I’ll give my one left ball for some clean undies!
That is how strongly I felt about my problem a few weeks ago.
Let me sketch the situation.
One fine Sunday I left Cape Town for Luanda, Angola, flying via Windhoek.
I boarded in Cape Town with a lot of trepidation: I was waitlisted on the Windhoek-Luanda leg of the journey. What the hell would I do if I could not get on the flight?
Well, “all’s well that ends well”, I always say. So when I got to Windhoek and ended up in the first ten of the queue, I started feeling a bit more optimistic. (You must understand that I have heard so many stories about full flights this time of the year, I was seriously worried about not making it to Luanda on time.)
Eventually I get to the front of the queue. Lo and behold, I actually got issued a boarding pass. I immediately felt a lot better – I was going to be on the next flight out of there!
Then the first bit of bad news hit me: My luggage wasn’t booked through to Luanda. I had to go and collect it on the carousel and book it in for the next flight. Twenty minutes later all was said and done and I could eventually sit back and enjoy a coffee and a cigarette (which I hadn’t had since six hours before when I entered through check-in in Cape Town!).
More than two hours later we were eventually allowed to board the plane. In the end we left 2½ hours after the scheduled take-off time.
Upon arriving in Luanda I proceeded through immigration – a painful process all by itself – and went to the arrivals hall, only to be hit by the second bit of bad news that “your luggage was left in Windhoek.”
When I eventually arrived at the Luanda residence from the airport I started taking stock of the situation and how I was going to cope. Not only did I not have any clean clothes or toiletries with me, my luggage contained about 20kg of stuff that the team urgently needed to complete some projects.
A colleague offered to lend me some underpants, but I politely declined. I found out that he only buys G-strings and I suspected he wears them the wrong way round!
An hour and a brandy or two later I started to relax. The situation was not entirely as bleak as it first seemed. There were two clean shirts and some underpants and socks I left at the house on my last trip here. I could also go to the shop around the corner and buy the basics, so maybe I was going to survive after all.
A day and countless phone calls and e-mails – all unanswered – to every possible e-mail address on the airline’s website later, all that happened was that I got more and more frustrated by the minute. By then I had also learned the Angolan way of handling problems: There is nothing I can do about it, so why bother!
On Tuesday morning I woke up, only to discover that we had no running water. It transpired that our water tank was empty and the security guards never checked the level, so we had no advance warning that this was going to happen. The driver was immediately dispatched to go searching for a water tanker and five hour later the situation was resolved.
With some primitive tools I started fitting and fixing a few basic things in the house. Just when I sat back to relax the power went off. No problem, I thought, we had a generator. Ten minutes later there was still no electricity and I discovered that someone came in to do maintenance on the generator the previous day and since then it hadn’t worked. If only someone had informed me I could have had something done about it, but I guess the language barrier made it too difficult for the guys.
By one o’clock in the morning the power came on again and I looked forward to a productive tomorrow.
I got in the car to go and do some shopping, only to discover that the air conditioner wasn’t working. It was 38oC outside, the humidity was close to 100% and I had no way of cooling down! How bad can it still get?
Four days after my arrival in Luanda there was still no sign of my luggage. By then I was just hoping that it would get there before I left again the next week.
Frustration, desperation, anger – mention the emotion and I probably experienced it that week.
But hey, Africa is not for sissies.
“Kyk noord en f*k voort” (look north and go forth) is the motto I was going to adopt for the remainder of my stay. After that I was going to return to South Africa for a nice long break that I was really looking forward to.
By Friday I really got a bit desperate. I had an important workshop to run for the customer management team and I had nothing to wear. And this was not a “woman-thing” – I mean it literally! With a little bit of English and the odd Portuguese word I eventually managed to get the driver to understand that I needed to buy clothes.
“Fortunately” it only took 4½ hours to find pants that fitted me and I managed to get back to the residence five minutes before the workshop was due to start.
I am happy to say that all went well and five hours and a tipple or two later I felt a lot better. I had a nice steak on the gas braai and the company of some colleagues to look forward to.
Saturday afternoon, almost exactly six days to the hour since my arrival, I received a phone call from Camilo, our protocol (meet-and-greet) guy. My luggage had arrived and he was on his way to deliver it!
At least I felt fairly fresh when I checked in for my flight home on Monday morning. Hey, I was wearing fresh clothes and even had a shave over the weekend.
I did learn my lesson, though. I left enough stuff at the residence to survive for a week, just in case this happens to me again!