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Me and the Ivorian in the Stairwell

My last post ended with a shared taxi on the way back to Takoradi. A British volunteer, an American journalist probing oil companies in Takoradi, and myself. Before getting in the car I had one of those unpleasant near vomit burps that scorched my esophagus. Things were about to get unimaginably ugly and I had no idea.

The road out of Green Turtle is awful and the taxi was a true bone shaker. No suspension system, reckless driver. He claimed he was from nearby Dixcove, but I started to doubt that when he failed to slow down for several of the road’s more notorious potholes (tank traps). I suddenly found myself struggling to hold down breakfast. Was I carsick? No, there was something more sinister at work, because now I also had to take a shit.

I clenched my teeth and avoided conversation. The ride would be over soon and I would feel better outside of the car, right? We drove through Dixcove and the whole village smelled like rotting fish. This sent me over the edge. I told the driver to stop, got out, threw up an undigested plate of eggs and toast. After a few minutes of vomiting, I got back in the car. My carmates asked if I needed more time to puke. What I needed was a toilet. In Takoradi, I told the taxi driver to drop me at the first hotel he saw.

In the hotel washroom my ass erupted. I spent close to thirty minutes alternating between violent diarrhea and even more violent vomiting. The scene inside the toilet bowl was horrific.

I had another problem besides extreme fluid loss – I needed to get out of the country. It was my last day with a valid visa. I put on a brave face, left the bathroom, and almost made it to the hotel’s front door. Then I turned around, running for the bathroom. Another catastrophic diarrhea and vomit session.

Imagining the scene on the bus, I decided to take my chances with an expired visa. I would travel the next day. I held it together long enough to talk to the receptionist. The room was cheap. It had a working toilet. I spent the day in bed and in the bathroom. I didn’t eat anything. In the evening I was able to hold down water + rehydration salts. I started taking cipro.

In the morning I felt awful, but I was no longer vomiting. I drank some more water with rehydration salts, popped another cipro, took an imodium, and went to the STC bus station. When I got there I learned that the bus had not arrived from Accra yet and that it was most likely full already. This was a problem. At Green Turtle I was told by multiple people not to take a tro-tro over the border. Tro-tro passengers are apparently severely harassed by both Ghanaian and Ivorian immigration officials at this particular crossing. I can assume that my pale skin and expired visa would not help matters. STC is a government sponsored bus agency in Ghana and they have the abilitiy to travel directly to Abidjan. If you take a tro-tro you must get out at the border, cross it, and then find a different car.

When the STC attendant told me that the bus was officially full, I asked her where the tro-tro station was, this appearing to be my only option. She told me I was crazy to take a tro-tro, that I would lose my money in bribes at the border. Come back tomorrow, she said. I told her my visa was expiring (I did not tell her it was already expired) and I had to leave today. Taking pity on me, she told me she would talk to the STC bus driver. But if the bus is full, what is the driver going to do? Don’t worry, she said.

The bus arrived two hours late, or in the Ghanaian version of time, perfectly on schedule. My friend the attendant has an animated conversation with the driver which I watch from distance. She returns and tells me to go to the bus. I got a seat? No, but you can sit in the stairwell. Stairwell or not, I am relieved to get on the bus.

Turns out I would share the rear stair well of the bus with an Ivorian who also did not have a ticket. Both of us paid the driver directly and we were not part of the passenger registry. This would later cause a problem. I quickly won over the Ivorian with a pack of tea biscuits that I was too afraid to eat myself. He spoke French to me. I spoke broken French, accidental Spanish, and English to him. My head was all over the place. I looked terrible, I’m sure.

The ride to the border was roughly five hours. I took sips of water, but abstained from eating. The imodium was holding my bowels in place. The cipro was hopefully annihilating everything in sight.

At the border my first obstacle was getting past the Ghanaian immigration officials with my expired visa. The bus driver collected passports from everyone except for me and the Ivorian. He gave us special instructions as we were ticketless passengers. We had to go through immigration individually and then deliver stamped passports back to him. I did not tell him my visa had expired.

When the Ghanaian immigration officer called me forward I smiled and greeted him in Twi, thinking this would earn me some goodwill. He said nothing and reached for my passport. I was hoping he would take a quick look at my passport, stamp me out of the country and send me on my way. Instead, he slowly leafed through every page.

Then he examined my “disembarkation” form. He started smiling. Oh shit. He sees my visa is expired. He is smiling because he now controls my fate, I thought. No, he was smiling because I wrote Newtown, Accra as my place of residence in Ghana. This really tickled him. He explained that he was from Nima, the neighborhood bordering Newtown. I greeted him in Hausa and he was elated. He then told me “Your visa is expired. But for you Newtown man (laughter) it is no problem.” Enormous relief. I thanked him profusely and went to find the driver.

With my valid Cote D’Ivoire visa, and now a Ghana exit stamp, I wasn’t worried about part two of the border crossing. The driver took my passport along with my International Vaccination Certificate and told me to wait on the bus along with the Ivorian. He returned a few minutes later with stamped passports. That was easy. All the passengers were off the bus, except for me and the Ivorian, and the driver now told us to pull the blinds across the window and hide in the stairwell. What? Why?

The Ivorian pulls me into the cellar with him. He tells me we are not on the passenger registry, so we have to hide while the bus crosses the border. The bus does not move for twenty minutes. The Ivorian periodically rises like a meerkat to peer between the blinds. The door to the bus opens and an Ivorian soldier comes on board. He is irate. He marches to the back of the bus and yanks me out of the stairwell. The Ivorian pops up before the same happens to him. The soldier orders us off the bus. Now a group of soldiers are yelling at me, the Ivorian, and the driver. The soldiers take the driver away. Me and the Ivorian are instructed to walk across the border. This involves walking through the Ivorian immigration office where we are both harassed to no end. We join the other passengers and do our best to become anonymous in the group.

On the other side of the border we wait another half hour for the bus to make it through. We learn that the driver had to pay off the soldiers.

bus from takoradi to abidjan

Back on the bus we discover that someone has put about twenty cases of vino tinto in our stairwell. We move some into the aisle and sit on the others. It would be another six hours until Abidjan. Non-stop police checkpoints the whole way. Soldiers board the bus and invariably tell the driver it is illegal for me and the Ivorian to ride in the stairwell. The driver pays them off each time. I am thankful that I am not the one offering bribes, but I realize that my ticket price might have been inflated for exactly this reason. The vino tinto stairwell chair, a hole in my stomach, Imodium wearing off. When we arrive in Abidjan, my body is broken, but I can’t really complain.

I didn’t empty my bowels on the bus. I didn’t throw up. I didn’t have to bribe anyone.

I arrived safely. This is really all that matters.

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Earl September 4, 2010, 4:49 pm

    Now that is an adventure! I have some catching up to do with your previous posts.

    Hopefully you’re feeling better now and able to move around without the threat of a sudden stomach attack.

  • phil September 4, 2010, 5:31 pm

    Thanks for reading. I’ve been really appreciating your site as well. And I’m not gonna lie, you have me thinking about working on a cruise boat… B well, Phil

  • Nicole September 14, 2010, 4:42 pm

    That is too much! You are lucky!

  • ed davey April 6, 2011, 6:45 am

    cracking travel writing mate, really enjoyed it. especially the repeated, ominious mentioning of the fact that you didn’t tell these various well-meaning characters that you had an expired visa.

    • phil April 6, 2011, 12:04 pm

      Hey thanks Ed, glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • lazyTrekker July 1, 2011, 1:12 pm

    What a narration!

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