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Counting the days: My first flight experience

BY: Vance Azu
The writer is the Night Editor of the Daily Graphic
The writer is the Night Editor of the Daily Graphic

By 1998, I had practised as a journalist for about eight years and travelled extensively around the country. Most of the travels were on official assignments, while the rest were either through my own initiative or my father’s. As a public servant, he was transferred from one place to another, and that afforded me the opportunity to visit all those places as well.

I remember our days in Nkoranza in the erstwhile Brong Ahafo Region where my dad served as the magistrate in the local court in the 1970s.

I also recollect that the items I took to boarding school — trunk, chop box, mattress, blanket and bedsheets — were bought at the Kintampo Market, with the assistance of one of the court clerks, Brother Kwame, who hailed from Bodada-Buem.

Apart from those internal travels, I visited and gained some insights into the way of life and culture of the people in the neighbouring countries. I went to Lome, Togo, on countless occasions, especially when my late elder brother, who worked with the Ghana Immigration Service, was stationed at Aflao, where I spent my holidays while a student at the Keta Senior High School.

I had also travelled to Lagos, Nigeria, and Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, where I had a field day. I stayed in Abidjan for six months and engaged in one lucrative business after another until I decided to return to Ghana to continue with my education.

When I was a child, my desire was to visit Egypt and get to know some of the sights and sounds about that country that came up in lessons in Sunday School, as well as basic school, such as the River Nile, the Pyramids at Giza, the Egyptian mummies that had been preserved for over 3,000 years, among others.

Another desire was to travel to Germany, the cleanest city in Europe, the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth; Switzerland, one of the most peaceful countries in Europe, among others.

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Pleasure

It was, therefore, with great delight that one day in 1998 I received news from the then Vice-President of the GJA, Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, that the GJA had nominated me to travel to Cairo, Egypt, for a month’s training programme in Advance Journalism.

It was a fully sponsored Egyptian government programme. I was highly elated and, immediately, had to acquire a passport. With the help of some colleagues, I contacted the Passport Office, and within days my passport was ready and I sent it to the Egyptian Embassy at Roman Ridge for the visa.

The trip was scheduled for May 1, 1998. The Embassy directed me to EgyptAir at Danquah Circle, Osu, for my return ticket.

Almost everybody in the newsroom noticed my excitement and started sharing their air travel experiences with me. They told me about what to expect, since I was a first-time traveller.

I remember Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh himself describing the queasy feelings I would experience in my stomach when the plane took off and manoeuvred to take its course. I paid attention to all that.

The late Sammy Okaitey shared a piece of information with me which scared me. He told me that if one boarded a plane and saw an Arab on board, one needed to be troubled, particularly when that Arab passenger left his or her seat to visit the toilet (it was in the era of terrorist activities).

Those pieces of information shared terrified me a little bit, but I vowed to embark on the trip, with the belief that if any mishap, as described, occurred, I would be declared a national hero.

Interestingly, my immediate boss at The Mirror, Nanabanyin Dadson, asked me to file a story about my trip for publication. I did that and it was published in the The Mirror on Saturday before I emplaned to Cairo the following Tuesday.

Reaction in ‘Holy Village’

That news about my trip to Egypt was the talk of the town in my ‘Holy Village’, and it spread across the Krobo community like bushfire in the harmattan season. Indeed, on the day of the trip, some of my relatives and friends came to see me off at the Kotoka International Airport.

When I got on board the EgyptAir flight, there were many passengers of Arab descent. I recollected what Okaitey had told me about the presence of such people on an airplane. However, judging by their sizeable number, I discounted that story, cheered myself up and enjoyed the flight all the way to Cairo.

In fact, it was a smooth flight, without any of the challenges some of my colleagues had shared with me. I arrived safely in Cairo and met other people participating in the training from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Angola, Rwanda, Eritrea, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.

We were hosted to a sumptuous dinner by the officials of the Egyptian Ministry of Information, led by Madam Nora, as we called her.

It was during that trip that I appreciated the extent of admiration and respect Egyptians had for Ghana and Ghanaians.

At the time, the respect was due to Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s marriage to Fathia, which had bonded the two countries and the exploits of Ghanaian footballers in Egypt — they spoke highly of the Golden Boy, Abdul Razak, who was immortalised in Egypt, and Felix Aboagye, formerly of Dawu Youngsters, who was then playing for Zamalek.

As a result of that respect Egyptians had for Ghana and Ghanaians, I enjoyed ‘fans’ everywhere we went and I introduced myself as a journalist from Ghana.

I had the opportunity to visit historical sites, such as the Pyramids at Giza, where I saw the Sphinx and rode a camel; the Egyptian National Museum, where I saw 3,000 year-old mummies; the Military Museum, where we were told the story about the Six-Day War with Israel (got to know how former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then an Air Force pilot, had led the onslaught against Israel); Alexandria, the Mediterranean Seaport of Port Said, among others.

It was a pleasurable trip and I enjoyed every bit of it.

Lessons I learnt from that trip to Egypt included the fact that Egyptians were hard workers who tolerated no laxity in their work — with all social activities taking place only after work, be it football, weddings, etc. They maintained that those activities shouldn’t interfere with the production schedule.

Unlike my flight to Cairo, which was smooth, my return flight was a bit troubling, especially when we were traversing the Sahara Desert, as we encountered turbulence.

I got back to Accra a satisfied man, having enjoyed an Accra-Cairo-Accra flight.


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The writer is the Night Editor of the Daily Graphic