So after all our talk about flying, we decided to return to Accra from the Ivory Coast by road by way of Elubo. The border had re-opened 4 days after the skirmish and we thought we would be fine.
The trip to Noe, the border town on the Ivorian side, in the local trotro was a typical one. We were stopped at each police barrier and asked for our carte identité. But as we got closer to Noe, the soldiers at each barrier made everybody descend from the cars and buses and walk in a single file past them so they could inspect our IDs. Twice, Mama and I were kept aside – for bribes. This time they wanted 2000 CFA from each of us. Like hell, we said.
The first time, we paid 1000 CFA each and were allowed to go. The second time, we refused, telling the soldiers we had already paid their colleagues at the preceding post. We then demanded an explanation for the costs and a receipt to show payment. We stood there a good 20 minutes arguing our case. Even the driver of our van came by to see what the hold-up was because everybody else was waiting for us. The soldiers kept looking through our passports, then finally one of then said since I was doctor, I should write a prescription for him because he had a headache! They couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t just give them the 4000 CFA as that is such a small amount considering we are coming from the U.S. After a while they asked Mama why she talked too much and finally let us go. Wow! We paid nothing.
The scene at Noe-Elubo was crazy. They had so many soldiers there. Everybody was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Pure chaos. We managed to get through though. When we got to the Ghanaian side, we were asked for our vaccination cards. They wanted us to pay 35,000 cedis each as we didn’t have it. We told them we had left it in Accra because when we travelled from the States no one asked us for it, so we didn’t think a simple trip from Ghana to Ivory Coast would need it. They let us through.
I didn’t realize how tensed up I had been while in the Ivory Coast until we were well on Ghanaian soil. The further we left Noe-Elubo behind us, the more relaxed I became in mind and in body.
Looking back, being in the Ivory Coast was an uncomfortable experience. I cannot imagine a more xenophobic place at the moment. You would think we were asking for refugee status there by the way we were treated. But the negative treatment came only from the soldiers and police. And since they have guns on them, and since there is indeed civil unrest in the country, you don’t want to do anything to inflame tempers. At the same time, everyday life is going on normally. It is not a war zone like the international media might make you think. When I was at home with family I felt safe. Even walking within the towns was fine as the soldiers are posted only at the town borders.
On the trip back to Accra, I took notice of the habits of the Ghanaian police. Like in the Ivory Coast, there are police barriers as you pass from one town into another. Unlike the Ivory Coast, at most of these barriers we were waved along. At some of the barriers we would stop, and the driver would hand the police officer or soldier about 2000 cedis (roughly 20 US cents) discretely and we would go on our way. Sometimes the policemen would not even take the money the driver was already holding out before being asked to stop the car. At no point did the Ghanaian police harass the passengers in the shared-taxi all of whom were Ivorian except for us. I’m not saying Ghanaians don’t like bribes. They enjoy it like the rest of them but they are shy in asking for it. If you give them the slightest resistance they will drop their request because they know they are wrong. On the Ivorian side, if you didn’t know better, you would think that the money being demanded was for official reasons.