On a holiday trip to Panama from Brasil I – the airlines – managed to lose my bag BOTH ways. They lost it on my way to Panama, found it, delivered it to me 5 days later and on my way back to Brazil they lost it again. So I’ve spent quite a few weeks switching from frustrating, vindictive and angry thoughs, to a miserable ‘poor me’ attitude and to ‘maybe it was for a reason’ , desperate-to-stay-positive philosophizing. This blog, along with a handy guide on “what to do when you really want to kill everyone in the airport”, is an attempt for me to balance those states of mind.
I’ll begin with the angry part (though I feel it will not end here, I will probably be getting back to it until the end of this blog). The second time that my bag was lost and the second time I went to make an official complaint, the airline representative probably thought it cute and friendly to make a comment for me, to lighten up the atmosphere: “Você não tem muita sorte, né?” (you don’t have a lot of luck, do you?), to which I replied, testing my portuguese in furious mode, that my luck has nothing to do with their incompetence (incompetence happens to be almost the same word in portuguese – incompetência – so ok, it wasn’t that advanced). And for the record, I DO NOT BELIEVE IN LUCK (my DDers know all about it).
Now that we got that clear and out of the way (wait: screw you GOL and Copa airlines – now I feel better), let’s get to the philosophizing part. There will be no ‘why me’ section; I’ve had enough of this already and I hate it when people do that, though I do believe in empathy. Contradictory, I know. I never said I was perfect.
So, I once knew a person who was completely insane with the possibility of loosing her bag. She had mastered the way to pack a small one (or a number of them) so that she could never keep it (them) out of sight. She would not put it in the trunk of the same bus she was riding, the storage area of the ship she was on, and of course she would never check it in at an airport. She was also scared of flying, scared to go anywhere far and actually she had convinced herself (I believe) that there was no place better and more beautiful than her own island. But that is a different story – or maybe not.
Losing my bag twice made me realize for the first time the two meanings of the word ‘baggage’ – μπαγκάζια ελληνιστί (λέμε τώρα). The one being our personal items, materials that serve us a purpose. The other representing our personal thoughts, memories, experiences and lessons learned. Precious belongings that in reality are mixed. Because a memory is not just in my head – it is hanging from my ear as a present from a dear friend who knows that I am crazy about earings. Or it is a piece of cloth that I once bought in India and used as a towel when I needed it and as a bedsheet and as a shirt and a hat. Or it is a second hand book in Portuguese that a new friend gave me, trusting that I learned the language well enough to read it and understand it.
Or it is simply the actual bag, my beautiful very own first suitcase which signaled a strange moment of personal and professional growth. It was the first bag I owned after my trusty old backpack that I had been carrying around as a scout, a camper and a traveler for so many years already. I no longer needed to borrow a suitcase from my parents’ home – I had been living independently for around 6 years already, still, everytime I traveled I had to count on them (next and final step, when/if I settle down somewhere is to buy my own Thermomix).
Loosing a bag is a real possibility. It happens every day. If you are traveling, you should be prepared for it. I have traveled quite a lot, so when I lost my bag for the first time ever this Christmas Eve, I remained calm, thinking that, with all my traveling, this had to happen at some point, it’s simple math. I was positive that they would bring it to me on the same day, that it was just an unfortunate event. In the meantime, I bought some basic stuff: a toothbrush (that broke when I tried to open it), a pair of underwear, a dress for the Christmas dinner (that I wore with my trusty dirty pink allstars), spending around 10 dollars for all. I was light hearted and would not let my vacation be ruined by something so petty. The same night the underwire of my new bra was sticking out to my armpit. Which made me think of:
rule # 1: don’t buy cheap underwear
The second day I maintained a positive attitude, washed my one pair of underwear, socks and dress and thought of *unbreakable* surviving-without-your-stuff
rule # 2: always have a complete set of extra clothes with you.
It is a rule that I follow almost always. Of course, to prove mr Murphy right, this time I smartly made the exception.. so, I had with me a long sleeved shirt (completely useless, not even on the plane) and a long Indian shawl (much more useful) but nothing else to wear. Well done miss experienced traveler.
On the night of the second day I still had no knews of my bag. My friend told me: “you have to consider the possibility of your bag not arriving on time and prepare accordingly”. On time for the trip to the beach that is – 6 hours away from Panama city where we would spent the last days of 2015 in a blue and green paradise. I had no swimsuit, no flipflops, no hat, sunscreen, creams, mosquito repellent… that’s when I got worried and started to frantically call Copa airlines (in Panama), eventually Gol Airlines (in Brazil) and have fights in English, Spanish and Portuguese. I also went on the morning of the 3rd day shopping. Yeaee. I was really looking forward to spend so many hours in a shopping mall during my summer vacation in an unknown tropical country for stuff that I do not need… NOT. I was quite upset. Lot’s of lessons there:
rule #3: do not trust the airline companies
They are not trying as hard as they say, nor ar they “understanding your frustration madam”. Try to talk to the people in the airports, not the general hotline which is probably a call center that has nothing to do with the company. And keep calling.
rule #4: always have some skype credit
There is no way to do all this just from friends or wifi or by sending an email. Dear Skype, you are a heavy app and really getting on my nerves almost every time I use you for a video call but thank you for allowing me to make cheap calls in the whole world.
rule #5: be prepared for the worst
I’m a very optimistic person, which in many cases means naive or worse. I refused to believe that it was so difficult to locate my bag. I should be better prepared for the infinite human stupidity. But even so, try to remember
rule #6: don’t get too upset and don’t start the whole “Why me?” process.
This is out of your control, deal with it. Think of what you can actually control and improve. And no, this is not the worst vacation ever or your nightmares coming true. You are in Panama or whichever part of the world that I’m sure is just as beautiful and exciting. You are alive. Yes, it is a very inconvenient and frustrating situation. Being in an ugly and chaotic mall and getting frustrated over the telephone twice per day was certainly not my idea of vacation. But I realized that if I focus on it too much, I was capable of making this my worst vacation ever. No fucking way.
It was a nice conversation starter however. I had some easy and interesting conversations (and gained some sympathy) with a lot of people that I met those days. It was a good alternate to the other usual scenario of “the greek girl, working in Brazil, and what do I think about Tsipras?”. And we generally started making jokes about it. I would keep saying that, “oooh I have a really nice mosquito repellent that my friend in Greece made for me – ahh, actually I don’t”. “Have you brought something nice to wear in the Christmas dinner? – sure I have, if my bag is found I may even wear it”. “My, the sun is burning and I have just the right big tourist hat for this – in my bag”. Around 8 times per day. I actually felt frustrated for a few seconds remembering how well prepared I normally am and then I would just feel better. And it could be much worse. I could be traveling alone without any big t-shirts to borrow or jokes to share. I could be simply not traveling. I could be a lot less priviledged in so many ways. So, magic number
rule #7: laugh along and be thankful for what you’ve got
Antoher thing that made me feel better was that I had put on my carry-on luggage my earrings. People who know me, know that these are maybe my most precious belongings (tied first place with my kindle). So, I had no clothes to change for 4 days, but I was wearing a different set of earrings each day and that was an instant mood-savior.
rule #8: who cares what’s practical? if it is dear to you, don’t check it in!
And then the bag came!!!!
When I finally got my bag back, I had already spent a week without it. On holidays. During Christmas. And, yes, I survived just fine. So well actually, that when I got it back I became nervous with all that stuff. Too many choices. I didn’t know what to wear. I usually pack extra things, knowing that I will not use them all, but I just like to have that choice. Hey, it’s my vacation, I don’t want to be thinking ‘I wish I had brought that’, I want to be relaxed. I realized that I was much more relaxed without all that stuff (not when I didn’t have underwear, flip flops and a toothbrush though – let’s not take it to the extreme). I really did not need that much, and that was nice to realize. I have already been through the past year and a half in a let-it-go process, detaching myself from my relationship, my apartment, my furniture, my job, my friends, my country. This was my bonus level experience. It was strange and discomforting to be with nothing, but it was nice to see that I could manage and beyond that, enjoy my holiday. Having a friend around helps a lot though (thank you Mir).
Though I hadn’t learn my lesson yet. Coming back from Panama I broke half of the above rules – again. I put more stuff in my bag than I had on my outbound trip. I mean, what are the chances?!?
I go to the baggage claim and see the workers empty the bag carriage and I do not see my bag. First I think I am over-reacting. Then I feel traumatized. I will be having nightmares with empty conveyor belts. I think that it is impossible. But nothing is impossible, the sports company had it right all along. 8 days later, the (#$^&#*%) airlines have no idea where my bag could be.
After 7 months in a country half-way across the globe, that suitcase (and another larger one I have to admit) have been my definition of home. My identity, my different style. Things bought in familiar shops, where I knew how to move around, how to choose and how to read the tag in a famliar language. 7 months in Brazil, not once did I go shopping and I’m not planning to do so now. I still have a lot of clothes, true. And I am getting too attached to things apparently. So, ok, I’ll let it go.
[But please please can I have my bag back??? ]