Date line: October 21, 2013
Unknown to us, from the start, our plan was destined for trouble—big trouble.
The goal was for my Gahanian girl friend, Cassandra, and I to live together in another country outside of Ghana. This would be our second attempt. The first attempt failed when the Ghanaian KLM security people would not allow Cassy to board the flight to Amsterdam on her way to Quito, Ecuador, where I was waiting. They claimed she needed a transit visa to pass through Schiphol Airport. As clearly stated on their KLM website, they were wrong.
Subsequently, I had returned to Ghana from Ecuador in order to rejoin her and try again. Due to her traveling on a Ghanaian passport our choice of countries was limited. Cambodia, we discovered, like Ecuador, would issue a tourist visa on arrival to a Ghanian passport holder. Cambodia, we decided, would be our new destination.
The new plan was formed. I was to fly on Emirates Air from Accra to Vietnam and check things out before arranging to meet Cassy a month later in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Before leaving Accra I went to the Emirates Air ticket office and purchased Cassy an open date, one way ticket to Cambodia. (Unknowingly, a mistake that would later come back to haunt me). The ticket agent assured me that a “transit” visa would not be required for the two stops—Dubai and Bangkok. Because Emirates Air doesn’t fly to Phnom Penh the ticket included a transfer to Air Asia in the Bangkok Airport for the final leg to Cambodia.
Days before her departure date I spoke with Cass by phone. Reassuringly, I promised her that if she would take this giant step of faith, by traveling thousands of miles from home, she would not be sorry. “I would treat her like the princess that she was,” I promised. She had been raised in a loving upper-middle class Gahanian family. So it was a promise I didn’t make lightly.
The night of departure I called her while she was at the Accra Airport to make sure she was OK. Once again the security people were giving her trouble at check-in. I spoke with someone there, assuring them that I was meeting her at her destination. “Then she is on her way to you” he confidently informed me.
Only 20 hours and we will finally be back together I joyfully reflected. “I can’t wait,” I thought.
Eagerly, I watched the passengers from the Air Asia’s Bangkok flight #302 enter the visa clearance area in Phnom Penh International Airport. As the last of the passengers filed through the entry door my heart was pounding so hard I felt like it would literally burst. Where in the hell was Cassy. “Was there a beautiful young black girl on your flight” I enquired of two flight crew members? “Sorry no” was their reply. “Oh no, it can’t be,” I thought.
The feeling of total despair covered me like like a black cloud.
On returning to my hotel room I was In a state of panic. Where was Cassy? Dubai? Bangkok? Accra? Where? I called Emirates Air hotline and received only an answering machine. It was 11pm in Phnom Penh and everything was closed. I would have to wait until tomorrow morning. A sleepless night ahead, I could only imagine the pain and fright that Cassy, my little princess, must be feeling. Her first international flight. How exciting for her. And now this.
The next morning my calls to Emirates Air hot line we’re again answered by the same machine but this time I left a message and my number. Then I headed back to the airport to speak with the people at the Air Asia office. Maybe they could tell me something. The ticket girl couldn’t speak English but finally I found her boss who barely could. Since Cass had never boarded the flight they had no record of her. He directed me to continue pursuing Emirates Air.
On returning to my river side hotel, there was, thank god, a message and a number from Emirates Air. The number was for a manager named Arin Mazdani whom I immediately called. Once again I heard a recording.
Around 3pm I received a call from Ms. Mazdani. She informed me that Cass had been mistakenly detained by the Thai immigration people and was being held in their airport detention cell. Thank God, at least I now knew where she was. She instructed me to fly to Bangkok the next afternoon where she would meet me in order to arrange Cassy’s release from Thai immigration. We agreed on the place and time.
Greatly relieved, I immediately called Air Asia reservation, hoping to get a seat on the next day’s 4:00 flight to BKK. Thankfully they had a seat for me.
Suvarnabhumi Airport is one of the world’s largest and most cavernous airports. I was to meet Ms. Mazdani, not in the Emirates office but at a point close to where I would disembark my Air Asia flight. What if she’s not there I needlessly worried? So much has gone wrong—can something finally go right?
Sure enough, at 5pm, an attractive and intelligent appearing, uniformed Emirates Air lady, was standing at our appointed location. As I would soon discover, I was looking at one of the most efficient and professional individuals whom I have ever encountered. What I was really seeing was God’s gift to me—an angle from heaven.
For the next hour this angle marched me from one location to the next. Efficiently completing the steps necessary for arranging Cass’s liberation from the evil grasp of Thai immigration. Her making sense out of this giant hall, which for me was a state of total confusion—truly a gift from God. Steps that included buying an Emirates Air one way ticket from Phnom Penh back to Ghana as well as a ticket for that night’s flight on Air Asia back to Phnom Penh. (Thank God I had enough money on the Visa Card). She made it seem so simple, as though she had done this a thousand times. Finally, arranging the immigration paper work for Cass’s release including a rediculous $50 charge for the crap food they had provided her—which, typical of my little princes, she had fortunately refused to eat.
And then, with little fanfare, Ms. Madani announced, “we are finished. Now you can go to the Air Asia boarding gate and I will have someone escort Cassandra to meet you there.” And just like that this super efficient, angel from God, Emirates Air manager had accomplished what I never could have done on my own. Just as quickly she was gone—even before I could properly express to her my immense appreciation for what she had so efficiently accomplished. Skillfully lifting the dark cloud which had so oppressively covered me these last 48 hours.
After checking in at the Air Asia departure gate I started killing time by strolling back down the aisle. That’s when I saw Cass walking toward me accompanied by an Emirates representative. She was in such a dazed state that I hardly recognized her as she passed me saying nothing. I turned and followed the two back to the check-in desk.
Still in a state of shock, Cass said little as we waited for our flight. The last 48 hours had obviously not gone well for her. That I later learned was an understatement.
She had been subjected to the disgraceful treatment of a common criminal—finger printing and photographing. Then she was placed in an open detention hall with about 40 other detainees both sexes and mixed races. No widows, beds, or even chairs—the floor was her chair and her bed. And only one small toilet shared by all these poor souls. Her miserable home for 48 hours of not knowing when, if ever,she would be rescued.
Cass, being the strong willed person she is, had demanded that one of these rude immigration guards contact Emirates Air. This is when God sent her His angel, Arin Mazdani. Which is how she got my number.
Why was she arrested? Because of an arbitrary decision by some low level, Air Asia check-in girl to not accept her previously issued boarding pass. Her reason? She claimed it was because Cass didn’t have a return ticket to Ghana. The cold fact of life is that had I, a white American man, been traveling with her, she would never have been refused boarding—with or without a return ticket. These small thinking underlings love to jealously inflict pain on whoever they can.
What lesson had I learn? That there is a totally different set of rules for those who travel on a third world passport with little money. My naivety in not buying her a round trip ticket cost her dearly. Just because I, an American, can travel on one a way ticket did not mean that Cass could do the same—unless of course she is traveling with me.
Despite all my wonderful promises to Cass of the great happiness to come, it took less than 30 minutes after landing in Bangkok for her to be thrust into a world of fear and terror. And I was 100% to blame.
Then unbelievably only two weeks later mom died in California. Cass bravely insisted that I return for her funeral. Leaving her alone in this strange land.
And little did we know, the worst was yet to come.