Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lone Traveler

By Sarah Kramer

My trip to Ghana was the first time I ever traveled out of the country. I was very excited to being traveling abroad, but the fact that I would be traveling alone made me very weary. Leading up to the trip I had multiple dreams centered on me missing a flight and never making it to Ghana. My friends and family assured me that I would be fine, and that if anything happened they were confident in my abilities to figure it out.

I left the United States on Saturday, December 14 from Cincinnati and had a flight to Toronto, Canada. This was the leg of the trip that I was least worried about because I’m familiar with the Cincinnati airport, and Canada in the grand scheme of things didn’t seem very intimidating. When I arrived in Canada I luckily met a guy on the plane who had the same connecting flight to Frankfurt, Germany so I followed him to the gate. We boarded the plane in Toronto and waited over two hours for take off because of the wintry weather conditions. I didn’t think about the delay having an effect on my flight in Frankfurt because I carelessly didn’t consider the time change. According to my ticket I had a seven- hour layover in Frankfurt, but that’s accounting for Frankfurt’s local time, which is five hours ahead of the time in Toronto. So with the time change and the weather delay I was left with about twenty minutes in Frankfurt to get to my next plane. I didn’t realize any of this until we landed in Frankfurt and the flight attendant announced the local time. At that point, I completely panicked.

Somewhere between Frankfurt and Accra.
I ran through the airport like a chicken with my head cut off, desperately trying to find gate 45B, which was conveniently located on the opposite end of the airport. I felt like I was on the Amazing Race, sprinting through the airport, although looking like a fool because running is most certainly not on my list of things I can do well.

I was the last person to make it on the plane. I was out of breath and sweaty from my run through the airport but I didn’t care, I had made it! I talked to one of my classmates on the plane, if ever so briefly, but was happy to finally not be traveling alone anymore. 

After about a seven-hour flight, filled with some particularly good food and entertainment, we had landed in Accra. I could not wait to get off the plane and finally be finished with the hassle of such extensive travel. The airport was full of people and dimly light. I got behind my classmates when going through customs and waiting for my luggage, so they had gotten onto the bus without realizing I was missing. Because my flight from Toronto to Frankfurt had been delayed, my luggage didn’t make it onto the plane with me. I spent around a half hour waiting for it, and then had to go to the information desk to claim it. After that was finally through, I was able to navigate my way through the rest of the airport to get picked up and taken to the hotel. 

The last leg of the trip from the airport to the hotel was the most nerve-wracking and terrifying experience I have ever had. I walked out to the main lobby where there were probably 100 different people with signs screaming people’s names in a language that I couldn’t understand. I’m rapidly scanning the crowd looking for someone holding up a sign saying Ohio University or something along those lines, but I couldn’t find anything. I went through this area about 3 times looking before I knew that no one was there for me.

It was impossible to hide the panic in my face. There I was, the first time in a foreign country with no transportation, no phone and no way to get to the hotel. By the grace of God a man approached me and asked me if I needed help. He said I could borrow his phone to make a call. I used his phone, but didn’t have my professor’s number and had an incorrect number for my other contact in Ghana. The man asked me where I was staying and told him Central Hotel in Osu, and he looked the number up and called the front desk. No one answered there, so I thought I was going to be stuck in this crowded, overwhelming airport until someone in my group realized that I never made it to the hotel. I couldn’t help but think to myself how long would it be before someone realized I wasn’t there? And how would they know if I had even made it to Accra and not missed a flight somewhere along the way? No one had any way to get ahold of me either.

I made the decision to not wait at the airport, but rather to be proactive and try to find my way to the hotel by myself. The man whose phone I borrowed said that he had a friend who drove a cab that he would call, and would be able to get me to the hotel. I was weary of getting in a car with a stranger (hearing my mom’s voice in the back of my mind) but didn’t think I had another option.

As my new friend called to get a cab for me, I ran back through the airport to exchange money in order to pay the cab driver. When I came back out, I was lead away from the airport to meet the cab driver. I thought it was strange that there were so many cab drivers waiting directly outside of the airport, but I was being lead away from them. The further we got away from the airport, the darker it became. We walked for nearly a half of a mile until a man met us. He did not drive up to the side of the road, but rather appeared from the trees nearby. At this point, I actually thought I was allowing myself to be kidnapped. I know that’s very extreme and dramatic, but I was terrified and my mind was running wild. After the two men argued, again in a language I couldn’t understand, we went around the corner and got into a car. I’m 99% sure it wasn’t even an official cab, but just this man’s car that was trying to make an extra couple of bucks. I let myself believe in my mind it was a real cab.

As I sat in the backseat of this ‘cab,’ I began to cry. I was certain that I’d never make it to the hotel or see any of my friends or family again. My younger cousins from home had made me a prayer bracelet that I had in my purse, and I held onto it for dear life. About 15 minutes later, after an extremely crazy ride, I had made it. I didn’t care that I didn’t have luggage, I didn’t care that I had been left behind, and I didn’t even care that I was still wearing a sweatshirt and pants despite it being 80 degrees. I had made it.

I refrained from blogging about this experience until I returned from my trip, in order to avoid some panicking from my parents. Although I wouldn’t necessarily want it to happen this way again, my experience at the Accra airport opened my world up to good graces of the Ghanaian people. They truly are hospitable and friendly, and am forever grateful to the man who helped me find my way.  

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