It was a day of mixed weather: the sun initially showed its sweltering prowess, making everywhere hot. Then, it became cloudy. Large droplets of rain came down, hitting the soil unfeelingly, for a while; then, the sun showed its face again, this time not as sizzling as the previous.
By 18:15, Saturday, April 17, 2010 we were already seated on board the huge Kenyan airliner, KQ 0509. The pilot ignited the engine and left it beating momentarily, warming up for a nearly two-hour flight. We, not quite 200 passengers, had waited for hours, aching to get on board for our destinations. We had expected
to depart by 17:30, according to information on our tickets, but it would be a little over an hour due to flight unpunctuality and other associated matters we would never know.
The mixed weather had worried many of the passengers, especially as CNN continuously screened highlights of how millions of travelers were stranded across Europe as a result of the crazy Volcano Ash, which caused one of the world’s remarkable air transport chaos. As we sat in the waiting lounge watching CNN and the world news, we got relieved upon hearing a thundering sound. “Oh, the plane has come,” nearly everyone exclaimed, several others rushing and looking out through the thick transparent glass entrance to the tarmac.
Most passengers began to somewhat smile, and even those who had not spoken a word for the last at least two hours managed to say something to someone. We properly arranged our hand luggage, zipped opened bags, put off laptops (those who had theirs on) and made last minutes departure calls to love ones and family members.
Finally, an average sized man opened the entrance emptying on the tarmac and, with the aid of two smartly dressed uniformed females, screened us. They collected, inspected and tore off part of our tickets and instructed us where to sit as indicated on our tickets. I had wished to have a window seat, but 21C, my assigned seat was not at the window. I like window seats because they enable one to see the beautiful landscape as the plane picks up, as it penetrates the clouds high into the skies and as it descends. Oh, what a beautiful scene!
At about 18:40, we were picking up. Yes, finally leaving my home soil, the Green Coast, for the Gold Coast. Indeed, from one sort of coast to another. In colonial Africa, Liberia was referred to as the Green Coast of West Africa because of its thick virgin tropical rain forest and rich soil. Today, the country still boasts of at least 40 percent of the protected Guinea rain forest in West Africa. The Gold Coast of Ghana, on the other hand, was rich in gold. But added to that is the West African state’s prominence in the production of cocoa that it is also called the gold coast. I stand to be corrected.
Whatsoever the case may be, the two countries and peoples, besides being geographically located in West Africa, are intrinsically significant to each others.
For example, as Liberia stood firm in support of Ghana and other African countries’ independence from colonial powers in the late 1950s (Ghana: 1957), Ghana, too, has played and continues to play a major role in the rebuilding process of Liberia. Ghana has not missed any of the two ECOWAS peace keeping missions to Liberia and is currently part of the drawing down 15,000 UN peacekeeping mission troops in Liberia. Thousands of Ghanaians have houses and booming businesses in Liberia. This is also reciprocated in Ghana, and both people consider themselves brothers and sisters.
Nothing aboard the Kenyan airliner was strange to me, except the flight attendants and new magazines of Kenyan airway.
As for my colleague from FrontPage Africa, Moses Varfee Kowo, everything was a different world to him: a new page, a new experience, a new observable fact in his life. It was an exciting come-across voyage! I know exactly what it means when one rides on a plane for the first time. I know! It happened to me in November 2007, when I traveled to Europe (Brussels and Sweden) — my first time — and to Nariobi and Beijin in 2008. Oops! A very long distance and I was dead scare.
You ask me why? Ok, just imagine being in that huge hefty mixture of steel, alumina and rubber structure, with tons of load and human beings on board. You will want to melt with unmanageable fear, as the aircraft penetrates the opaque clouds — going up, up, and up into the heavens. It becomes even awesome (like I experienced on the seven-hour flight between Dubai and Guangzhou) if a bad or stormy weather exists, when the plane moves up and down or tilts left and right.
So, as Moses and I sat opposite each others, with the narrow red-rugged-isle separating us on left and right, I had to do my best to clam down the fear expressed on his face. He could not be moved to either smile or laugh as nearly every one on board in the economy class did, while watching a comedy movie on the in-flight television. We habitually spoke Gbandi, our vernacular, and seldom English, when he wanted information from me on the flight. I was compelled to answer more than 50 different questions as if I were an expert pilot.
An aged Liberian woman and her son, sitting on my right, noticed Moses’ fretfulness and queried: “Oh, is this his first ride on plane?” “Of course, yes,” I responded. She laughed, and confessed: “It happened to me several years ago when I first got on a plane.” She looked at Moses and said: “You are right my son. You have to be scare, because if anything gets wrong up here, we’ll all be finished.
‘That’s a bombshell,’ I said to myself. Unquestionably, the granny’s utterances were in no way an encouragement to the young man I have been trying to pacify. And each time the plane went somewhat tilting, the expression on my brother’s face grew overwrought. Moses will later tell me at the hotel that while on the flight his apprehensiveness swelled whenever the in-flight TV screens propped out to display information about our journey: the distance covered, the distance and time left to destination, the height of the flight and so forth.
However, by about 20:20 we were descending at the Kutoka International Airport in Accra, and when the plane’s tyres hit the ground, my brother took a deep breadth and smiled for the first time since we left Liberia as if he had been relieved of a huge burden on his shoulders. It wasn’t Moses alone. Most of the passengers on the plane were similarly relieved. They clapped their hands, apparently for the safe flight, landing and for the pilot. “Mu folo nga?” he quizzed me in Ggbandi (meaning have we reached?). I responded in the affirmative, “Aaa-ee” (also in Gbandi).
Those of us bound for Accra disembarked the plane, which was headed for the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. We left on board another Liberian journalist, Dennis Samukai of Radio Varitas, who was on his way to China for a study tour.
After all of our immigration checks (the immigration officer appeared very unfriendly and gave instructions as if his mother had spanked him or someone has taken his wife from him) we collected our baggage and began looking for our names or High Gate Hotel as we were communicated with by our trainers in Germany. Moses and I were joining 12 other West African journalists in Accra, Ghana, for a two-week training course on conflict sensitive reporting and resolution in our respective countries and the region at large.
The training and all related costs including traveling, hotel lodging, and feeding among others, were covered by the International Institute of Journalism/InWent of Germany. InWent is the German Government’s capacity building arm that continues to empower/ build the capacities of people of varying professions around the world. This was my second time benefitting from its capacity building program, the first being on Regional Integration in 2008.
We had been told via an email communication to look for High Gate Hotel or our respective names upon arrival at the airport. Bingo!! We saw a very friendly and boisterous man holding a white poster paper at chest-high with our names Moses Varfee Kowo and Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh inscribed. “Oh,” the mane shouted excitedly, when he saw us pointing fingers toward him “you are the ones! Are you the ones from Liberia?” he demanded with a Ghanaian accent. We responded affirmatively. “Welcome to Ghana!” he bellowed enthusiastically. “I have been waiting for you here all day long and I am very hungry now. Let’s go to the van,” he directed us.
Mr. William Quarshigah led us into the hotel’s bus, and in 15 minutes we were at the High Gate Hotel, which would be our home for two weeks. En route to the hotel, the anxious man asked us about developments in Liberia, a country being run by Africa’s first female president, who had visited there weeks earlier. We told him how peaceful our country was: opened for foreign investments, enjoying international support including from Ghana, and moving on an irreversible path, after years of war.
Thirty years ago, Quarshigah, then, a boy, was in Liberia. He told us how he was in the country when the 1980 coup (a bloodless coup d’état led by a young military officer Sgt. Samuel Kayon Doe, who later led a junta government and a dictatorial regime for ten years) took place. “Before that time, I enjoyed Liberia,” Quarshigah recalled. “It was peaceful and fine just as Accra is today. I’m happy to hear that things are becoming fine again,” he explained, speeding off through the beautiful, clean layout city, where one’s eyes hardly behold garbage pile and dumpsites in the streets or street side.
At the hotel, High Gate, where 12 other journalists (Sierra Leone 4, Nigeria 2, Gambia 3, Ghana 2, and Togo 1) would be lodging for two weeks, Quarshigah and other hotel staff took our belongings in and directed us to our booked rooms. By 20:50, we were now in our beautiful room large flat TV screens.
How and when I slept is what I don’t know, but I got up the next morning fresh and ready to listen to Moses explain how he felt on the plane. Yes, it was a memorable flight.