My mom always tells me that when I tell stories, I embellish. Not that she thinks I lie, but she believes I add spice to entertain the listener. This time however, she was present and saw for herself how the very thing that has a 1% chance of occurring will ALWAYS happen to me.
Let me tell you, in cold and clinical fact, the whirlwind that has been the last 48 hour of my life.
When I woke up yesterday, I had every intention of making it the best day of my year. I got up bright and early, packed my bags according to the list I’d spent the last month compiling, and ensured someone would hand in my latest module marks and skills’ list while I was making my way to Washington, D.C.
Yes folks, I’m going to Washington. More on that later.
But as I was sitting on my bed, counting down the hours before my planned trip to the airport, a thought struck me. I fly frequently, but I’ve only ever flown once internationally, years ago, with my older brother. That flight had been straightforward. Johannesburg to London. No transfers.
But my planned trip to Washington stated on the itinerary that I would be connecting from the province I’m studying in to Johannesburg, and only THEN to Washington. So I asked myself, would this make the first leg of my trip local or international? If it were the latter, wasn’t I running late???
Panic-stricken, I called my mom. She is a seasoned international flyer, but even she usually flies straight from Johannesburg. We contacted the airport and they said it would be best if I came in as soon as possible.
Lots of rushing and an expensive cab-ride later, I’d checked in for the first leg of my trip, opting to check in for the latter when I landed in Jo’burg because I’d run out of time. But something was nagging on my mind. What had I forgotten?
My coat! I was going from the boiling summer of Africa and I’d opted to hold my coat instead of wear it, but in all the rush and confusion I’d left it on my bed! I called the cab guy back, returned to campus, got my coat, glared at my room in irritation and then rode back to the airport.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I was going to be fine. I was going to land, check in, get my money exchanged and fly away to Washington with my warm coat and layered clothes.
Then they announced the delay.
I started to panic again, and asked my mom if she could begin the check-in process for me on her side because the delay would cause an uncomfortably tight squeeze. The clerks were very helpful and I relaxed. I’d make it.
When we boarded, however, the pilot announced that we would be flying through troublesome conditions but promised to make the best time he could. We landed an hour and a half behind schedule. The baggage carousels were mixed up and it took a further half an hour for me to get my bag and the package my uncle sent to my mom.
Irritated and very nervous, I walked into the arrivals hall to find my mother and brother waiting. My plan had been to hug and run. But my mom had other ideas.
“Relax, you’re checked in, look at all this stuff I bought you. Let’s repackage all your luggage and tempt fate.”
I swear that’s what it sounded like.
I protested, but as usual she won. After packing and repacking, we ran to baggage drop off, got my luggage checked in and then ran to forex.
“Where’s the money?” my mother asked my brother, who was already irritated about the delay and his lost afternoon.
“Oh!” he replied. “I forgot to draw it.”
We were twenty minutes from my gate closing and I wanted to kill him.
He got the money and I went in to exchange. The lady was cold at first, but then seemed confused when I presented my proof of address. I’d always used the same document for proof of address, but she INSISTED on a bill or bank statement. I explained that as a student, my only bill was paid by my mother. But she was adamant. So I had to go to the bank, get a statement and return.
When I did, there was a problem because my bank statement address is still my old one from when I was eight and my mom got me and my brother savings accounts. We never used them back then, but she was doing that whole teaching-through-doing thing. My passport address is our current one.
Frustrated, I explained that my flight was leaving, I needed to go, I’m a student, the world is coming to an end and they were delaying me despite the fact that I can prove my identity and dependence. They relented and I exchanged my rands for dollars.
Genuinely fearful now, I ran to the international departures section. My bag went through the scanner and just as I was about to lift it and run, I was told to UNLOCK AND UNPACK MY BAG FOR A SEARCH. I wish I were joking.
I guess in my jeans and t-shirt, carrying a small gold bag and a garment bag with my ballgown and coat, I looked REALLY suspicious. Can I just mention that no one else was searched? I knew I was being racially profiled but I couldn’t care less. I WAS GOING TO MISS MY FLIGHT.
When I eventually got past immigration, I started running like mad. Guys, Johannesburg International has the LONGEST WALK TO THE BOARDING GATES IN HISTORY. I was pouring sweat but I didn’t care. I couldn’t miss this flight.
The first screen that indicated that my gate was closed was a non factor to me. There’d be a way. I’d plead. I’d cry. I’d fight. I passed two more like it before I reached my gate.
It was completely deserted.
Broken but determined, I sought out security. They saw my pitiful state–bedraggled, perspiring, bloodshot eyes–and advised me to run ALL THE WAY BACK TO TRANSIT. Hopeful, I ran.
I have to commend the clerk at transit for not laughing when I relayed my story. I looked a totally horrific mess. He listened patiently, checked my boarding pass and then told me that he was sorry but I’d have to catch the flight TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER FOR 1700 ZAR EXTRA.
I’m a student. The daughter of a single mom of three. We don’t have that kind of money lying around. Dejected, I called my mom. She told me to claim my baggage and meet her at arrivals.
My mom, guys, is a tenacious woman. Instead of hugging me and saying its a good thing we took out travel insurance and at least now I won’t have half a rotation to catch up on, she marched me to ticket sales and told the clerk my story. Horrified, the clerk made a few calls.
The fact that my cheap student ticket was non-refundable and non-reroutable deterred us momentarily, but the fact that my first leg flight and luggage were both delayed by the same airline worked in my favor. Within twenty minutes, I had a free new ticket, still a whole day later than my original but a free one nonetheless.
As I sit at this Vodacom business station charging my phone, waiting for my flight, I’m disappointed that my trip started off like this. I’d arranged to visit a church in America (a real one, not those stereotypical African-American ones although I was secretly hoping to see someone get ‘slain in the spirit’) and I’m going to miss registration and orientation with this new arrival time.
But I refuse to stress any further–I used up my stress quota getting my mom to leave the house on time this morning and keeping her far away from repacking my things. I’m gonna chill out, enjoy my flight, get happy.
Cause I’m going to AMERICA FOR THE FREAKING INAUGURATION OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND MAY OR MAY NOT HEAR BEYONCE LIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE.