I was woken up by a phone call from our Clearing Agent (the company that handles customs and the duty exemption process) that they had scheduled a meeting in the nearby port city of Tema. I threw on a MedPLUS polo and rushed out of my hotel in Accra, hoping I could find a taxi driver to take me the 1+ hour ride without too steep of a price. I think my taxi driver could sense that I was stressed out from medical school applications, hungry from skipping breakfast and still exhausted from the previous day’s long bus rides because he promptly pulled over and bought me a bag of groundnuts. Thank you random taxi driver for making my day! Tema is Ghana’s main shipping port. It is a chaos of administrative buildings full of flustered people getting overwhelming stacks of documents stamped, signed, certified, and authorized by offices full of people with convoluted government titles.
The reason our second shipment of supplies was held up in customs was because “MOH” (standing for Ministry of Health) was not written on the Bill of Lading (our official shipping document). Although we submitted a signed memorandum from one of the leading officials at the Ministry of Health, stating that the Ministry was partnering with MedPLUS Connect and that they were covering the cost of shipping the supplies, customs refused to budge. The ridiculous part of the whole situation is that the recipient section of the Bill of Lading, which customs insisted should include “MOH” is typed by our shipping company in the US. There is no sort of accountability or legitimacy to having those letters added in...sigh…although now we will never fail to add “MOH” in the future. Who knew that three little letters could cause so much drama!
It turned out that all we needed was a face to face meeting with the Assistant Commissioner of Customs (who conveniently “happened” to be from a town near Wechiau, the shipment’s destination) and our stack of customs documents got the final stamp it needed. As I left the customs offices, I passed through a literal city of shipping containers. The old metal containers had been outfitted with doors, curtains and the odd A/C unit or two…bizarre!