Worst Traveler Ever

eastboundChance favors the prepared, but sometimes Fortune takes pity on fools with sunny dispositions. How else can I explain how I managed to end up eastbound on Delta 2201 headed for Accra with all my bags on board? Actually, I know the answer: it wasn’t fortune taking pity on me, it was entirely beyond the call of service and gracious help from all quarters of Monrovia’s airport staff. Two hours ago, I said goodbye to Francis as he dropped me off at the Delta terminal. I was halfway through the security screening when I got a call from Peter Karr, at the Air France desk: he’d found my other bag.

[Note: It’ll help if you read the rest of this posting with a ‘Mission Impossible’-style clock ticking in your head.]

So, Monrovia has two terminals and, of course, Delta and Air France are not at all in the same place. I explained the situation to the security guy, and he formulated a plan while I called Francis. Pre-checkin screening was going to close in seven minutes, but the security guy could put me through to get my boarding pass and immigration paperwork while Francis bolted to the other terminal. If he could get back with the bag before I went through the boarding screening, I could come back out, grab the bag and get escorted through the process in fast-forward. Emigration and Bag Check were alerted to expect me – “You’re the guy with the missing bag? Don’t worry – we’ve got you.”

Now, I’m usually pretty good in airports, but Fate was going to have some fun with me first and granted me, temporarily, the attention span of a fruit fly. Racing through the process I dropped or set down and forgot each and every one of my carried possessions at least once. My boarding pass stayed at screening until they found me to return it, only to have me drop it, and all the rest of my paperwork all over floor in the immigration line. Twice. Bag check returned the knapsack I’d left on their counter.

Somewhere along the line, Francis called – he had my bag, but had to get it through customs before he could bring it to the Delta terminal.  I have no idea how he did that, but halfway through Immigration, there he was at the door, waving my long-lost luggage. I backtracked through security (dropped my passport and boarding pass again for good measure) and retrieved the bag.

“You’d said there were things in the bag you wanted to give to people in Monrovia – shall I take them?” You know, Francis is on the expensive side as far as shuttle drivers go, but you want someone who will literally go the extra mile for you in Monrovia? Shell it out for Francis Nyepon (fnyepon@aol.com – yes, he does email). I tore through the bag for the things I’d promised for Carter at the iLab, the charger I was leaving for Steve, the candy I meant to give to Teemu’s team, and piled it into Francis’ waiting arms – he’ll drop it all off at Moko’s and I’ll let folks know where to pick it up.

Then whoooosh, I was going back through the steps in fast forward. Bag check: “Yea – you made it!”  She escorted me past Emigration – “This is the guy” – and inserted me into the security line, where I dropped my passport and papers again for good measure.

On the far side of the x-ray, I forgot my blue carry-on and only noticed it, forlorn on the screening table, as I prepared to walk out the gate. But we weren’t done yet: there I was on the bus, waiting for the doors to close and take us to the plane when Agniezska – Agnieszka Kargol, please forgive me for misspelling your lovely name – came bursting out of the terminal and up the steps of the bus – she’d apparently chased me all the way from security.  “You’ll probably be wanting this?” she said, and handed me my hat.  I have no idea where I left it and I was at a loss for words of gratitude. She just smiled. “Have a lovely flight, sir – it’s been a pleasure.”

Now you know that back home, the TSA would have fingered me as stoned, or some kind of troublemaker right off the bat, and at this moment I’d be sitting in an interrogation room somewhere in my underwear. But here in Monrovia, the airport security personnel, baggage handlers and shuttle drivers all conspired on the fly to help me. To step in as impromptu angels, to transform the improbable into an accomplished fact, and to leave an indelible smile on my face. Ah Liberia, you crazywonderfulmaddening place that I love. You’ve done it again.

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