The final goodbye party was full of last hugs and kisses. It was time to depart on our adventure, or so we thought.
We left our home in Colorado in December 2016 to spend eight weeks traveling and visiting family and friends. From the elation of meeting my new niece in Santa Barbara to the sadness from saying a final goodbye to a dear friend in Miami, we traveled the span of the US on an emotional whirlwind tour.
The anticipation of the move and repeated goodbyes were exhausting. We were ready to finally reunite with my husband in Accra. He had already left just after Christmas to begin work. Vaccinations, doctor follow-ups, and dentist visits – ✅.
The final package arrived from Amazon and the last trip to Target for essentials was complete. My husband and I were on the phone the day before our planned departure crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s to be sure we were ready.
“I have my visa and my yellow fever card. The passports are packed. I have the kids’ yellow card, their global entry numbers… the kids will enter the country on my visa, right?” We were determined not to miss any of the simple but overwhelming number of details.
“I think so. No one has mentioned we need one for the kids. Let me check with our office and I’ll call you right back,” my husband says, certain we had all the pieces of the puzzle in place.
The phone rings minutes later. “Well, yep, the kids need visas,” he says.
“The office has already applied for emergency visas on arrival. We should have them by the time you guys leave in the morning. If we don’t, they won’t let you board the plane in JFK (pictured below) without them. So we may have to reschedule the flights.“
“Ok,” I say, not wanting to truly consider a change of flight plans. I go back to packing our suitcases, weighing them to be sure they stay under the fifty pound limit. Again, there’s more redistributing and organizing accordingly.
The next morning we rise excited to start our new life and to be reunited with dad. We can’t wait to see our new house and to unpack our minivan contents.
We’re bringing seven large suitcases, three carry-on sized suitcases, two car-seats, two little girls and one nervous mom.
Most importantly, we’re loaded up with blankets, dolls, plush pillows, and snack cups. No word on the kids visas, so I continue to operate according to plan.
After an hour of playing tetris with our precious cargo, we are finally packed in and just as we leave my in-laws neighborhood, my phone rings.
“We don’t have the visas and they won’t be ready until tomorrow morning. You guys will have to move your flight. They weren’t done on time but they may be ready by the end of next day. No one can say for certain. I’m so sorry honey,” my husband says.
We promptly turn the car around and break the news to our two toddlers that they’ll have to wait for one more day. The tears begin as the van turns around – first our two year-old, then the four year-old, then me. Even Nana cries.
We unload seven bags, three carry-on’s, two car seats, two girls, and one defeated mom. The grandparents are happy to have their kiddos around for one more day, but they also understand our frustration and disappointment.
The next day we repeat the grueling packing process and are on our way again. A phone call reassures us that the visas will be there upon arrival. We are finally ready to depart for Accra. All systems go as we fly from Atlanta to JFK to Accra. My kids are like most two and four year-old’s who have their moments, but they are angels during the flight. The magic? Snack for ten hours, watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on repeat, sleep a little, enjoy more snacks, and in no time we’re there!
As the plane descends into Accra, I peer out the window at a desolate runway. It is surrounded by brownish red soil, scattered palm trees, and spots of lush green tropical landscaping. Buildings are in various stages of completion and most are in disrepair. For a city populated by over two million people, I expect to see more of a metropolis. But the skyline lacked any visible high rise buildings or even an obvious city center.
We walk down a steep staircase and onto the tarmac, before we’re ushered onto a bus that takes us inside the terminal of Kokota International Airport. It’s bleak interior is empty with few signs of activity. The light green, yellowish walls are covered with the faint outline of brown hand-prints; a sign that people with dirty hands had been there.
The visa office was to the right of the entrance. I proceed to the counter with our paperwork and passports. “Hello. We have visas on arrival. We just arrived on a flight from JFK airport.” I hand our paperwork to the customs gentleman.
“One moment” he says, before turning round with our documents in hand and disappearing. I stand at the counter waiting for a response. My two year old is eating Smarties at 7 a.m. Normally this would be too early for sugar, but after 14 hours of travel, I no longer care. I watch as she drops her candy on the floor only to pick it up and eat it. I have no energy to tell her to stop.
My four year old is giving her “babies” an airplane ride on her favorite blanket across the floor of the visa office. The pink blanket is already visibly brown from the dirt. My medical brain is thinking it will help their immunity and the protective mom in me is thinking they’re going to get pinworms.
I hope for the former and bring my focus back to the status of my paperwork. I see a new gentleman walking across the airport with our passports and paperwork in hand. Another woman comes up to me and says, “Why don’t you have a seat”.