Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Back to Square One

Remember last week when I was so excited to have received some gifts from the U.S. and my luggage that was lost back in November in Ethiopia?  Well, now everything is gone.

On Saturday morning I went to the Johannesburg airport for my flight back to Gaborone.  I was so excited to go home.  I had finally received my luggage that had been missing for over a month, and on top of that I had seen a friend from the U.S. who had brought me a few goodies I had been unable to purchase here.  All I needed to do was fly 40 minutes back to Botswana and then I could enjoy some peace and quiet, and my STUFF!
But an easy 40 minute trip is never easy in Africa. The first problem came when I arrived at the airport.  I’ve seen this phenomenon in China and I hate it: You arrive at the airport and someone approaches you and asks where you are going.  This is typically a well-dressed person who appears to be someone official, as if they work in the airport.  Well, they don’t.  They “help” you and then either demand a very large tip, or they just flat out rob you.  The problem is, the airlines know about it, security knows about it, and nothing is done to save unsuspecting tourists from a dire fate.

I’ve seen these people before and since I already known the scam they intend to pull I avoid it.  Normally threatening to scream helps, “Get away from me! I know you are here illegally! If you don’t leave me alone I will scream! Go find someone else to rob!” If you are nice they will rob you anyway, so you have to be overly aggressive and downright mean to get them to back off. This time I misjudged the situation.  The scam artist cornered me as I was getting off the escalator with my trolley full of luggage.  I gave my well-rehearsed and frequently used line and he said, “Ok.”  Then he proceeded to wrestle the trolley away from me and push it back down the escalator.  Despite my backpack (which contained my laptop) falling a good 50 feet or more, the only thing that happened was that the battery popped out, which I was able to jimmy back into place.  Crisis averted. However, it still made me mad.  Here’s why it really made me mad:  I went back down the escalator, retrieved my things, but my bags back on the trolley and returned upstairs.  When I got there two security guards were talking to Chris (the scam artist).  Point being, THEY KNEW HIS NAME! This guy was a regular!  Couldn’t they arrest him for something? Anything? Destruction of property? Trespassing?  In India you cannot enter the airport without a ticket.  I would love for them to implement that rule here.
Despite the security guards hanging out with an obvious criminal, likely talking about last night’s cricket match, I continued to the check-in counter, got my ticket, handed over my bags, proceeded to security.  As I was standing in line at the passport counter I turned my ticket over and realized my claim ticket had the surname Mwai listed, along with Walvis Bay (which is in Namibia) as the destination.  Once through passport control I looked closer and realized I had two different baggage claim tickets, one had my name and destination, the other was for Mwai.  I went to the South African Express information desk, explained the situation with the wrong bag tags and was told to go to my gate.  Went to my gate, explained the situation and was told to return to the SA Express transit desk (on the opposite side of passport control).  At the transit desk was told to return to the main check-in counter.  At the main check-in counter I talked to another person (the man who checked me in was gone when I got there).  She made four phone calls and was told they could not issue a new bag tag, so they would just move the bag to the correct pile of luggage for Gaborone.  Yes, I agree, this sounded very official (insert eye roll here).  Turned around to head back to security so I could go back through passport control again, and who did I see?  That’s right, Chris!

Fast forward to boarding the plane.  The plane was packed.  The planes between a lot of the shorter African destinations are smaller prop planes, but they can still hold a fair amount of people.  My plane was sold out; every seat was full.  This meant there had to be at least 60 people on the flight.  After we boarded we sat on the tarmac for almost an hour before we took off, which was unusual, but not exactly the end of the world.  Of course, it was 100 degrees out, and therefore uncomfortable, but sweating is my natural state of being here, so no big deal.
When we arrived in Gaborone I did what I always do and sprinted across the tarmac towards passport control in order to be first in line.  Then I went to the baggage carousel to retrieve my luggage.  Normally I get my luggage and depart before everyone gets through passport control, but this time the wait was so long everyone was milling around.  The baggage never arrived.  Finally a lone baggage handler appeared and said, “It’s ok, come over here.”  Since there is only one baggage area I literately thought maybe he was taking us back to the plane to offload the luggage ourselves.  I would have been ok with that.  But it was not to be.  Instead he took us to the check in counter and then disappeared.  Then another person arrived and said no luggage was loaded onto the plane at all.  He needed everyone to fill out paperwork regarding lost luggage.

Long story short, they never loaded any bags on the plane at all.  Not quite sure where the common sense was in that decision.  I would like to think one person who worked at the Joburg airport would have questioned the fact there were no bags to load.

In the last 48 hours six South African Express planes have arrived in Gaborone from Johannesburg.  They can tell me with great certainty that the bag tagged for Mwai never made it to Walvis Bay.  But they also can’t tell me where it is.  Maybe Chris has a deal worked out with the Johannesburg baggage handlers as well as the security guards.


  1. Ahhh, confusion, errors, neglect...just another day!! So sorry. Maybe it's just those frequently delinquent bags of yours... and all the other passengers. Sorry.

  2. What can I say? I'm just lucky I guess. HAHA. The bags finally arrived this afternoon.

  3. My guess would have been they were worried about weight and decided to leave the baggage and keep the passengers. But I'm not a pilot.