My name is Laud Anthony Basing and I have decided to share this story because I can feel in my spirit that somebody is going through the same struggles I went through and feels like quitting: DON’T. There is light at the end of the tunnel
In August 2009, I had the opportunity to work with a professor/researcher who was working on a European Commission-sponsored research on Malaria and Climate Change. This research was being conducted in 13 different countries.
He was very tough but also very fair. He would give lots of work and if you impressed him, he would give you more work but if you didn’t, he completely ignored you. There were other graduate students on the project but for one reason or the other, all the students left one by one. Anytime a student left, their work was added to mine so it was very difficult but I endured.
The project came to an end in 2013 and all the lead researchers in the 13 countries were expected to present their findings at a meeting to be held in Barcelona, Spain. My Professor asked me to put together a PowerPoint presentation on the key findings of the research which I did. He then told me to present it to him at his office after which he remarked: “I hope you won’t fumble when you present it in Barcelona in May”. You can imagine my surprise and excitement. He then asked that I prepare an abstract and submit it for other conferences “maybe you’ll get lucky” he said. I did as he suggested and submitted my abstract to the American Society for Microbiology (ASM)’s General Meeting to be held in Denver, Colorado.
In early May 2013, I got two letters. One was inviting me to Barcelona for the research meeting including flight and accommodation fully paid for and the other from ASM inviting me to give a presentation in Denver. The meeting in Barcelona was from 15th to 18th May and ASM’s meeting was from 18th to 21st May. My presentation, however, was on the 20th May. I applied for a US Visa and a Spanish visa. I was given dates which were three days apart. I went to the US Embassy first which was a piece of cake and I was told to come back in a few days for my visa. Unfortunately for me, I had to go to the Spanish embassy for my interview but I had no passport. The embassy officials refused to grant me the interview and asked me to come back in a month. I had about 5 days to travel and my itinerary was from Accra – Barcelona – New York – Denver – New York –Accra. So if I did not get to go to Barcelona, there was no way, I was going to the ASM meeting. I left the SpanishEmbassy, stood at the Airport traffic light and before I could help myself, tears started flowing.
I walked with tears streaming down my face towards nowhere. As I walked, I prayed for a miracle but in my heart, I felt that it was futile. Suddenly, I realised that I was standing in front of a massive building, I looked up and it was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A thought occurred to me, what if they could help? I quickly googled the name of the Chief Director and then went to the reception. I told the officer that I wanted to see the Chief Director (I mentioned him by name). The man asked if I knew his office and I said yes (in Ghana, most top management members are always on the top floor and their names or titles are always engraved on the door). As I entered the elevator to go upstairs, I was joined by a lady. She asked me who I was going to see and I told her. I asked if she worked there and she explained that she was service personnel so I explained my problem to her. “You need to see the Head of Protocol, or the Chief Director”, she said. So I went to see the Head of Protocol, a very nice man who listened to all I had to say. He then called the Spanish Embassy, spoke to someone there and got me an interview for the next day. He then asked someone to go with me to the US Embassy for my passport.
The next day I went to the Spanish Embassy with my passport. I got there by 8.00am, by 9:15amI was out of there. I was to come back the next day for my visa with a day to spare for my trip. My friend Rainbow Vinny, helped me pack and then we went to change GHȼ3000 into $1570. I knew my flight was at 3.00pm so by mid-dayI was ready. I went to the airport and waited till around 2.00pm. That was not the first time I was travelling outside Ghana so I knew check in should have started around 1.00pm. At 2:15pm, there was no indication they were going to call us to check in so I asked for the offices of Royal Air Maroc. When I told the lady at the office why I was there, she exclaimed “Oh, they left at 3.00am.” I asked if I could be put on another flight, she said I had to wait till the next flight which was in three days. The meeting would have been over by then. I was getting desperate so I asked if I could at least get a refund, she smiled gently and said that my ticket was a non-refundable one so I either had to wait for three days or I could book another flight if I wanted. I went to all the airlines which were scheduled to travel that day and all of them cost more than the 1570 dollars I had. So in effect, I had to go back home.
I left the departure hall and hailed a taxi. The driver asked me if I was no longer traveling since I just exited the departure hall. I explained my predicament and he told me of his friend who works at a travel and tours company who can help. I wassceptical at first but decided to give it a try. He tookme to Silver Star Towers. I entered the office of the Travel and Tour company and met Michael. He wasfriendly and he booked a flight leaving that evening on Turkish Airlines for $1000. The taxi driver took me back to the airport and charged $50 for his trouble.
I got to Barcelona at 9.00am after a short transit in Istanbul and I asked for directions to my hotel. I was given me a map to help find my way. I got lost several times since the people didn’t understand English so after touring the city for ages,I finally found my way to the hotel. The rooms of the Holiday Inn Hotel, Barcelona were beautiful, and I forgot my troubles.
I gave my presentation to a standing ovation. I didn’t like the food but loved the city. After touring for a while, I went to the airport to confirm my flight to New York the next day. At the airport I was told I had travelled out of turn. That is to say there was no indication that I had left Ghana so there was no way I could make use of my ticket to the states. I begged and begged but the answer was still no. The only way I could get to go to the states was to go back to Ghana to make use of the ticket.I sent a message to a friend of mine, John who works at a Travel and Tour company to book a flight for me to Denver. I told him I would pay back when Ireturned but he was hesitant so I used my car as collateral. I asked someone to go for my car and send to John. He then told me that he could only book the flight to New York. I agreed and he told me he would get back to me.
I woke up to heavy rain. Checked my mail after breakfast at 9.00 am only to find thatJohn had sent me my ticket and my flight was at 11:30am. The airport was about an hour away so hurriedly, I packed and checked out. As I checkedout, I am given an envelope by the concierge. It was from the organisers and it contained$700. I was excited and took the metro (train) to Katalunya (It’s a suburb in Barcelona) only to realise I left my poster for my presentation in Denver. I took a taxi back, to take my presentation. The taxi driver refused to take dollars so he took me to the bus station. The conductor accepted the dollars and I got in only to realise I had left my bag containing the envelope with 700 dollars in the taxi. So I rushed out only to realise that the taxi wasgone, and when I turned back and the bus was also gone. I got into another bus, and got to the airport 7 minutes late. I had to book another flight which cost an additional $270. I paid and got on the next flight to New York through London.
I got to Heathrow Airport, London with no money, no bag, very tired and frustrated. As I sat there feeling sorry for myself, a man approached me. He asked if he could sit by me and I answered in the affirmative. He introduced himself as Obiekwe, an Irish Nigerian. He told me “Young man, Idon’t know your story and in factIdon’t want to know, you have a lot of favour around you and God is not done with you yet. You will touch a lot of lives one day so don’t give up my African brother”.He got up and told me he had lost everything in the UK and so was going back to Nigeria to start afresh. With that he walked away. I arrived at JFK at about 9.00pm and went through customs with ease. I decided to book a flight to Denver and I was told the price was $600.77, I had only $220. So I asked around for Internet and was directed to Terminal 5 where Wi-Fi was free. I checked my mail, and tried to book cheap flights to Denver and hit one with Delta Airlines at La Guardia. This one-way flight was$244; I asked for directions to La Guardia. I got help from an African American guard who gave me her metro card so I could top up with $6.98. I sat in an E. train bound for Jackson Avenue, got there and boarded the Q33 bus to La Guardia. The bus driver realizing I had only 75 cents of coins waved me in. I arrived at La Guardia with a little above $200 and a few cents, hoping I would enjoy the grace of God, with someone to give me $60 to add to my money on a one way trip to Denver.
It was late when I got to La Guardia so I found a convenient spot and tried to sleep. I dozed off and suddenly the place came alive. I checked the time and it was 4.00am. I moved to the counter and asked for the price of a trip to Denver and I was told it was $244.90. I checked and double checked and realized I had $222, so I needed about $23 to make up for my trip. I moved to the entrance of the airport and started to beg for $23. I asked several people – most just walked away when I approached and others told me they had no cash.
After almost an hour of unsuccessful begging, Iwas about to go inside, when I saw a black man drop three children. I said to myself, ” oh God let this be the one” I approached him and explained my situation to him. He called his daughter and gave her his credit card to top up my fare. I gave her $215 while I kept $7 for myself. It got to my turn and the machine froze, the man wanted to leave for work and they were calling his daughter’s flight so I begged him to just wait a little. His daughter left and to get him to wait, I engaged him in conversation. His name was Bimbola from Nigeria and he had been in the US for about 40 years. As we talked, I saw him look at his watch repeatedly. After about 30 minutes of waiting, he finally told them he was leaving. They offered to swipe the card one more time whileI prayed in my head. Guess what, this time it worked! I smiled and thanked him. He grabbed the card and literally run out of the airport while my ticket was issued. I had to check in electronically and a security guard helped, he was from Senegal, a great help.
The airport has a free iPad browsing area. I checked in, went through formalities and sat in the area to browse. I made a small calculation and realized that to survive in Denver for a week, plus accommodation and fare back, I would need $500. I had booked a room at a hostel in Denver but I was supposed to make payment when I got there. Where would I get this money? I raised my head from the iPad screen and prayed. I got into the plane and the journey took about five hours. About four hours into the journey the man beside me started a conversation. His name was Miguel from Mexico. As we arrived, I told him my problem. He showed me around and paid for my trip to down town Denver. The cost was $11 which I did not have.
I go to the conference and registered. I had free registration, courtesy ASM and so that was not much of a problem. I visited the poster boards and exhibit areas, met with a few people and since it was late I leftto make my way to Melbourne hostel where I had made reservations to stay. On my way I saw the Holy Spirit Catholic Church, I entered the church and they wereabout to have mass……it seemed they had mass in the evenings, not in the mornings. I joined them and was even one of the collection carriers. After mass I made my way to the hostel and was told it was $19.59 a night. I had no money so I convinced the lady to keep my backpack which was all I had left. I took my presentation and left with nowhere to go. I roamed about in the streets with a temperature of two degrees, I hadn’tslept since I woke up the day before so I was feeling sleepy. I decided to go back to the Church to get help but when I got there, the church was closed. I sat there for a while but started to feel numb from the cold so I got up and started to walk. I walked till I saw the bus station and entered. It was warm there so I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and wash my socks which I had been wearing since I left Barcelona. I laid in the chair and fell asleep.
At midnight a guard woke me up and told to go out since they were closing the station and would only open at 6 am. I got outside and the cold hit me. The TV in the station told me it was -3 degrees outside in Downtown Denver. There were about five people outside who like me hadnowhere to go, they were all smoking. I was so cold that I shivered from head to toe. I opened my presentation, used it to cover myself and tried to sleep. Sleep eluded me as the cold hit my bones. I could feel the tiredness but my teeth would not stop hitting each other. I started to sing Cindy Thompson’s “Awurade Kasa” in my head. As I sang, I started to get warm and so I began singing it on my lips. I got up, moved up and down and continued singing. After singing for a while, I started to pray, softly at first and then louder. I asked God why He was doing that to me, why He was making me suffer when I had done nothing wrong. I usually do not pray for a long time because after a few minutes, there is actually nothing to say but this particular night, I had plenty to say. For almost two hours I poured all my frustration into my prayers. As Idid, I became calmer and so I told God I wanted to make a deal with him. The deal was if He got me out this quagmire, I would spend my time, money and energy touching the lives of others. I could feel myself getting better as I prayed and I realised some of those outside with me were staring so I sat at a corner and continued making deals with God, fortunately, I was no longer cold and it was almost 5.00 am. Finally, I drifted to sleep.
The guard woke me up around 6.00am and I went inside the station. I had been wearing the same shirt since I left Barcelona and it was beginning to smell. So I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and I took off the shirt and washed the collar. I bought coffee for $1 and went to wait for the collar to dry. I was in high spirits but I didn’t know why. After the collar dried, I moved to the convention centre where the conference was taking place. I was early so I looked for a PC and to log on to Facebook. Linda Kamakuru (Abena Linda on Facebook) was online. She is a friend from KNUST who is in the United States and she was aware I would be coming to the states. We started to chat and as usual, I told her my story. She was disappointed I didn’t contact her sooner. She immediately sent me $500 through money transfer and wanted to send me food and other consumables. (She doesn’t like it when I tell this story but what can Ido, she is an angel here on earth). My day had started well and my spirit was soaring. At least with $506 dollars, I could eat, get a decent place and buy another shirt.
It was almost time for my presentation so I moved to the poster area. I walked by a door marked International Lounge and it was for international participants. I got in there and there was free coffee, tea, and pastries. “Ah God is good,approachedme” I told myself as I started to gobble down some doughnuts. approached me and introduced himself as Moses Vurayai, from Botswana. He told me he is the ASM Young Ambassador to Botswana. I didn’t know what that was, so he explained what it meant and directed me to Kirsten Bartlett who is one of the coordinators of the Young Ambassador programme. Moses also told me about the wonderful activities he had been involved in since he got to the United States. He asked me about my travels and I told him all my troubles. He suggestedI spoke with the organisers, for help so I decided to give it a try. I talked to a gentleman at the ASM office and he directed me to lady who after listening to my story offered profound apologies, quickly booked a return flight to New York in 4 days, and reserved a room at the Crown Plaza Hotel, a5-starhotel in Downtown Denver, about6-minute walk from the convention centre. She asked me to come see her after my presentation.
Immediately after the presentation, I got my flight reservation as well as my hotel reservation. I checked in and there were two beds, with comfortable seats, a flat screen TV as well as complementary drinks in the fridge. With my shoes on, I laid on the bed and when I woke up, it wasTuesday, 21st May 2013. I had slept for more than 16 hours. I woke up initially not knowing where Iwas, then it all came back to me and I smiled. I took a warm shower, dressed and went down stairs. I bought a few clothes, dressed up and went to the convention centre. I moved straight to the Lounge for breakfast, talked to Kirsten about the Young Ambassador programme and then I listened to a few lectures, made several contacts and met Chumba Kottutt. Chumba is a very beautiful Kenyan girl who is a permanent resident in the United States and is doing her undergraduate work. We talked, and had lots of fun till the end of the conference, she left and Iwent back to my hotel.
It’s been four years since my ordeal, I have had others, I have had massive misfortunes but I have also been blessed. I have tried to keep my end of the deal I made with God and he has blessed me abundantly. Doors have been opened for me and I have seen the blessings of the Lord. Today I am an ASM Young Ambassador to Ghana and have been to the United States six times. I serve on ASM’s YLC which is a prestigious group of young Scientists who offer advice to the Global Board and I am the only African. By following through my part of the deal, I became a Mandela Washington Fellow which brought along its own blessings and opportunities including a research position at Purdue University, my academic institute. I have also been blessed beyond measure in other areas of my life. As my classmate and friend Valeria Baidoo would always say to me, “God loves you, even if you don’t acknowledge it.” I share this story because I know there is someone who is going through frustrations and does not understand why. I have learnt that there are always better times ahead when you face problems. I had similar problems in 2015 but through those problems I met Ɔdadeɛ Alain Gbeasor and through him, the wonderful #AYE family has changed my life.
Thank you for reading and I hope it brings you closer to God. Amen.
Author: Laud Anthony Basing