[Written in Africa]
What a lovely holiday. It was far away, expensive to get there, but it was the right decision. My compromise in doing one more year in Africa was that I would take a few breaks away in order to stay sane. Last year I tried staying in country for longer periods to save money and after a six-month stretch I got to the state of mental and emotional exhaustion that I very nearly told someone what I really thought, which might have got me shot.
Better to blow a bit of money than get shot. Anyway, staying on for the second year and taking a few breaks during it is far more profitable than leaving early. I’m ahead by heaps.
I was not looking forward to returning. I didn’t want to check out of that hotel. I didn’t want to catch the taxi to the airport. And I reaaaally didn’t want to get on that plane. But I had to. I had decided, and it was too late to back out.
I flew Hated Neighbouring Country Airlines (HNC Air). It isn’t too bad so far as African airlines go. They usually don’t crash. The food is edible. That is all.
At the African hub airport, things were not flash. There were very long lines for the toilets. WiFi was glacial. Past security there was no food, or anything really.
But good news! The flight was underbooked so they upgraded me to business class! This has only happened to me once before despite my many travels, probably because I look like an illiterate peasant unfamiliar with the operation of a flushing toilet. But this time I was good enough. I was right up the front, the seat was big and the food was great. They even had some nice cheese. Too bad it was only a ninety-minute flight.
Also up the front with me was a rather self-important man, a little older than myself, extremely confident. He whinged and whined about the food to the hostess just to show that he could and that he was super important, and refused to eat it. Then he put the blanket on, put his feet way up above his head on the wall in front of him in order to show that he was allowed to do anything he wanted, and pretended to fall asleep while he continued to display his awesomeness in this manner.
Who the fuck is that, I wondered, and immediately realized exactly who it must be: the Boss’ son. This fellah is well known around town and is often seen dancing in clubs with his whores, gun tucked into his belt.
I decided not to tell him he was a ridiculous wanker. I just gave him a look that left no doubt that that I thought him so. Or at least, I seriously considered it. What, you want me to get shot? My readers are a tough crowd.
The President’s son has previously stayed out of politics, but was recently appointed to a government role. This terrifies everyone – previously it had been assumed that the death of the septuagenarian Boss would finally end the brutal reign of stupidity, but now there is an increasing risk that it will go on for another generation. This young idiot, born of absolute privilege and allowed to do whatever he likes, may be even less suited to the role than his father.
We landed. The son got straight off and jumped into the special van with lackeys and security staff waiting for him, because he’s so special. There had also just been a coup attempt against his father in which the top general was shot, so this may have also necessitated the extra security. The coup, after all, may have related to himself – some middle ranking military officials realized his elevation meant there was no change in sight and acted out of desperation.
The luggage service is never outstanding, and this time it was incredibly slow, even though there had been no other flights landing for hours. This is not Heathrow. The luggage that did come, mostly was not being picked up by anyone. How odd.
After waiting for about an hour, the carousel jerked to a hald and was silent. We realized that our luggage was not coming, and a collective groan went up. ‘We’ being most of the people on the flight. I can understand the odd bag going missing here and there – it must be a nightmare to organize them all – but how could they possibly lose almost all of them? Were they trying to set a record?
We had to form a long line at Lost and Found in order to leave our details. I doubted this process would in any way expedite the return of the luggage. In such a country it is more of a ritual one goes through out of a sense of righteousness, like applying for a water truck or asking at the bank if we can do transfers yet. Even God is more responsive.
I stupidly tried to contact HNC Air, like a heathen praying to a false idol. They didn’t respond to my email on their contact form (why do companies have those? Even Western Union refuses to respond to them. Just remove the feature from your goddamn website.) They didn’t pick up the phone.
Theoretically we are supposed to get an overnight kit and some cash if our luggage goes missing, but that didn’t happen, and there was no one to ask if maybe we could make it happen.
I started thinking, I’ll probably never see my stuff again. I own so very little, and that suitcase held basically all of my worldly possessions: my documents, sneakers, shirts, underwear, socks, toiletries . . . and I was living in perhaps the worst country in the world for buying new stuff because insane import controls mean you’re flat out buying cling wrap, let alone all of that other stuff. Everything is ridiculously expensive, of appalling quality, or often just not available at all.
Could I manage to go to the gym in my work shoes? Get by with the three shirts I had left behind? I started planning it out in my mind, and it didn’t look good.
But then a colleague told me, HNC Air always do that. The luggage they unload is mostly from the previous day’s flight. You just go a couple of days later and it will probably have arrived. Don’t wait for them to call you – they won’t. Don’t try to call them – they won’t answer. Just go down there and pick through the luggage until you find yours.
My mate drove me down to the airport a couple of days later and I hoped desperately that the advice was correct. And it was! There was my suitcase, with everything in it! I took it home in joy.
The Stoics would say that we should not attach value or happiness to worldly, material things. We should not take pleasure from having them nor feel pain from losing them. But fuck those guys. Try living without three quarters of your possessions and see how well you go. Especially if they’re the ones you use every day.
When you’re a minimalist, you end up valuing your possessions more, not less, because the few things you still own are practical, purposeful, and carefully chosen. I have few clothes, but the clothes I have, I need. The same goes for my sundry other items – skipping rope, flash drives, computer charger, beard trimming scissors, rehydration salts.
Years earlier, when I was leaving Taiwan, I realized at the train station that I had sitting on that platform 100% of my worldly goods. I took a photo. In summary, it was one big suitcase, one backpack, and one small piece of carry-on luggage. I’m hoping to get it down to just the big suitcase and carry-on in the future. Once I no longer need work clothes this should be easy to do.
I dearly look forward to the day when I am no longer flying around the globe, horrified that some third-world airport might lose or damage all my stuff, and then have to live without it for the duration. I look forward to a simpler life where I need less, don’t have to haul it around so much, and can easily get more if something goes wrong.
Every time something like this happens – I almost miss my flight due to someone else’s stuff up, or my things get lost, or I have to worry about officials stealing my gold in transit (long story), I think, why on Earth do I do this? No one else has these problems. My life is a never-ending shitshow.
But soon the shitshow will end. Soon I will have peace. You watch – I’ll be more chilled out than the President’s son.
Postscript: I’m fairly chilled but I’ve decided to go back to work, sort of.