Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chaos in African border crossings

I arrived in Ghana a couple of days ago, but my luggage did not. As so often happens here, am told "Finished for today. Maybe tomorrow."

It was actually a little better than that. They gave me a toothbrush and a razor. And a t-shirt. The razor was so dull as to be useless.

The next day, drove for three hours to get luggage from the airport, but had to ransom them.

Apart from the usual clothes there were a few business items--a 12 V battery charger, some weatherproof light fixtures, electronic gear for the sidescan. The woman in charge told me I had to pay a “duty” for importing these items into the country. Unfortunately I had already been separated from my handler at this point and was being held in a back room with my passport in the hands of this minor official. What she actually said as she detailed all of the electronic gear I had brought into the country was that we would have to “organize something”.

I actually think she may have been the same security guard who had detained me leaving the country years earlier. The problem is the same—we can’t pay irregular fees. But I have come to an accommodation, which is that if we are demanded to pay something under threat, I can look at it as a robbery.

So I said nothing. She then went through another couple’s baggage. They were from Mauritania. I watched closely to see what was offered, but couldn’t quite make anything out. This would be a lot easier if my local handler were here. So I kept waiting, until she asked specifically for money. Luckily, it was a small amount, the equivalent of about $15, so I paid it and took my bags and left. It was more interesting the first time.

This was way back in 1997. Much of what follows would probably be impossible now at any airport.

I was returning to Toronto with geological samples, which had already been cleared by the Ghanaian Geological Survey to leave the country. Alex, our driver, came to get me and Peter, who was a summer student working for us, and we went to the airport to check our luggage in. 

Security x-rayed my bags, and decided they didn't like what they could see. It was the samples. They wanted to see what they were, as they probably looked black on the monitor.  Actually, I think that something else interested them, as they were asking about my bag of personals, but they eventually got to the samples.  Somehow, our luggage got taken by the porters to the airline desk, and the security guards asked me to bring it back so they could have a look at it.

But the porters were arguing that I should just ignore them, and things will be all right.  It was ultimately checked in, and the security guards were still making noise, but the porters said to me that of course everything was all right, I should not have shown my letter to the security guards, because they now wanted a fine.  I asked how much one would normally give, and they said it would have to be about $50 (US).  Well, this was a problem, because I didn’t have any money left.  It was also not clear who should receive it.

The woman is in charge, the porters told me, but if I give her anything, I have to be sure that the fat man does not see me.  Difficult--he was standing virtually over her shoulder.  As soon as I appeared, the woman flew into a simulated rage, saying that what we had done was terrible, and would cost us a lot of money.  Because for all they knew, we could be smuggling gold out of the country in our samples, and so forth, and for that reason, whatever we gave them, it had to be heavy.

Well, all I could muster was $30, and she went on a long tirade, saying was that all we could pay?  She gave it back, and said I would have to get a signature from the big man in charge of customs, duties, and excise or some such, over across the airport, and the fees I would have to pay would be as much as ¢5 000 000 (which was probably about $2,000 at the time). Since it was clear that no more money would be forthcoming, I had to enter hell.

I said, that being the case, I would prefer to do things the proper way.  The first step would be to get back the sample bag, as it had already begun on the journey to the plane. 

I returned to the ticket counter, and asked about my luggage, saying that security wanted me to bring one of my bags back.  The woman at the counter gave me an initial look of disbelief, but she allowed me to pass across the luggage rack, from which I descended the luggage chute, exiting the airport onto the tarmac.

A uniformed baggage handler waved me down to where my luggage was waiting to be taken to a plane, and I wrestled the awkward bag back up the baggage chute. As I emerged, a baggage handler demanded a toll.  Everyone in sight also has to paid off, and I was lucky to get away having only lost ¢5000 (about $2).

From the terminal, we got in the car and drove over to the shipping and storage area, where we found an agent. I told the agent in no uncertain terms that he would take me to the customs and excise officer in exchange for a set amount of money. He instantly agreed, and I knew I had offered too much. In a trice we were back in the office of the chief of whatever department, who signed the letter (keeping a copy for himself). Luckily, it turned out to be unnecessary to remove the bag from the back of the cab.

I was very happy to have gotten over this hurdle so easily, however, the security goons simply raised the bar when I returned to the airport.  They now said that the package had to be inspected by the chief of customs and smuggling prevention.  So the porters helped us to yet another restricted part of the airport, where we lugged the bag to an office (this was in the arrivals portion of the airport).

The officer there was sympathetic to my situation, but the officer in charge was not yet on duty, so he asked if there was somewhere we had to go for an hour or so.  By now it was after five, so I had to pick up the some report figures from the printer. We went there, got the figures, and on the way back to the airport, Alex asked to stop in at a hospital, “to visit someone he knows”.

We waited outside for him, and he returned, taking us to the airport. On the way there, he told us that he was visiting his wife, who had just given birth to a daughter that morning. We were somewhat taken aback, but he was pretty cool about it. She had given birth in a small clinic, but had to be moved to the hospital to receive post-natal care. It was the second time I had encountered such a casual response to the arrival of a new baby amongst the Ghanaians.  I gave him my last American money (probably about $10), trusting to fate that I wouldn’t need it. He said that if the security guards had not been so greedy that money would have been theirs.

Then we returned to the airport for the final battle.  Alex dropped us off at the usual spot, and instead of picking up porters, we reported to the secure area for our inspection, merely telling one of the guards that we had been sent here by security.  He complained that we should not show up just by ourselves, but should have been accompanied by somebody, but he believed us anyway, and sent us on inside.

His aide asked us for a fee, but it was waved off by the officer who allowed us to enter.  There was one other checkpoint (we were walking against the flow of people arriving in Ghana), and they also allowed us in.  The man I had talked to earlier was not in, so we talked to whoever was occupying that office.  He took us to the correct office, but the man who should have done the inspection was too busy with all the new arrivals, and, finally, got annoyed and returned with us to the security desk, where he gave the security crew a thorough chewing-out, and got us back to the ticket counter.  My luggage was not inspected again before being loaded on the plane.

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