Unlike the nightmare that I encountered flying with Ghana Airways in 2003, my experience with North American Airlines on my recent vacation to the motherland was positive. The level of customer service offered is comparable to any airline I have flown with within the continental United States. The flight crew is gracious and courteous. The in flight entertainment isn’t bad either. Moreover and most importantly we depart and arrived at our destinations on time. Something Ghana airways know nothing about. It is a pity that this little airline that could is abandoning the Baltimore to Banjul route come January. Lack of passengers is obviously the reason. Apparently, Gambians in the United States don’t travel back home as often to warrant weekly flight s to the smiling coast and visa regulations after September the eleventh make it virtually impossible for Gambians to gain entrance into the states.
My flight landed in Banjul on a humid December afternoon. The first sign of economic decay confronts the casual observer from there on. The airport bus that ferries airline passengers disembarking from the plane to the terminal building has most of the instrument panel broken. The idea of repairing them hasn’t occurred to anyone. The bus driver was definitely in a hurry. Screaming for the arriving passengers to hurry up so that he could drive for what amounts to a block give and take. A little bit of patience on his part might help with his blood pressure.
The immigration and customs process was lackluster. The immigration officers look detached and wary. The process could be speeded up if each had their own stamps instead of sharing one. Welcome to Banjul international airport: The bragging port of entry that you can’t make APRC supporters stops talking about. Structurally the airport isn’t bad for a country the size of the Gambia. It complements the travelling habits of the populace. Most Gambians have never flown in their lives and the few that flew is catered for by this structure adequately.
Once you walk through the immigration gate, you are confronted by a throng of uniformed porters offering you their services. Grown men milling around with carts begging to carry your bags for a handout to feed their families. The sight of these straggly looking men will humble the most boisterous of a human being. You feel bless and sad at the same time. Blessed that you don’t have to go through what they are going through and sad that there is very little you could do to alleviate their plight.
Then it hit you that there is collusion between the porters and the customs inspectors at the Gambia’s airport. To avoid your bags searched, all you need to do is have one of these porters carry them. Once they go through the X-ray scans, the porter just signal to the inspectors that you are with them and you are saved the trouble of opening your bags for the inspectors to rummage through.
I was flabbergasted when the guy who carried my bags breaks it down to me when I tried to give him a ten dollar tip. He made it clear to me that the inspectors inside are waiting for their cut once he gets inside. I felt a sense of rage at that comment after all I don’t care if they search my doggone baggage. There is nothing illegal in them after all . To make a story short, I gave the guy twenty dollars for what amount to nothing I couldn’t do myself. I was trying to support a fellow by letting him carry two sixty pound bags on a cart for me. I could have drag them on wheels myself like I did in the states. That was my first brush with corrupt Gambian officials barely twenty minutes after setting foot on Gambian soil.
I will dwell on other issues in subsequent posts as time permits. I am swamped at the moment with work.