Nigh on 30 years of age and I still can’t kick the habit of playing with trolleys. It’s fortunate that I look 16, so my immaturity is attributed to my youthful looks rather than a bearded, balding man with the map of London on his forehead. They aren’t common attributes of a young man on his way to college, so it’s surprising that even with all that I still look 16, well nearer 20.
I released the brake of the trolley and scooted off along the corridor, swaying wildy to the left because of rusty wheels that have never seen oil in their life. As a side point, you’d think that as strange since Arabia and oil are almost of synonymous with each other. My journey is a hundred yards but it’s difficult to master art of trolley-pushing given the lack of service they’ve had. A full ten minutes later, having had cascaded through other people like a drunkard 5 times over the limit , I reached the end of my destination and the end of my tether. I look behind me to see luggage scattered over the floor with their owners lying beside them. With a characteristic shrug, implying that I am oblivious to carnage behind me, I park my trolley right in front of the belt- an approximation of its actual location.
Belt number 3, it read. Immediately I’m surrounded by three men in blue boiler suits muttering some gibberish to me, this time my shrug fails to do the trick. Instead they become more adamant in harassing me. Had I been a lady in a low cut dress, hiked up to the upper part of her thigh, I couldn’t imagine more aggressive persual. Finally, I made them back off by giving them a stern “no!” Like you would give an undisciplined child. Miraculously, they smiled revealing their charred teeth and departed with a few more mumblings of gibberish and lingering breath.
Another twenty minutes passed as I waited for my luggage; the belt was turning and spitting out random pieces of luggage that belonged to others. Luckily for them my trolley wasn’t that close, though I had an inkling that it was possessed like something out of a Stephen King novel with a desire to wreak havoc. The thought passed with yet more time, I would probably have finished the said novel an hour in waiting, but I was to wait a further thirty minutes before I realised my luggage wasn’t coming.
The gang of men in boiler suits started to remove the remaining luggage off the belt in preparation for the next batch. The luggage was randomly stacked beside the conveyor belt, I perused through the pile for my suitcase but despite it being bright orange and yelling, “Here I am!” I couldn’t find it. It was around about this time that I realised that my feet hadn’t hit the floor lightly; it was more of a thud, crash, bang and wallop that Batman would have been proud of.
When you can’t communicate in the native language you resort to waving your arms, and I was fluent in gesticulation. Unfortunately for me, it happened to be that Egyptians are a little better at it then I am, so my attempts at prising some information from them failed. In my panic I contacted the one person who knew what to do, my friends, friends, associate. Never one to do things simply, I rang him in order to contact my picker-upper in Egypt. After a few attempts he called back and I proceeded to explain the situation; finally at the end of the conversation he gave me a telephone number. The number had an Egyptian prefix so I presumed it was the number of the guy picking me up. I sent a message, no response.
Eventually an attendant came to the belt, and the small flock of passengers who remained attacked him with questions. Being of a slight frame I was bullied to the back but I understood enough of the distant speech to know what to do next. My mobile phone had been going beserk but the insanity of the moment caused me to miss the calls. Finally when I looked at the phone, I realised I had a few missed calls and a message, skipping the calls I opened the message and read it: “Welcome to Egypt!” Surely sarcasm is wasted on everyone, except the British.
This time I left Christine, along with the other abandoned trolleys and negotiated my way through to the front desks. One of these guys allegedly had a speciality in dealing with lost luggage. Two queues formed, possibly one of only a few times I have seen a queue in Egypt, maybe because they were Westerners. In England, bureaucracy is irritating, yet the need for it here would probably be very straight forward. Alas, I was in Egypt, it’s everywhere and ever inefficient. Already frustrated by my inability to control a trolley and speak the language, with a little extra frustration because of my luggage, it reached it’s peak when I realised that the workers had formed two lines but were doing nothing except sitting before us sipping black tar, otherwise known as coffee. I wasn’t the only one; some voiced their concerns about waiting so long but the remarks were met by another sip of coffee.
During this whole facade called administration, I was texting messages to the person waiting for me outside. It struck me that I didn’t even know his name yet but neither was I in a mood to ask. He had already been waiting a good three hours and I was spending most of the time apologising and promising that I would be outside in five minutes. He was a pleasant man, I could see that when reading the messages he was sending in his broken English. My mood was lightened considerably by his reassurances and quips about the lack of organisation. Had it not been for my dear friend Said, I fear my temper would have boiled over.
While waiting in one of the two pointless queues, the ever relaxed workers decided to get off their backsides and work. We were given a piece of paper to fill in, it looked more like a landing card. I filled in the details as required until I got to Place of Stay, I didn’t actually know yet and when I phoned Said, he told me he didn’t know either. That worried me, I mean what was the point of the pick-up. There was actually nothing to worry about, he knew the place, just not the address, but I still needed to fill the sheet in. The next message was an address and when I asked him about it, he said it wasn’t sure if it was correct but it’s good enough. Baffled, I scribbled it into the sheet along with his telephone number and forged ahead of the now disorderly queue; I lunged to submit the form to the desk.
In waiting, I met some great people in the queue. A mixed bunch from many countries but I was surprised by the amount of Eastern Europeans who decided to travel to the country. Our conversations consisted little of social niceties and more on berating incompetent staff in our feeble attempts to drop hints to the workers. Most of the comments, passed right over the their heads.
A full ninety minutes later, we had progress. They had given me a reference number to quote to call the following day, meaning that it wasn’t likely that I would be getting out of my sweaty garb any time soon. I prefer not to calculate how much time everything took but if I ever need motivation to fight someone, all I need to do is to count the minutes of that whole ordeal.
Looking back, those damn Italians, they always seem to screw things up with other peoples luggage. Italian baggage handling and Egyptian administration is really a deadly combination. My first experience of human rights abuses occurred on day one of two hundred and ninety, Amnesty International were due an email. Rome, in summer 2007 really made people take notice of baggage handling in Italy and I had first-hand experience. That saga though, is yet to come.