the Ghana Immigration guys were still doing what they do best: harassing and extorting money from traders.

After traveling almost 11,000km all over West Africa for over 23 days, I finally made it back into Ghana. It felt good to be back home.

If this is your first time to read my story, you may be wondering what inspired me to venture out. It was simple: curiosity. West Africa being one of the poorest regions in the world, it was an effort for me to obtain profound understanding of the conditions that exist in the region.

In the short period of my travels, I was exposed to what I bear to be some of the most difficult living conditions. It raises a lot of questions, but this is not the forum to discuss that.

The first concern people may have about an unstable region such as West Africa is security. I can say that it was pretty peaceful everywhere I found myself. Most of the locals want the same things that we all desire in life. Majority of the happiest people I met lived in rural areas, and some of the greatest times I had were in those areas.

The general state of the region is not so bad as you may think. Well...not as bad as it’s portrayed in the print. You would find out that there are no rebels or criminals at every corner waiting to point an AK-47 at you.

To be honest, it got tiring and boring sometimes. This is probably because I was on the road for long, and possibly because I became inured to the conditions around me. However, new enthusiasm would set in quickly to overcome this exhaustion.

Some of us are like that. We leave our comfort zones to wander around some of the most inhospitable places purposely to expose ourselves to new experiences, find out what happened or how it happened. In most cases, we wander about not because we are lost, but because we just want to wander.

I will not compare cultures neither will I compare countries. It is not necessary. It became clearer to me that, from every corner of the region, we all share common problems. The living conditions in most part of West Africa are the same we have in most part of Ghana: poor infrastructure and substandard living conditions.

I made good friends and met some wonderful people along the way. Most of the women I met were less assuming and kind-natured. They treated me kindly and went to greater length to offer me all the assistance they can. I had people invite me into their homes to eat, freshen up, and sometimes even accommodated me.

I did not have any fixed plan before heading out of the border. I traveled wherever the road took me. This is because the most important thing to me was going somewhere, not where I was going. I especially enjoyed getting lost in the way and traveling through cities and towns where no one knew me. I was exposed to different things, from which I have gained new experiences.

To maintain my sanity and general wellbeing, I laughed a lot and mingled with the locals whenever possible. I lived off mostly on fruits and nutritious foods.

I hope you have enjoyed the little I have shared with you over the past few months. If you ever needed information about any of the countries I visited in the region, do not hesitate to contact me in the email I will provide bellow.

Visit the homepage of modernghana.com over the weekend for a photo edition of this episode.

The editor posted the part 11 of the episodes to the Religious News section on December 31, 2012. You can browse through the archive if you wanted to read the previous episode.

I will be hitting the road very soon, possibly the last week of February 2013. I’m planning to do an overland trip from Accra to Johannesburg. It would be great to find at least one companion if not many people to do this with. I do not have any fixed plans yet, but one of the possible routes is to cross into Cameroon from the Nigeria’s Mfum border. This should be doable around this time of the year. If not, I may consider the Calabar-Limbe ferry. I would try to get to Douala and then continue south to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, get across the southern border into Gabon and continue to Congo Brazzaville and then over Congo River into Kinshasa, Dr Congo. Then, possibly go from the coastal town of Muanda to catch a ferry across the mouth of Congo River from Banana into Soyo, northern Angola. I will then continue through Luanda to south, cross the Ruacana border into Namibia, and then join a bus from Windhoek straight to Cape Town. From Cape Town to Johannesburg and then fly back home. This may seem tough especially with visa and inland border difficulties, but it is doable. I’m hoping to be able to do this in about four weeks. I would wander from one seaboard city to another, doing stuffs I have probably never done before.

muntaka@msn.com

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