In Tabuk airport in Saudi Arabia there’s a little office the other side of security that deals with left luggage. If you can talk your way through the barrier you can talk to a patronising overweight misogynist and you can get assurance that works that your bag is coming. He will tell you when it will arrive. If you go at that time he’ll belittle you a bit and give it back to you. He seems to understand on some level that people’s bags are quite personal and they might want to have them. Even if he likes to rummage through the women’s bags thoroughly and he honestly can’t countenance women with crash helmets in their luggage.
In Carrasco airport in Uruguay there is an information booth staffed by disinterested smiling people who want to prevent you from actually getting anything done. There is no dedicated lost luggage staff, so it is the responsibility of the airline staff, on top of everything else they do. They are only on site for check in and for flight arrivals and probably paid shorter hours than they work based on somebody’s projection. As soon as there is no activity related to their airline, they grab their stuff and get the hell out of Dodge. If there is a lost bag then it is the very very last thing they consider. If they consider it at all. They might leave it there. They might pull it out but only if they know there’s somebody waiting. Lost luggage is perpetually an SEP. Somebody Else’s Problem. There is no equivalent of me on this job at the airport, trying to hoover up the SEPs, make them ABPs and yo I’ll solve it check out the hook etc. I don’t have to make this my job. Nobody will ever look askance at me if I DON’T make it my job. But I make it my job because somebody has to.
I was waiting today for over two hours again though. That’s the shitshow of it when you’ve got a jobs list that needs to be finished before the shops close. I was getting more and more frustrated.
Information changed shift and the new one with no idea how long I’d already waited eventually told me I had to wait by a door and someone would come. Nobody came. After twenty minutes I went back to ask for a time frame. “No no you must wait by the door,” she said. “How long?” “Twenty minutes.” So I went back and waited twenty minutes with expectation. Then I went back and mimed a telephone to her from a position where I could see the door. She just shook her head and her mouth moved. I went closer to hear what she said. “By the door.” I went back to the door and waited another fecking twenty minutes. There’s an hour.
The shops were getting closer and closer to closing and it’s a two hour drive to the port. The extent of the not giving a fuck about people’s lost bags here started to bother me. Surely they must understand how much thought went into that bag? These people are a long long way from home. It’s so badly organised. It’s so laissez-faire.
I got so angry with the nothing that I decided it was time to try to meditate just to bring my temperature down. All I could do was wait. Might as well wait well. I’m crap at meditating. I sat cross legged before the door, not in anyone’s way. For maybe ten minutes I managed to be still. Then my phone rang and my brain went back into gear so I switched to the old familiar Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo of the Nichiren society of simplified secular Buddhism. Not loudly mind you, I wasn’t being passive aggressive here, I was trying to remain calm in an increasingly frustrating situation. I chanted at the door, and the people behind it, at the shop I was going to where they HAD to have what I needed or there would be no time to look elsewhere. Another twenty minutes. From walking in before 6 full of optimism because that’s the time I was told, we are now passed 8pm.
I try another tack. The door is busy. It’s a staff door. I smilingly ask everybody going in or out if they are Latam, always as if I expect the answer “yes”. Eventually someone looks momentarily perplexed and says “yes”. I explain the whole situation again. I show him all the paperwork. I even have a letter from a lawyer giving me permission to collect on her behalf as honestly they’ll try anything to avoid just getting the thing.
He photographs it all from my phone and asks me to wait once again. I wait. Then he comes back and actually appears to be the first person I’ve met who appreciates the human side of this lost bag thing. He understands I’m waiting on somebody else’s behalf. He just seems to actually give a fuck. He gives me the bag. We check it against the claim number. It works. I thank him. I hug him a bit. And I’ve got the bag. I don’t think he’s the person I was waiting for. He’s just a good person. The person I was waiting for was likely having a fag after a long shift and phoning their mum.
Shopping and a long drive through darkness gets me to the port just in time to see the tender leaving without me and a call from a PA to tell me that’s what’s happening. There was a VIP on the tender. VIPs don’t wait for bags. So I hung out at midnight at the port with snorting sealions and the bag of a woman I’ve never even met and kinda let myself settle into the fact that, when I’m not at that airport, my slice of Uruguay is a pretty quirky and happy place right now. It’s warm enough in the evening to hang out. The sealions are friendly. I’m a valued team member, capable in my own specific way. The skill of some of the global crew is way above my level, but you learn by doing. On the rare days when I’ve got time to plug into them I probably don’t speed things up much but I upskill myself at an astonishing rate.
Then through these thoughts, the tender showed up. Mark took the bag.
I went to the next hotel to persuade the night porter to help me unload the rest of my cargo. Then… Well I went home to write this to you and sleep. Just an account of the last few hours of a busy day cos it’s freshest in my mind. The rest of the day … you get the gist.