Friday, September 29, 2006

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like...

Gah. Remember my trials trying to book airline tickets for our first vacation from Ghana? Written to the strains of the Eagles' Hotel California?

Fun times, redux.

No airline website will let me book or pay from Ghana. Third World countries inspire suspicion in companies all over the world and even the sites who will let me check available flights will take me no further.

So my trek began, again.

Ted and I headed down to the Lufthansa office and sat down with a reservations clerk. She was kind, friendly, helpful, and gave us pretty much what we wanted so we prepared to pay.

Not so fast, Obroni.

To take a credit card, she needs supervisor approval. The supervisor is out of town and will not return until the following Wednesday.

No, she can't take a check, either. That would require the same approval from the same absent supervisor.

This leaves the cash option. Cash in Ghana is no mystery to anyone who has been reading this blog. The largest bill in the country is the equivalent of about $2.25. And that's if you can pry ¢20,000 notes out of the bank- something that I have only managed to do about 30% of the time.

I had to pay for my little white car in cash. No U.S. Dollars, please. Duke and I nervously conveyed two shopping bags full of cash to Tema on that day, and that was a lucky ¢20,000 note day!

The plane tickets are somewhat less expensive than my car was, but not much, and I'm unwilling to risk life and limb carting buttloads of local currency all over town for the privilege of paying someone way too much money to fly me out of the country.

And there's the rub.

It's impossible to do so many things here because Ghana is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a 'trouble spot'. Five major international airlines fly into and out of here every single day (one of them multiple times a day), yet it's nearly impossible to book and pay for a flight if you live here. If you are booking round trip from outside Ghana, no problem.

But don't try to leave once you are already here. They'll gitcha every time.

So fine. I go back to the Lufthansa office the next week to meet with the supervisor and see if she will agree to accept my credit card (which carries my picture) for payment. As usual, I am the only one in the office that doesn't work there- what a surprise! Go figure why Ghanaians aren't lining up outside to deal with this stuff.

Unfortunately, of all the people working there, the supervisor isn't one of them.

"Oh! You just missed her! She had a meeting and won't be back until Monday."

When apparently I will return to beg them to take my money.

I go back on Tuesday. A different reservations clerk motions me to her desk. I explain why I am there.

She tells me they don't take credit cards. Sigh.

I tell her "Yes you do." and that I have been instructed to speak with her supervisor to obtain approval.

She reluctantly disappears for a few minutes and when she returns not only do they accept credit cards, but she has a form that pops right up on her computer into which she can insert information from said card. Gosh! From "we don't accept" to "actually my computer is already set up for it" in just 15 minutes. Who says miracles don't happen?

She typedy-types for a few minutes, then gives me a sad face worthy of Sarah Bernhardt and points to a line on her computer screen.

"Card denied."

I smile like the mature person I hope to become, take the card from her and call America on my cell phone.

I have gotten good at calling America in the last year or so- you would be surprised how often the need arises. I can recite faithfully the recorded announcement that begins "The 800 number you have dialed is not free outside the U.S. if you do not wish to be charged for this call..."

In any case, my behind is still firmly parked at her desk, and my reservations clerk is somewhat surprised that I didn't just take my card and my "Denied" shame and slink from her presence. I reach Citibank and explain the situation.

The gentleman on the other side of the Atlantic calls up the transaction information.

My spiffy clerk has entered the expiration date wrong.

I thank him, hang up, and commence a tutorial about dates.

Granted outside the U.S. dates are reversed (day first, month second) but that is apparently not the problem- she holds a thumbnail just below the relevant month number and says "September?" Ummm. Not even close.

So we try again.

Card denied again. (Sarah Bernhardt sad face replaced by a "See? You are a deadbeat." face)

Call America again.

Spiffy clerk has entered the account number wrong. I ask the lady on the other side of the Atlantic to hold the phone as I help SC re-enter the number to avoid yet another transatlantic connection fee...

Sensing that I am not going to leave her desk without my tickets, SC gives in and completes the transaction, thus confirming that they do, indeed, not only take credit cards, but take MY credit card which seems to piss her off beyond all reason.

Needless to say, we will not, in future -like apparently every other sane person in Ghana- be booking any flights out of here on Lufthansa. Hopefully the airline will always have enough business from other countries, because they would never last a day if they relied on their local Ghanaian office.

On the upside, this spiffy reservations clerk is almost unique in my experience here.

There's always one in the barrel and apparently it was my turn to take a ride with her...