Crossing Into Ghana--1967
© Copyright 2022 by Thomas Turman
Photo by John Onaeko on Unsplash
John, his wife Joan and I sped along the dirt road to the border between Togo and Ghana to get there before the Togo soldiers would bring down the gate at sundown. We could see the gate, a stripped tree wrapped in red tape, pinned at one end and resting on a box on the other, was already across the rutted road as we slowed in the dust we created. Next to the pinned end was a barefoot kid in well-used, military brown shorts cradling an AK-47 in his skinny arms. He was alternately watching us approach and glancing back up at the poorly built shack in the shadows behind him. A scrawny dog began barking as we halted at the tree/gate.
We’d driven John’s half-van/half-bus VW across the Northern top of Togo on crappy roads in time to get back to our teaching jobs at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. We pulled up slowly to the young, partially uniformed, nervous kid at the tree across the road. He shifted his AK-47 to rest across his right forearm pointed at John. He eyed the lump of our goods under the tarp at the back of the VW.
“What do you mean, no pass? It’s not…”
“NO PASS,” and he held out his left hand for a “dash” while bringing the AK-47 up to eye level. A second kid-soldier stumbled out of the shack up the hill from us. He was carrying a Browning automatic rifle. It was almost as big as he was. As backup for the AK-47, they both shouted, “NO PASS.”
We were tired and hungry, but we weren’t about to pay these kids a bribe to get back to our country. Joan, the diplomat of our travel group, convinced John and me to back up, make camp off the road, and wait for morning. We set up our camp only 300 yards from the boarder gate. The evening noises were beginning in the bush around us as we built a fire.
At the end of the evening, just after our nice dinner with wine, three, older drunken Togo soldiers stumbled into the firelight to demand a dash. They each had AK-47s ready at their hips. Give them a bribe or they were just going to rob us. These guys couldn’t have been over 18 years-old. “WE SEARCH. OPEN UP,” waving their weapons at the tarp-covered rear of the VW. The skinny one began poking the tarp with the barrel of his gun.
John and I were in no mood to be held up by a couple of raggedy 17- year-olds. We lured them to the back of the VW and then, grabbing the front-end corners of the tarp covering our stuff, we whipped it over the two of the kid soldiers closest to the back of the VW. The third ran off. We punched the yelling, flailing lumps until they stopped thrashing around. In the Navy, I’d learned a few firearms skills, so collecting their guns, we broke the weapons down and wrapped the groaning bodies up tightly in the tarp.
We sat down next to Joan feeling like tough heroes. She says, “Way to go, guys, who do you think we’ll be facing tomorrow morning?”
We still felt pleased with ourselves until we saw three sets of car lights coming from Ghana toward the Togo border gate. Two jeeps and an old, Black Mercedes filled our campsite. Seven Ghanaian soldiers freed our Togo captives who immediately scampered up the hill toward their shack.
A Ghanaian sergeant opened the door of the Mercedes in a military flourish. A Ghanaian Colonel with a shaved head stepped out and strutted up to us.
“You have shown no respect for authority,” and he pointed to the fleeing Togo soldiers. “You must be smugglers bringing contraband into my country.” He folded himself back into the Mercedes rear seat and just before closing the door grunted, “Bring them.” The three of us spent 45 minuets re-packing the VW and were escorted into Ghana with a jeep fore and aft.
In the shabby Ghanaian guard office we met the Mercedes guy in charge. “I am Colonel Affrifa and I have been trained by the CIA in Virginia to guard my border against infiltrator terrorists with contraband.” Outside his office, we could see his men taking the VW apart in the yard looking for contraband. Two guys were having a great time looking at Joan’s underwear.
So far, this was like a bad movie scene. The whole thing was all a bit too melodramatic. We didn’t seem to be taking it seriously enough, so for emphasis, the Colonel put us in separate cells explaining that he would interrogate us one at a time.
Joan sang sarcastically to us from her cell, “Thanks for the nice trip, boys.” Neither of us answered.
Finally, after grilling each of us in a smelly, windowless room, Colonel Affrifa had us standing in front of him like three, naughty children, enjoying his authority over us. “This is a sovereign boarder and I am here to protect it. You foreigners come to our countries and think you can do anything you want. When soldiers give you orders, you must obey.”
“We’re just going home to Kumasi. Those guys over there were drunk…
The Colonel ignored this holding up his open hand for silence. “If I find contraband in your vehicle, you will go to prison. Do you understand?”
“What do you mean by contraband,” I asked?
“Explosives, military equipment, weapons, or written material calling for the fall of our government…”
The door burst open and a young soldier rushed into the room.
“Captain, I have found explosives,” and he thrust into the face of the captain a handful of Joan’s tampons with the “wicks” dangling over the back of his hand.
Colonel stood up to attention, threw our passports at us, shot his
right arm out pointing to the open door, and shouted, “GET OUT,
ALL OF YOU.”