Deciding to visit London, England in December 2009 was met with raised eyebrows from parents and friends. My parents at the time thought it was mostly a cold time to visit the United “Queendom”. And when I later discussed my choice of flight with a friend, he had lots of reservations.
Genuine as their reservations were, I thought visiting the UK in December was a good time. I had never encountered the minuses of temperature and seen snow…hitherto I was a summer traveler. I also thought by flying Afriqiyah, I was getting a “too good to be true” deal on a travel ticket and use up the excess money for some other stuff. I had my mind made up and turned up at Kotoka, went through the routine departure procedures and boarded into the Afriqiyah Airbus A330 as scheduled.
Same as I do on most flights after boarding and every one seated with the gates shut, I play up the assumed conversation between the control tower and the pilot…I have spent years playing Microsoft Flight Simulator and I think of myself as a pilot – only on PC .
Being a transit, the flight was in two parts. One 5 hour leg to Tripoli International Airport from Accra and the other 3 hour to London Gatwick. It was an event-less one, not a full plane and we were at London Gatwick in no time. Disembarking, I said to myself, “this has to be a deal, how on earth do you fly on a brand new Airbus A330- one of the industry’s most advanced jets and pay so little”. I couldn’t find any “buts” to the experience. The food was good and I had a multimedia interface screen right in front of me…and most importantly, I was in London, my destination on time.
Returning to Ghana in January was a very touching and memorable travel. We departed from London Gatwick in the afternoon and were in Tripoli in about 3 hours. And , our flight to Ghana was ready for boarding late afternoon (I can’t remember the make -it wasn’t an Airbus A330 though). It was almost a full plane.
After takeoff, I heard some murmuring. I ignored, and only took my headphones off to find lots of my fellow passengers encircling someone. At first, being quite paranoid and in the wake of the foiled December 2009 KLM attempt, I thought there was a terrorist on board. But I subsequently smiled and thought of the inadequacy of target scrapers to hit in Ghana and it didn’t even add up why anyone would want to bomb a plane full of Ghanaians. We are the most hospitable people in the world (full stop)
Here is the story of the person who had been encircled… He wasn’t a terrorist
Wujah, if I recall the name right…A Ghanaian from the Brong Ahafo Region- He had defied all odds and walked the length of the Sahel to enter Libya in search of greener pastures. Wujah told me the usual poverty inspired travel…that he came from a poor home and wanted to find a better life for himself by going abroad. His intended destination was not the deserts of Libya, but Italy. It turns out he was also on transit, a different type of transit. He had been in Libya for about 4 years. Having saved enough Dinars (Gaddafi dollars) from doing construction work, he was in the process of planning for the second part of his travel; to pay for ferry charges to cross the channel to Europe.
But few months into preparation for the ultimate journey, his life changed before him in a twinkle. Walking by the road on a morning to work, he was hit and run on by a speeding car- lost both legs in the accident and the inhumane beast of a driver sped off leaving him in such pain and helpless state. He found a Good Samaritan to take him to the make-shift home he shared with colleagues.
With a deteriorating health situation and inability to access quality health in Libya-for obvious reasons- illegal immigration, he signed off to be brought back home. He was pushed to the flight by immigration officers on a wheel chair and left in the last seats at the back.
It was a female passenger who talked to him first and soon his story had spread like wildfire in the plane and we were all taken aback in shock. Most of us thought how cruel it was for the driver to run away after hitting a fellow human being. If there was one thing we all could agree on –it was our belief that it couldn’t and wouldn’t happen in Ghana. Most of us walked to him to say a few words of encouragement and the ear itching ones wanted to hear the story from the horses’ own mouth. I did both.
Then there was a very good suggestion from one of the passengers, after we were all done comforting Wujah, venting our spleen and being emotional about his tragedy – that we should all contribute some money for him. It was a voluntary action and almost everyone gave. The European “borgas” (Italy, Holland, Spain) gave their Euros, the Londoners doled out the Sterling surprisingly, and the Libyans also their Dinars (I also gave). Quite unexpected and in a show of affection, the flight crew and even the co-pilot also gave to support our dear brother. Instantly we felt a connection, we were a family – A family of Ghanaians, A family aboard a world of bliss.
The rest of the flight hours was a family meeting. We all chatted openly with each other about life abroad and made friends to the admiration of the mostly Libyan flight crew. We were comported and heeded to instructions. When there was turbulence and they rather we all sat in our seats, we obeyed like toddlers.
Then what I call the moment of truth was with us. The announcement came that we were in Ghana and were descending to Accra- the landing call shortly followed. But, when the landing gear of the airplane finally touched the runway, in unison and like congregants in a charismatic church we all applauded very very loudly, hugging and shaking hands with each other. It was indeed, a priceless moment.
For many, it was their usual annual holiday trip home to see family and check on projects, others were returning from their holidays abroad, some were also coming home for the first time after many years in the diaspora and then there was Mr. Wujah.
Stepping out only to feel the warmth of the Sahara winds, I smiled and muttered silently “HOME, SWEET HOME” and received a beautiful smile back from one of the adorable damsels of a flight attendant. She heard me crystal clear and I can only guess she knew better about those words.
–HOME SWEET HOME–