“Sing a Song of Temma Harbour…”

Mary Hopkin sang “Temma Harbour” in 1970. I can still hear its beautiful chorus my father used to play; beginning at 0.38 seconds. Coconut trees still line the beach. The smell of fish still wafts from the sea, even if clearing your goods makes you forget that for a moment…

 

IMG_3403 (1)

No, my son, Tolu, doesn’t work at the harbor. This is a requirement for entering. You must wear flashers in daylight, whether you are a worker or not. And you have to buy them, for 8 Ghana cedis each. We got them for 7 each, much to the indignation of the sellers. “Why did you have to bargain? Everyone pays 8 cedis!” My hired driver knew better to bring his own. While it is irritating, it creates business for people.  My agent’s assistant wore hers, beaming. By day’s end, that smile had wilted to misery.

IMG_3407

 

The worker who opened the container (see below) asked us to put money in his “collection” bucket. We declined. He did his job, anyway. See? Progress! Unfortunately, at every turn, people slipped ten cedi notes into the hands of clipboard wielding officials.

IMG_3390

 

Car being freed from the container. It is always a good idea to make sure they put a platform to drive out the car. They get overwhelmed and try to cut corners, damaging tires. IMG_3410

This part was puzzling. After the cars got out, the 40 ft container was only a quarter full, yet they pulled out all the boxes. Here I am, three hours later, waiting for inspectors to come verify my shipment, the brown boxes. The other stuff belongs to other people. Twelve years ago, when I shipped, the inspection took place inside the container. Dumping everyone’s boxes outside creates chaos and congestion. Hopefully they will go back to inspecting in the container unless there isn’t enough room. I worried about rain, but the good weather held.

IMG_3426

 

The inspection crew consisted of three sets of officials: Customs, National Security and BNI (Ghana’s equivalent of the FBI) Really? At each turn, I opened boxes and allowed full access, without paying a bribe. However, I discovered that getting the inspectors to do their job on time required slipping cedi notes into their palms. Agents have no choice, unless they want their client to spend more than one day at the harbor and put up with full-throat venting. I have a dream that this bullying practice of having to pay a wage earner to do his/her job will end. I have a dream.

I have a dream that it won’t take five hours after inspectors finish for the documents to be readied and printed so that one can leave the harbor before ten p.m., when one arrives at 8:40 a.m.

I have a dream that leaving the harbor won’t require going through four more check points within a space of fifty yards, where clipboard-wielding officials make a good show of frowning and taking notes while cedi notes slip under the clipboard. I have a dream that agents won’t pass this cost onto their clients, marked “sundry expenses” in the invoice.

I have a dream that the proposed changes coming to the ports will become a reality.

I believe my dreams will come true, so I’ll sing a song to Temma harbour, won’t climb a coconut tree but eat lots of it plus grilled fish on the beach.

 

Shipping Your Stuff to Ghana, What to know

Back in 2005, when I shipped a container, it involved me showing up at the harbor with the agent, navigating various fees and finally opening the container. Much to the dismay of inspectors, I didn’t even have a car in it. What was I thinking wasting all that money and space, just to make sure I could ship a bunk bed, a baby grand, and my precious books? If you have space in your container, invite others to share space and cost!

When I shipped a car a year later, apparently bunched with other cars on ship’s deck and exposed to the elements, it was a much cheaper affair. The car arrived intact and was ultimately delivered to my house by my fabulous agent. (kiss, kiss, agent!)

The shippers don’t always tell you the following, so beware: when you arrive at airport customs in Accra, ask to fill out a PUBD form, Passenger Unaccompanied Baggage Declaration. Just because you’re flying while your container rocks on the sea is no reason not to fill the form at the airport. I forgot this time around. If I had gone back to the airport, within, say a matter of two weeks or so, it would have been okay. But I found out about the form after a month. It was a nightmare I’d rather you didn’t experience. Not only will you pay a penalty, you’ll be subjected to the most painful bureaucracy, traveling back and forth between a customs office outside the airport known as Aviance, and airport customs, then immigration, then back to Aviance, pay the penalty and finally get to fill out the blasted PUBD, all yellow and delicate like onion skin.

A new development (new to me, anyway) is the need for a tax identification number, for which you get to be a guest of the Registrar General’s building, a veritable zoo of buzzing, circling petitioners and overworked administrators. Might take a day or two of your time. Might I suggest you keep your Ghanaian passport updated if you have Ghanaian or dual citizenship? Gone are the days when officials bestowed benign smiles on you, saying, “Yes, you have an American passport but we know you’re a Ghanaian. We understand that sort of thing. Your name is Ghanaian, you speak Ghanaian and act Ghanaian. Welcome home, akwaaba!” These days, your Ghanaian-ness is not a given. After all, there are non-nationals who cheat the system and buy passports, so the government isn’t yielding.

If your passport has expired, arguing that you yourself have not expired won’t fly. It won’t earn you a national ID card nor a Ghanaian tax identification number that will save you from paying taxes on your old tv or craigslist couch you insisted on shipping. You will pay taxes on your fingernails, if possible. So, update your Ghanaian documents, okay? Now, it makes no difference if you’re shipping a car. Foreigners and Ghanaians pay the same taxes. Rather exorbitant. (Try to get your quotes or estimates before the following Tuesday, because every Tuesday, the rates change. Rates are pegged to the dollar, and curiously enough, they never go down. Pay quickly!)

Before I forget, insist on the ship giving you an original Bill of Lading so you can claim your belongings. Although Ghanaians tolerate e-tickets when it comes to airplanes, e-documents are still viewed with suspicion. Pay no mind to Mr./Ms. American shipper who blithely emails you an electronic copy from his or her iPhone. You’ll endure calls and admonishing from your Ghanaian agent who will urge you to call your shipper for a DHL delivery, or send a telex authorizing release from the ship upon indemnity of blah blah blah that will leave you weeping into your pillow. Especially when the USA shipper doesn’t understand what the fuss is and won’t even take your calls or respond to emails. Of course, all this is avoidable if you ship door to door. More expensive but probably worth the avoidance of a migraine and desperate phone calls to America, listening to someone say press 1 for this and 2 for that while your cedis or dollars tick away to the annoying music in the background.

Shipping door-to-door provides a hassle-free experience. You just send a container or boxes through a company/agent, and prepay duties, charges, etc. That way all you have to do is show up at the warehouse to pick up your belongings. Some will even deliver to your house. Now, isn’t that lovely! And when you do get your car and you’re cruising past the tro-tro minivans, you’ll admit it’s worth it!