Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week 21: The Highs & Lows of Returning to Luanda




Jan 4 - 11, 09

Our flights back to Luanda started with a 3am wake up call on Sunday morning for everyone in Bill’s mum’s house. We left for Manchester airport with our bags packed & as awake as is possible considering we’d had about 4 hours sleep. Tony (Bill’s step-father) very sweetly drove us to the airport, where the check-in seemed to be a straight-forward process. Although there were lots of other people there before us, the lines were orderly & check-in didn’t seem to be taking anyone an unreasonable amount of time. Ever the worrier, I asked Bill if we had to use the electronic check-in kiosks all around us. Although he didn’t think we had to, he tried to check us in that way regardless – to get a rather strange message that we had to go to the Air France check-in desk. (We were flying KLM.) Bill joined that queue, leaving me in the KLM one with both our bags. He got to the front first & much to both of our surprise, was told we could check in there.

We had our bags checked through to Luanda & got boarding passes for both Manchester – Amsterdam & the Amsterdam – Johannesburg flights. Of course, the flight left on time & before we knew it, we’d arrived in Amsterdam for our 1½ hour layover before the long-haul flight. We were both half zombies from lack of sleep & the time before we had to board passed in something of a blur. It wasn’t until we were waiting to board that we looked more closely at our boarding passes to see where we were sitting. To my surprise it was row number 2 - & I said to Bill as a joke, “Maybe we’re in business class?” He made some snide remark about how just impossible that would be, but sure enough, when we actually got on the plane, we found ourselves sitting in the nose of the plane, in business class – in seats so far apart that even Bill couldn’t touch the seats in front of us with his feet! (He has very long legs & normally his knees are jammed up against the seat in front, yet alone his feet!) The look on his feet was priceless – he looked all the world like a kid who has been let loose in a toy shop (he’s never been upgraded before). I was so worried that they would notice & tell us that a mistake had been made & send us back to cattle class – but of course that never happened, & the plane took off for our 10 hour flight & we just couldn’t believe our luck.
The flight was about as good as it gets for a long haul flight – the seats changed into practically horizontal position for sleeping (which we both did given our lack of sleep the previous night) & we could see out of BOTH sides of the plane from our seats at the same time! Initially we had cloud cover, but just as we hit the Italian Alps the clouds cleared, giving us fantastic views with amazing low light hitting the snow covered mountains & then the frosty fields once we were past the Alps. It was just stunning – we both fly so much that we’ve become quite jaded, but this was like flying for the first time again!






The flight went very quickly – it was dark outside by the time we crossed the equator & we arrived into Johannesburg right on time at around 10pm, & considering the circumstances, feeling quite refreshed. We had pre-booked a room in the Transfer Hotel in Jo-burg airport, as our next fight was the next morning at 7.30 & we didn’t want to spend the time travelling to a city hotel & back. Although the hotel was very convenient & we’d managed to eat, & get to bed by 11pm, the room itself was way over priced (broken shower, Ac not working, no clock etc), but we didn’t have to get up super early to be ready for queuing at the Air Namibia desk for our boarding passes for the next two flights. It was while we were there that we realised that we only had one luggage tag, not two, although the lady thought it wouldn’t be a problem as the other bag would be either plus or minus 1 from the tag we had. We got two sets of boarding passes again (all the way to Luanda) & then just had to get ourselves some breakfast & wait for boarding.

We saw several other teachers while we were waiting, but only one other was taking the same connections as us. Although we weren’t in business class again, the flight to Windhoek was half empty, so both Bill & I had a window seat (with no one next to us) & we were behind the bulkhead on the last flight, so still had plenty of leg room. I guess all that good luck was just tempting fate, because as we arrived at Luanda airport, another jumbo plane was emptying all its passengers out onto the tarmac. So, the arrival hall was just packed with people, but we found a queue that was moving reasonably fast & I was able to push my way over to the man stamping the arrival forms with the “I have seen your yellow fever vaccination card” stamp, & get both of our forms stamped. We should have known that it was just too smooth going….

The luggage hall was just chaotic – not a single trolley to be had, both conveyor belts going, but no indication of which flights the bags were from. Bill & I split up so we could each watch a different belt & over the next hour (longer?) we stood there & waited in vain for our bags to appear. When it became obvious that they weren’t there, we then had to find the lost & found office (which thankfully was open) & make our report. He told us to come back the next day (Tuesday) for the next Air Namibia flight & look again for our bags. Bill was wonderfully calm & sanguine about it all – not so me – I was mentally composing my resignation letter!

Once we finally left the airport, there were a couple of school buses to pick us up & the teachers who’d arrived on the Ethiopian Airways flight which landed after us. They got all their luggage, but we shared a bus back with the Spanish teacher who’d been in Indonesia for the holidays & his trip had been so bad (in both directions) that we felt bad complaining about what we’d gone through.

I was still feeling very down by the time we arrived home & it really took a huge effort to force myself to do some school work for the next day (School started on Tuesday not Monday because Monday was a public holiday – Martyr’s Day). Bill (in ignorance about the public holiday) went shopping – the small grocery shop around the corner was closed & the supermarket was devoid of both Kwanza (they ran out just as Bill reached the counter to change US$100) & any vegetables except for onions. Then, it took half an hour in the check-out queue! Amazingly (I couldn’t have done it) he was still upbeat when he got home (over an hour after he’d left) & spent the evening trying to cheer me up. (To compound everything, there was no internet & the power kept flickering on & off all night.)

School, of course, was fine once I was there on Tuesday morning, although a lot of kids weren’t there (around 50% attendance in most of my classes). There were also a significant number of teachers not there either – some (like Jo & Marek) were in Kenya for an IB course), others were at job fairs (like the heads of school) & still others were in strange locations around the world, stranded by lost connections & not quite sure just when they would be arriving in. (& I’m certainly not optimistic about their luggage turning up with them!).

Bill (now absolutely my hero) volunteered to go to the airport to look for our bags & I volunteered to try the supermarket again for fresh food. There still wasn’t any tomatoes or peppers (our stable veges) – just more onions, chilli peppers & that was it really. I did manage to get bread, some fruit & a few other basics, but no eggs or any fresh veges at all. At least it wasn’t an expensive shop ($50 is half to a quarter of what we usually spend).

Attendance at school stayed low all week – 67% by Wednesday & around 72% on Thursday & Friday. I hope everyone is back on Monday. Clubs started on Friday & I have 5 new girls – I have my fingers crossed they will be good.

To cut a long story short – no bags on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday! No fresh veges or eggs in the supermarket until Thursday (we got eggs, 2 tomatoes & the last 2 peppers on the shelf). On Friday, Bill came home with one bag that arrived literally just a few minutes before he checked. It was my Samsonite bag & the only damage was a spice bottle lid popped (making the bag smell nice) & one bottle of lotion leaked also. Fortunately I’d packed the liquids inside 2 plastic bags, so there was minimal damage to the contents of the bag (although everything needed the spice powder removed from it). The next flight in to check wasn’t till Sunday.

On Saturday we managed to get all the fresh food we needed to stock up the fridge again. Sunday’s trip to the airport proved fruitless, the lady at the lost & found said it may be on the flight on Monday – so 7 days later, still only 1 bag has arrived.

We had a very quiet weekend – the trip to the supermarket & out to the airport our only excursions. Bill leaves for an MYP course in Jakarta on Tuesday, so we are preparing for that!

2 comments:

zé kahango said...

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Raúl said...

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