I am here. The advance scout for the Kiel family’s semester in South Africa. Two of my bags preceded me, having taken an earlier flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg. My third bag took a more circuitous route that somehow involved Frankfurt, but it has now arrived as well – two days after me. Certainly, getting the phone call informing me that my bag had arrived has been the highlight of the trip thus far, which says more about the relief of not losing all of my clothes than it does about anything else.
Day one was spent checking off a few items of business and then shopping for replacement clothes since I had been operating with the same couple of things for 4 days given the travel delays and baggage trouble and since there was no guarantee that I would ever get my bag. Day one also happened to be Mandela Day, the national holiday celebrating Mandela’s birthday. In the car en route to the hotel (allegedly the same one President Obama stayed in for Mandela’s funeral), the driver and the radio went on and on about Mandela Day events. The porter suggested that I visit Mandela House in Soweto on the special occasion. Had I landed as planned, this would have been wonderful – the transition from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to Soweto symbolic. However, with my time in JoBurg truncated, I opted for business, which took me to Nelson Mandela Square.
In Mandela Square, there was virtually no indication that it was Mandela Day aside from a few men wearing t-shirts that I would not have connected to the holiday if not for the prior day’s car ride. Mandela Square is a plaza connected to an enormous shopping mall in Sandton, a nice area in JoBurg. I went full immersion at the mall, making most of my purchases at Banana Republic. I was able to check off my questions about banking and mobile phone service and left the mall feeling like progress was being made.
Everyone I have dealt with so far has been courteous and friendly. I have found myself more willing to talk openly to strangers than I am typically, perhaps because I am starved for human contact! I had a particularly entertaining encounter at the Vodacom shop when one of the employees seemed to be asking me if it was alright if she took her lunch break. This led to a couple of laughs as they seemed to think that I thought she was asking me to go to lunch with her. After I explained that I had to shop to replace my clothes and that my purchases would hopefully be reimbursed, the woman suggested that I should bring her with me and get her a few things, telling the airline that my girlfriend’s clothes had also been lost. I demurred and laughed as I departed – I’m not entirely sure that I understood what was going on, but it seemed fun nonetheless. Maybe you had to be there.
Day two’s objectives were to return to the airport to see about my bag and to get driving. In a final spasm of torture, I arrived at the baggage services facility to be told (after an hour) that the bag had not arrived on the South African Airways flight from London as promised. I had arrived at the facility hopeful and ready to fully move on from the travel and into my stay, but with this news, I left the facility lower than ever. I loitered around the airport, purchasing some things I had put off buying the day before in hopes that I wouldn’t have to replace them. As I sadly made my way to the car rental desk, I received my first South African phone call – it was a woman who had helped me upon arrival and whom I had randomly seen and stopped earlier at the airport to update her on the situation.
“Mr. Daniel?” she said. “Are you still at the airport?”
“Didn’t I just see you at the airport?” she asked, apparently not certain that she was putting the right name to our encounter.
“Yes, we just spoke,” I assured her. “I am still here.”
“I have your bag,” she said. “It has arrived on a Lufthansa flight form Frankfurt. You can come and get it.”
I wanted to hug this woman with purple lipstick when I returned to the baggage facility, but she did not seem to be feeling it, so I just smiled broadly, thanked profusely, and rolled – no, soared – to the Hertz counter.
The drive to Bloemfontein merits its own post, so stay tuned.