Shadi woke me up at the reasonable time of 7am and I made ready to do my thang – first off to the bank for readies (which I couldn’t get for love nor, indeed, money). I ended up converting my emergency CFA, the currency that most countries in West Africa use (except for the awkward Anglophone colonies that insist on printing their own money (sound familiar?)). Then, off to the Cote d’Ivoire embassy – which had recently moved – so I spent a good couple of hours walking about trying to find the damn place.
Monrovia, like Freetown, is devastatingly impoverished – everything is in a state of half-repair – the roads, the buildings, the people. Most of the small businesses in the embassy area are shacks at the side of the road and many, many people listlessly stand about, as if waiting for the guys in the ubiquitous UN rhino trucks to hand out fivers the West no longer needs.
I am so glad that I’m not an aid worker around here. I think my head might just pop off in frustration. After picking up my Cote D’Ivoire visa, I headed over to the Ghana embassy, but again I was told that it would take 3 days to process the visa.
Now this is where the old who-you-know-not-what-you-know kicks in.
My dad, through one of his friends, managed to put me in contact with a guy in Ghana called Tanko who is one of the Odyssey Legends who probably deserves a place in the Pantheon of Uber-Heroes along with Milan and Gudborg from Eimskip. Not only was he happy to arrange my second passport to be brought over to Africa in a diplomatic bag, he was also happy to pick a box of tricks (including my replacement sleeping bag) and other stuff sent over by my parents to help me on my way.
I called Tanko and explained the visa situation. Don’t worry, he said, I’ll make some phone calls. I got my visa within the hour. What a legend. I’ll be meeting Tanko in person in a few days. Can’t wait.
So there was nothing to stop me heading out there and then – except for the small problem that I had run out of video tape. So I had to rummage around the city centre for a couple of hours looking for somewhere that sold miniDVs. But once I had them in the bag, there was nothing to stop me heading out there and then. I grabbed a ‘mini’ taxi to where the Bush Taxis hang out, and as is the practice around here, it picked up other passengers along the way – one of the was Dr. Eddie – a medical doctor who trained in America, but like Mohammed in Sierra Leone, he came back home because he knew he could do more good here. He now presents a radio show on Thursday mornings dispensing medical advice over the airwaves. It’s people like Dr Eddie who will save the world.
Once I was sitting in the Bush Taxi in the Red Light area of town (really, that’s it’s name, Red Light) I received a call from Shadi – I had accidently left a load of stuff at his place.
This was one of the few times that I was glad to be in Africa. I gave the driver some readies and he happily drove me (and all the other passengers) back to Shadi’s flat in the Sinkor area of town. Imagine trying to get a National Express driver to do that. Or a Greyhound driver!! Ha! Go fish.
I was a bit torn though, the lovely Sharanaya had invited me out for dinner with her fella who was working in Monrovia and it would have been nice to hang out with Shadi a little more. There was a direct bus in the morning to Cote D’Ivoire. But, sod it, I’ve lost enough time and July is nearly over. I had to hit the road.
So I’m writing this in the shared taxi on the way to Ganta. We are THUNDERING along the road, it is nighttime, there are no streetlights, MASSIVE potholes that must be skillfully avoided, BLINDING headlights coming our way every so often and the odd truck ahead with no rear lights that we see at the last possible second. I don’t even know if I should be travelling at night, but hey-ho, let’s go. My driver is called Bobby and the nice lady seated behind me said a prayer on behalf of us all before we left. Being a heathen, I put on my safety belt.
The driver of the bush taxi was a bloody MANIAC! He drove at a zillion miles per hour and I had to tell him to slow the hell down about seventeen times – not that he paid any attention and then – guess what? – he got a puncture after hitting a pothole too fast. But did that slow him down? No. He changed the tyre and hammered it as hard as before. And – predictably – hit another pothole and gave himself another puncture.
We didn’t have a spare spare. I rolled my eyes so far into the back of my head that I fell asleep.