This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

Let me preface this post by telling a little about myself to those of you who don’t know me. I like things to be organized, to the point where I might be considered slightly OCD. Which is why I had a particularly hard time with the experience below.

David and I both read. A lot. Not knowing what kind of access we would have to books, and not wanting to schlep an entire library to Obuasi, we opted to buy Kindles. It’s a good thing we did. Obuasi is an incredibly quiet town and there are no bookstores. Our Kindles keep our sanities and our relationship in good health. So when my Kindle broke, I panicked. (DB note: The quality of my reading time suddenly and rapidly deteriorated). I called Amazon customer service immediately. Amazon agreed to replace my defective Kindle, despite the fact it would require shipping the new Kindle to Ghana.

A few days after my new Kindle was shipped, the Accra DHL office called to inform me that Customs needed to open my package and that I needed to be there, in person, for them to do so. I’m sure I did an incredibly poor job of masking my surprise that people receiving a package, shipped anywhere within Ghana, are expected to make a trip to the capital just to view the package being opened. She was adamant. If I wanted the package, I had to come to Accra.

Deciding our sanities and relationship were worth holding onto, David and I made the trip. We took a six-hour bus ride to Accra, dumped our stuff at our hotel, and spent a lovely evening listening to a live band while stuffing ourselves with pizza, fried cheese rolls, and hummus. The next morning, we took a cab to the DHL office near the international airport. That’s where the fun began.

We walked into the main office, where the receptionist sent us to the shipping warehouse next door. We paid a “handling fee” and someone went to pull my package. A customs official opened it (dropping it on the ground in the process), and I explained what it was. Then, I went into Office B, where I explained to another customs official that I wasn’t importing the item, I was simply exchanging it for a defective item, so I shouldn’t have to pay a customs fee. He then set about belittling me (with a smile) for not following proper procedure (not returning the defective Kindle first). I cried a little I was so angry. He then sent me to Office A. The customs official in Office A handwrote some information into a paper booklet and then sent me to Office C, where another official added some information and sent me back to Office A, where a surly woman grunted that I should go to the bank to pay the customs fee, gestured in the general direction as to where the bank was, and told me to bring back the pay slip showing we had paid. David continued reading his Kindle.

The Ghana Commercial Bank, where I had to pay the fee, is about a quarter-mile down the road. We took the handwritten booklet to the bank, where we discovered that we had to pay in cash. Being a few cedis shy of the 89 cedis due, we had to find an ATM. Of course, the Ghana Commercial Bank doesn’t have an ATM, so we walked a quarter-mile to the nearest bank we saw. Tall tower. Looks official. We should be good. Wrong. Those ATMs don’t take VISA. (DB: NOT everywhere you want to be.) We walked yet another quarter-mile to another bank and, finally, got the cash I needed. We trudged back to the Ghana Commercial Bank, where the teller very sullenly took my money and gave me the pay slip. (DB: if any of our readers ever want to knock off a bank, I suggest this one. They were ridiculously rude and left large stacks of cash lying around.) We then walked the quarter-mile back to the DHL office, where I was again sent to Office A and then Office B to show the slip.

Finally, the package was cleared! After two more people inspected the package, David and I walked back to the first DHL office to ship the defective Kindle back. Three hours and $144 USD later, we left with two fully functioning Kindles.

The irony of this experience lies in Customs’ oversight of one key detail: not one single person out of the seven different people I dealt with asked to see my ID, despite the ubiquitous signs stating a photo ID was required. After all that, it’s a good thing they didn’t ask to see my ID, as I had forgotten to bring it with me.

UPDATE: One redeeming factor of this experience was my interaction with Amazon’s Customer Support. It was AMAZING, as in the best customer service experience I’ve ever had or will have again. Without my even having to speak to a manager, Amazon refunded me for the all the various fees, despite the fact I was unable to submit the receipts due to not having access to a fax! Amazon’s got it figured out.

Next week, it’s back to business: read about our visit to an actual galamsey site and what it took to make it happen.