Almost not leaving on a jetplane: Thursday, August 11, 2011

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The ceiling fan lazily twirls, playfully tugging at the tied-back net curtains framing the sliding glass doors. I'm sitting cross-legged on the legless chair, the netbook on the low coffee table/desk in front of me. This floor level chair is surprisingly comfortable - even for someone who is as stiff-limbed as I am. I'm actually amazed at how entirely at home I already feel, considering that there is at least six thousand miles between this beautiful, spacious guestroom I'm in and my own minuscule place in South Africa.

I marvel at how lucky I am to be here and think of the journey that has brought me to this amazing place. During the long trip here, the reality of where I was going only sank in after I found my seat on the South African Airways Airbus bound for Hong Kong. I was suddenly surrounded by passengers of Asian descent, many of whom spoke very little or no English at all. I quickly realised this when I located my seat only to find a young Chinese woman in it. She was cradling a tiny baby and I apologetically asked her to move. When she looked at me blankly, I flashed her what I hoped was a rueful smile and pointed at the seat number on my ticket. When realisation hit, she immediately and graciously moved over.

Not having to make small talk for once was actually welcome, because I was exhausted. I almost did not get to be on that plane, though! Due to a 30 minute flight delay in Cape Town, which had been the starting point of my trip a few hours before, there had been just a few minutes to spare to make it to the connecting flight in Johannesburg.

On that flight to Johannesburg, I actually had a bit of a surreal moment. The man a seat over from me was reading one of the Afrikaans daily newspapers, and suddenly, when he turned the page, I glanced over only to gasp with shock. Right there, on the page he had turned to, was a full-colour and way too big photograph of MY awful mug! (Luckily I'd had the foresight to camouflage my body behind my laptop when I had my mom take the picture earlier that week.) The article was about this very trip I was embarking on. Just before we landed, I summoned up the courage to ask him if I could please have that section of the paper. Without a flicker of recognition, he handed it over. So much for my newfound "fame"...

Fellow SayTaiwan delegates Dan, my editor and I had to make a mad dash through OR Tambo Airport to get from domestic arrivals to customs and security to reach our departing plane on time. My editor had kindly waited so that she could meet Dan and I at domestic arrivals, so we all sprinted (okay, so perhaps it was more like slowly limped, in my sad case) all the way to international departures.

I was so excited at seeing my editor again, and that - coupled with my usual scatter-brain and our haste - caused me to run straight through the security checkpoint at customs. I only realised that I didn't have my carry-on case with me when we were already half-way through the terminal. I was remarking on how cleverly light Dan and my editor were both travelling when it suddenly hit me that I was also carrying a much lighter load than I had been just moments before.

"My carry-on case!" With those breathless words, I turned on my heel and this time REALLY RAN back to customs, my heart in my throat and panic levels rising.

When I arrived back at the security checkpoint where I'd idiotically left my case, the officers immediately knew that I was THAT GIRL WHO RAN AWAY WITHOUT HER SUITCASE. This must've raised their suspicions, because they all regarded me with stark faces.

The offending case was - I was relieved to note - still in one piece on the pre-screening side of the checkpoint. "Why did you go without your suitcase?" the one female officer asked, accusingly pointing a white-gloved finger at me.

"Erm... I'm sorry!" I said, harried and anxious to grab it and go. "I'm very excited to be going overseas!"

"It's good that you're excited," she said. "You only live once." I almost laughed out loud at the situation, which was becoming increasingly bizarre. However, any intentions of smiling, let alone guffawing, vanished when the official refused to hand over my suitcase so that I could make a beeline for the flight.

"No," she said firmly when I tried to reach for it and gripped it even tighter. "You have a bottle in here."

"I do?" As soon as I'd said it, I realised that this was a mistake.

"You don't know that you have a bottle in here?"she asked incredulously.

"No... I mean, yes, of course I know," I stammered, my panic levels soaring once more as I see my editor anxiously waiting on the other side of the gate. "I meant to phrase it as a reply, not a question."

"Open your case, please," she sternly commanded.

I helplessly tapped my watch, and, realising that any further protestations would be futile, just surrendered at unzipped the case. She lifted everything out until she found the package that had so beautifully been wrapped by my sister.

"This one has the bottle inside," she said. I swallowed back the overwhelming urge to congratulate her on her psychic ability and just decided to resort to grovelling instead.

"Please?" I begged. "I'm going to stay with a foreign family and this is a gift for them to say thank you and to share our wonderful culture with them."

She clicked her tongue with what I mistook for sympathy and for a split second I was almost hopeful. But she was unmoved by my explanation. "You can check it in, otherwise we have to take it."

"But I'm going to miss my flight! I don't have TIME to go and check it in..." Arguing was just wasting even more time, so I simply ripped open the package and opened the box. "There, take this," I said, handing over the special edition bottle of Amarula. "But I'm keeping the glasses."

With that I was free to go. Needless to say, as soon as we reached the duty free shop, I promptly replaced the confiscated Amarula with an even larger bottle. Joining up with Dan later, I found out that he had been forced to sacrifice a bottle of wine to them. I'm still wondering whether customs and security officials at OR Tambo don't perhaps get a kickback on all the goods passengers buy at the airport's duty free shops to replace the items that had been confiscated by them.

We finally boarded the plane with just a few minutes to spare until take-off.

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Po said:

Wow Redsaid, sounds like you had a cool adventure! Not to worry, it is not just OR Tambo, liquids are universally banned for International flights, always and forever, and I am sure all the officials get lucky with bottles of alcohol all the time. And lipsticks and toothpastes, and deodorants.. it's a good business for them I assume.

TerraShield said:

Yup, no carry on liquids, gels and aerosols. Hate that rule so much! Love how your adventure starts, btw, now that it's all said and done :)

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Po and Terra, this is just a sad sad reflection on the state of how boring my life is and how I need to get out far more often! In my feeble defense, though? My sister, who has been overseas far more than I have, actually packed the offending case! I suppose we're both equally scatter-brained, because when I told everyone what happened, the universal reaction is: "Well, duuuh!"

And Terra, yes, the timely delivery of this travelogue is also typical of me, right? This two-week adventure back in August will probably take 2 years to recount on this here blog! :-D

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Po and Terra, this is just a sad sad reflection on the state of how boring my life is and how I need... [go]
  • TerraShield : Yup, no carry on liquids, gels and aerosols. Hate that rule so much! Love how your adventure starts,... [go]
  • Po : Wow Redsaid, sounds like you had a cool adventure! Not to worry, it is not just OR Tambo, liquids ar... [go]
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