Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bags - a last story on Algeria. And Christmas.

Washington, DC, December 25, 2010

Jet lag. 

Christmas Day is a day to treasure what you have, not what you don't have. Still, there's a story here.  We don't have our production bags from tour. Any of them. We took two, and Lucie (the mop). Here in DC, 6 days after leaving for Algiers, they've all gone missing. It's the hangover from this particular tour, a story of the perils of tight schedules, of airlines (Alitalia) not on top of their communication and, still, of perspective. 

Wednesday, December 22 was our concert day in Algiers. I traveled separately from the rest of the group on the 19th because I had booked my itinerary independently (fortunately). They had the two production bags. I had Lucie. Lucie made it. The bags didn't. The pursuit of them was constricted by the protocols of Algerian customs and baggage claim. Each person with a missing bag (and on the leg there were four, two production, two personal, neither of which made it either) had to fill out the forms, present their passport and so on and so on. It took 90 minutes at the Algiers Airport on the 20th. 

Monday finished. Tuesday came and went. No bags. "They've arrived" we were told. "They'll be here at midnight." "They'll be here for you tomorrow (Wednesday)." 

Wednesday (concert day) arrived and at breakfast there were no bags. "You have to go to the airport to get them." 


"They're here. You have to go to the airport to get them." This was at 10am. The concert, scheduled for 6pm, was 8 hours away. We were due at the theater for a two-hour tech and warm-up to get organized for a show in a theater we didn't know with languages we didn't speak. That part wasn't particularly daunting. We've done it many times before. But not, you know, naked. No costumes, no music, no production equipment (floor tape, glow tape, tape measures etc). 

We were missing four bags -- two personal and two production. It's impossible to describe the journey from our hotel on the shores of the Med to the Airport. At two AM, with a police escort, its 30 minutes. At mid-day, with the ubiquitous traffic that is the most common-thread in all our travels, in full-force, it could easily be an hour-and-a-half. 

As the only non-dancer in the gang (Chris was dancing "+1" because of a shortened cast) the logic was for me to go. So we called for transport -- a term redefined by this tour, thank you very much. That meant a car, at least one person as a personal escort. And a police escort. 20 minutes go by. 30. 40. 50. At 11:30, 6.5 hours before curtain, I'm still at the hotel. 

Finally the word is given. In a car small enough that, sitting in the back seat, with two very normal sized people in the front there is literally no place to put my legs, so I stretch out length-wise. The doors close and we start to move. Very, very fast. In the space before the main traffic and roads join we wind through back roads at insane speed. The blue flash of the motorcycle strobes bounce off the windshield of our car. Cars are not meant to be as agile as a motorcycle. But we keep up. 

Into traffic. Like a plow turning soil we do what is now familiar and knife into the center, between the two lanes of traffic. The sirens go on. The sound bounces around your head and the cabin. The driver turns up the music. Hamza, our guide, puts on his headphones and, amazingly, dozes off. Outside the window the chase is on. Its raining. The green-suited cop in the front weaves and bobs and we just try to keep up, in a stick-shift constantly changing gears and an engine in "test" mode. Left lane. Right. Then, for a few miles, flying down the berm lane on the left till its cut off and we are in the right lane, then the middle, then the right, then the left and suddenly at full stop before cutting to the right and down the berm again. The lead cop (there's one behind) turns around impatiently again and again, as though to say  "what the Hell are you doing back there. Keep up." I chew my gum harder. 

We blow into the airport in an hour. Its 12:30. 

The bureaucracy of the airport is matched with an opposing force -- Hamza has never done this before. He doesn't know where to go to find the luggage. So we dash about, looking for anyone who knows anything. 15 minutes go by. Then we go the opposite way through customs and immigration, drawing endless stares but no resistance. The Alitalia counter is in sight. "You're in the wrong place. You want terminal 2." "Oh," Sharif, the man at the counter says, "by the way, only two of your bags are here."

"Where are the other two? We were told they were all here. How did they get separated? 

"And which two are they?"

"Washington is here (personal bag). Pilkington is here (production bag). One's in Rome (Morgan)."

"When does it get here."

"Midnight." (curtain would have come down five hours before it arrived, and we're supposed to be outbound at 5:45am)

"Send it back to Washington."

"You don't need it?"

"Of course we need it. But not at midnight. Send it back to Washington."

"You're sure?"

"Yes.  -- Where's the other bag? (Alvarez - who has been wearing the same clothes for three days)"

He checks his terminal.




"As in Tunisia?"

"Yes. Seems they sent it to Tunis."


"God knows." 

"When does IT get here?" 

"5:45 today. Send someone to get it."



"Cause we're on stage 15 minutes after that."


"Can we just have it wait for us here and pick it up on departure?"


We dash for Terminal 2 to get the bags. The clock ticks. Hamza, doing his best, has no idea where to go. We ask more questions. We get more confusing answers. Then, suddenly, we're inside customs again. We grab the two bags."

"Where do we re-file the claim check for the other bags."

"Terminal One."

"Why didn't someone tell us that when we were there the first time?"

"God knows."

We head back down the corridor for Terminal One. Through security, past the metal detectors. A group has formed around Sharif and a colleague. A flight has come in and many bags have gone missing. 

A lone figure stands a bit off to the side. He was there before and very, very agitated. He is in an argument with the Alitalia agents, the language shifting back and forth between Arabic and French. 

There is a lot of frustration in all the faces. 

The clock is ticking. 

Hamza pushes through and we make a new plan for the luggage, trying to confirm that the two missing bags are going to make it to Algiers or to DC. 

Finally, we bound out of the airport and find the waiting car and cops. 

The lights go on. The sirens go on. We pull out.

My face is at this point bright red with frustration. 

As we head to the highway, Hamza turns to me from the front seat.

"You saw that man there, the one to the side?"


"He has been waiting three days for his father."

"At baggage claim?"



"He's missing."

"What do you mean he's missing?"

"They can't find him."

"Well, not at baggage claim, no."

"You don't understand."

"What don't I understand. He's not going to turn up at baggage claim."

"No. This man, he's waiting for the coffin. He's waiting for the body of his father. They have lost it. They have lost the coffin. They have lost the body of his father. He has been waiting at the airport for three days for the body of his father."

Christmas is about what you have, not what you don't have. We have each other. We have our health and our loved ones. On this morning we open our presents and share our love and live our lives. My first wish this morning, as the sun came up, was that this man has found his father. 

We have, even when we think we don't, everything. 

1 comment:

Henrique said...

Hello from Portugal!

It's amazing how your stories are so similar to ours!

I have to agree on all that.
I've never had a so surreal journey.
You need something like an entire "Lord Of The Rings" Collection.
Murphy laws! Every time something can go wrong, it will go wrong.

But yes, its a life-changing journey.

Algerian people are very nice and most of them, knows that they have a problem with burocracy and excessive "responsible-powerless" people. If they know that, maybe with time they will change it.
The city, Algiers, its dirty and ugly. But they have money, they're great exporters of oil and gas, so, the problem is not that. They just need to be a little bit more proud and work harder.

We've been with Chris in the plane to Rome. Wen we arrived there (and Murphy laws aplly here again) he only had 15 minutes to get the plane to NY.
Did he make it on time?
We got stucked in Rome onde day, in another surreal part of our trip.
I only arrived home at 21h30, christmas eve's...

But was amazing!

Hope to meet you again.

Happy New Year

Henrique Patrício