Recalling the ‘bad old days’ and odd hand luggage on flights (1)

BY: By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

One recent evening, watching a Ghana Television news bulletin, I sat up when I heard mention of a name that I thought I recognised, wondering if I had heard right.

And I had reason to pay attention.

If my hunch was correct, it was the name of a woman I will call Ms A, in whose wedding, more than two decades ago, I had played an important part, although we have never met.

A quick call to a friend, Ms B, who happens to be the sister-in-law of Ms A, confirmed that my guess was right.

It was indeed, Ms A, who some 26 years ago, Ms B had given me a small but crucial package to deliver to her brother who was preparing for his wedding to Ms A.

The package contained their wedding rings.

Ms B had then been living in London and I had been on a short visit there.

On arrival in Accra, I duly delivered the wedding rings to her brother.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the wedding owing to a prior family commitment, and since then our paths have never crossed, so I have never met or seen her.

Now, more than two decades later, courtesy of a news bulletin, I have seen her for the first time – if ‘seen’ is the right word.

I guess it’s more accurate to say I caught a glimpse of her because, as expected, she was wearing a mask.

The incident sent me on a memory lane trip, recollections of times when I have had to bring back home as a favour to family members or friends – or even friends of friends – all sorts of parcels.

Still, owing to what I will call Ghana’s ‘terrible hardship days’, the bad patches we went through, notably in the ‘70s and ‘80s, doubtless that courier favour was an experience familiar to almost every Ghanaian returning home from abroad then!

People of a certain age will remember that in the bad old days, apart from the postal service which was not particularly reliable, or theft-free, there were very few moderately-priced international parcel delivery services.

Those days, even when goods were shipped securely, in a container and through an agent in the UK, when they arrived the recipient had to go to the Tema Port and go through tedious processes in order to clear them.

Annoyingly, hiring the usually expensive services of a clearing agent didn’t mean it would be a hassle free experience.

One would still have to go to the port; and there was also the highly likely stealing from the container that one would have to contend with.

In the present era, 2021, when people complain about the hardship, those who lived through the bad old days probably see things somewhat differently.

To some of us, in the spirit of the famous ‘60s slogan for a brand of cigarettes in America, the belief is that “we’ve come a long way”!

For those too young to know or those ‘Ghanaians with short memory’ – an expression credited to former President John Mahama, reportedly in 2013 – in those days, hardship really meant neediness: practically everything was in short supply, or not available at all!

They included ‘essential commodities’, such as soap, toothpaste, toilet roll; milk, sugar; other provisions for the kitchen, notably rice, cooking oil and tinned fish.

Again, some may remember that in those bad old days, even when one had money the goods were not available, including vital medications.

There were many times when I got a call, sometimes from total strangers just arrived in Accra, who had kindly agreed to bring me a bottle or two of my eye drops sent by family or friends in London.

And as for electricity supply, it was much worse than now in the few places with complaints!

Those were the days when a package from somebody visiting from abroad, consisting of maybe two or three cakes of soap and a tube or two of toothpaste was considered a priceless ‘Christmas box’.

Now, in 2021 Ghana, before the Covid pandemic, there were even regular and reliable ‘door-to-door’ delivery services from Europe.

Goods packaged and shipped from the UK to Ghana, would be delivered at one’s door, without the recipient even having to go to the port.

Moreover, the consignment is delivered intact.

No port clearance stress or horror stories!

But wedding rings were not the only such matrimonial parcels I brought to Ghana as a favour.

Another time I brought back, also from the UK, a wedding dress for a friend’s sister-in-law.

It meant that I had to invest in an extra-large suitcase, at the bottom of which the precious gown was spread out, carefully packed so as to arrive in Ghana in pristine condition.

I recall the teasing of my colleagues, from different countries who were on the professional programme which had taken me to the UK, about the size of my suitcase, as it was nearly bigger than me – according to them.

Part of the programme meant travelling to various cities in the UK and my suitcase was always the first to be packed in the bus or train, owing to its size.

It always put everybody in a good mood because of the laughter the packing or unpacking it generated.

Anyway, we made it, that gigantic suitcase and I, back to Ghana, and I was able to deliver the dress in mint condition to the bride through one of her relatives.

I remember that I attended that wedding, at the Accra Ridge Church.

Speaking of taking unusual baggage to Ghana, Ghanaians were noted for the size and weight of their carry-on or hand luggage.

There were times when I, too, checked in at airports abroad for a flight to Accra with hand luggage that today would be viewed as pretty hilarious or weird.

(To be continued)

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