If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, then passing through Antwerp to have a look wasn’t a bad idea as it has so many diamond shops in just one location. I was only supposed to pass through Antwerp to catch an 8hour bus ride to Zurich.
I left Amsterdam at 2pm hoping to get to Antwerp at 4pm, get my ticket, have a feel of the city and catch my overnight bus at 9:30pm.
The best laid plans can fall apart through no fault of yours and my 5 hour stop in Antwerp ended up being 3 days.
My train broke down midway between Amsterdam and Antwerp and for nearly 30minutes , no one was telling us anything. Not even something in a language I don’t understand, so I could at least ask for interpretation.
I decide to make new friends by giving away some of my Ghanaian chocolates to the Norwegian family opposite me, they have me an even bigger chocolate to my surprise and we were on our way to being friends.
I later found out from another friend that usually nothing is said when trains “breakdown” because , someone might have committed suicide on the tracks, leaving the train driver traumatised. In order not to send passengers in a state of panic we are not told anything. I hope this was not the case. I will like to be in denial on this one.
At the time , I wished the train delay was the only drama , but it was not.
I missed 2 connecting trains and missed the ticket office. I had 3 hours to book a bus ticket online. With iPad in hand , loads of cash and no credit or debit card , where do I find a wifi spot to go online? (Don’t ask how I would have paid for it. I know a way. Nothing fraudulent, sorry 🙂 And it has worked in the past. If not sure , please get your advance ticket and pray you don’t miss your bus.)
Standing stranded at the bus station, I overhead someone , an older man on the phone speaking Hausa( an African language , spoken in some bits of Ghana and Nigeria and I had learnt this language at the age of 5)
I was smiling and waiting for him to finish his call, when his friend walks towards him asking him a question in Twi(another widely spoken Ghanaian language), I approached them explained my plight and asked for an Internet cafe or a wireless hotspot.
These 2 gentlemen were kind enough to take me round from one shop to another in Antwerp Central looking for an Internet cafe. Unfortunately , it was past 6pm and most shops and some businesses close by 6pm on most days except for bars. One of the men suggested another Ghanaian friend who has a smartphone. Remember these were middle aged to older men who were not keen on being hyper connected on social media or the Internet , the most they used the Internet for , as I found out later was listen to local Ghanaian radio stations online and the occasional Skype calls.
On our way to the bar I witnessed the police arresting 3young men. It turned out they were Congolese and Nigerian illegal immigrants and might be deported home. Will that be the end of their “dreams” I wondered.
Few minutes in and I was ushered into a bar with Ghanain kente fabrics as blinds for the window.Ghanaian highlife music was on full volume , about 8 other Ghanaians in the bar and everyone speaking twi. Where am I ? Back in Ghana? It was a mixed bag emotions.
The friend comes and tells me,there is a free wifi in the bar ,the two kind men get me a drink and I was able to use my iPad ,except now the reservations for the bus was now closed online and unlike Ghana where you can sometimes pay the bus driver directly or even negotiate or beg to sit on the bus step if you were really desperate and dramatic 🙂 I couldn’t do that in Antwerp. Strangely I missed the somewhat informal and convenient system or arrangement in Ghana. I then learnt on the spot that we usually make an exception for ourselves .
Looking for bus tickets turned to looking for hotels and hostels online for the night as I figure out my next move , but my new found Ghanaian friends wouldn’t hear of it. To them I was family and they won’t have me stay anywhere else if not their home. Although they made it sound like they will respect my decision , in reality it felt like there was no choice to make. My saying no was like saying I don’t want their help.
I was just being cautious . As if they could sense this, one of them called his wife and daughter to come take me home.
And home was home. They gave me a a very comfortable place to stay for free for 3days!
They over fed me with Ghanaian food.
One one such occasion I made excuses to get away from all the food in the guise of window shopping ,only to have my phone stolen. The irony of it all is I actually left the stuff I bought on that “shopping trip” , in the house when I left for Zurich days later.
I did come back to Belgium a week before the end of my euro trip under different circumstances , with advanced tickets this time 🙂 to reconnect with a friend I went to grad school with in London. We hadn’t seen each other in 10years. Like me she was traveling the world, resigned from her job and took 3 months to travel. Pretty cool stuff.
We shared similar travel stories , laughed as hard as kids and discussed our spiritual journeys. It was a blessing.
I went on to Antwerp to spend another night with my “family” And pick up the things I left. yes, they still over fed me this time too. 🙂
The mother is keen I mentor her 7 year old to become “someone with her education ” as she didn’t get that opportunity to go to school. What an honour!
As they say one good turn deserves another , I will be more than happy to return the favour some day.
What did I learn?
1. Not everything will go to plan, but be flexible
2. Strangers can turn to family.
3. You can be at different ends of the world and still experience the same things.
4. Have your wits about you , but please keep an open mind .
5 . Everything really does happen for a reason.
6.You can’t explain miracles.
7. Never judge people, you don’t know their story