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The Art of Surviving the Lost Suitcase

Dispatch Africa 2014: Traveling for the Institute

Last time, I gave you “The Art of the Ice Cold Shower,” snappy tips for getting along without hot water in the wintertime near the Himalayas in Northeast India. This time, it’s surviving a lost luggage situation in East Africa near Kilimanjaro (or, “How I Represented the Bible Institute in Gym Shorts and Nikes”). The day started like any of the last three. My driver, the able Bishop Joel Chege (sounds a little like “Reggae,” as in the Caribbean music), who looks exactly like Muhammad Ali (exactly, I tell you), was 30 minutes late. Joel is our on-the-ground coordinator for World Hope Kenya. This morning, Joel had stopped by the local G4S office (Kenya’s version of UPS), to collect my giant camouflage duffel bag (let’s just call it “Mr. Duff”). But, the thin, scrupulous, all-business female desk clerk would only release it directly to me, so Joel came round to the Thomson’s Falls Lodge, where I had been holed-up for 3 days with my cousin, business partner, and fellow World Hope Bible Institute faculty member, Dustin Martin. I awoke that morning with the same underwear I’d donned the morning I left Houston a week earlier, and was anxious for Joel to arrive. He picked us up, and drove us straight back to the G4S office, where I was delighted to be reunited with Mr. Duff, after a lovesick 7-day separation.

It seems that, while I had taken the Houston-Newark-London route to Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Duff had taken the Houston-Newark-Zurich route, stopping over in Switzerland for few extra days to attend a lost bag convention in the bowels of the Zurich airport, before catching up with me in Nairobi. Mr. Duff had finally arrived in Kenya the previous night, and had taken the red-eye from Nairobi to Nyahururu (sort of like “not a guru”), where Dustin and I were teaching a little systematic theology to around 90 local pastors and ministry leaders. Dustin was doing ecclesiology (a study of the Book of Titus concerning the pastoral and administrative aspects of leading a local congregation), and I, eschatology (a study of the Second Coming, the apocalypse, the end of the world, and what not).

Mr. Duff had arrived in Nyahururu at 5:30am from Zurich. When, a little past 9:00am, I strode through the front door of the cramped, second floor G4S office (and not a bit out of breath, mind you), I saw Mr. Duff plopped slovenly on the floor, looking like he had just stumbled in from a three-day drunk. He had that helpless, tortured, “Where am I?” look. I attacked him on sight like a hungry leopard, wrestling him into submission (I was pretty rough, I have to say.), and wildly unzipping compartments here and there to see if everything was in order. I started hyperventilating, partly from joy and partly from fear. Mr. Duff had obviously been molested. My Slides (cool flip-flops without the toe thingies) were gone. So were the two pairs of hip cargo shorts that Stephanie always made me wear when we went somewhere we might be noticed.

Anyway, I was miffed. The G4S clerk was demanding I stop groping Mr. Duff and produce some I.D., but I was throwing a fit about my Slides (I was glad those cargo shorts had found new owners…probably, some needy Kenyan family had made them into a tent). Turns out the G4S people had removed everything in the outer zippered pockets for my safety and relocated them to the main compartment, which they secured with a heavy duty red zip-tie. (Yippee, the Slides were there. Bummer, so were the shorts.) Our reunion was bittersweet. After the initial excitement, I remembered how we had got to this point in the first place. Sure, it was good to get some fresh skivvies (I’m a tidy-whitie kind of guy myself, but to each his own.). But, I was entirely put out with Mr. Duff. Had I known his travel plans involved that lost bag convention in Zurich, I certainly would never have agreed to have taken him on this trip. Well, here are a few tips for getting along without your best travel buddy:

Tip #1 – Don’t yell at the lost luggage clerk. It’s a very bad move. I’m guilty of this grievous sin. The lost luggage clerk is the guy who holds your future in his hands. He’s the difference between smelling like a dirty clothes hamper or smelling like a professional international business traveler. Adopt a solicitous attitude. Grin broadly like you haven’t a care in the world. Start right in with the flattering. Things like, “I’ll bet you’ve got a PhD in lost luggage recovery,” or “You must be the airport manager,” can work really well. If the clerk blushes, you’re in good shape. If the clerk gives you an, “I’ve heard that line before, sir” sort of look, then you’re in trouble. Immediately change your tactic. Go straight to the begging and pleading. Throw yourself on the mercy of the Global Baggage Handlers Union. Appeal to the clerk’s sense of duty to humanity. Try to look desperate, lost, and confused. (You must get this guy motivated if you are to have any hope at all.)

Tip #2 – Bring an extra pair of underwear in your carry-on (I didn’t). I used to do this, but stopped after exposing them one too many times to old ladies and airport security officers when I opened my briefcase to take out my laptop. Seems like there was never a good place to stuff a pair of undies that didn’t sooner or later create an embarrassing moment when they flopped out onto the floor. I’m back on the wagon now (there’s a fresh pair in my briefcase at this very moment).

Tip #3 – If it’s too late, and you’ve already messed up on #2 above, that is, if you’re already traveling while reading this epistle and your bag is gone, not to worry. There’s always the old flip-and-slip. On day two (or three), just flip those undies inside out and slip ’em right back on. Just flip-and-slip, that’s it. Who’s going to know? You’ll feel fresh again, and that’s all that really matters, right? If you’re as old as me, you can actually do this indefinitely, because either you won’t care, or you won’t be able to remember when you last flipped-and-slipped. Going commando is always an option at this point, but it just isn’t my style.

Tip #4 – You can’t turn your socks inside out, they’ll look funny. Baby powder! Just pop into the hotel commissary or local supermarket and pick up the largest bottle they’ve got. I have found that you can buy baby powder world-wide. Apparently, it is in high demand. Just sprinkle a little bit of heaven into your socks and shoes, and you’re a new man. This trick also works wonders in your skivvies. However, if you wear boxers, all you will accomplish is powdering your feet again (that’s why I’m a tidy-whitie guy – nothing leaks out, and if you travel a lot, it might be worth the switch).

If you enjoyed this helpful travel hint, leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you.

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11 comments on “The Art of Surviving the Lost Suitcase

  1. I am picturing the Kenyan tent – and laughing hysterically.

  2. A life well lived Noel. Amazing stories that inspire me to get my butt on an airplane and see the world. Clearly there is more to life than toiling away for the next dollar.

  3. I laughed so hard, my tummy hurts. Fortunately I can blame Dick, who sent this to me. Masterful writing, Noel.

  4. Shaking hands when we meet is now determined by whether your luggage was lost on the trip.

  5. I must say that you responded to the experience with a professional poise that the Institute could be proud of. I’m not sure that anyone else could have looked so noble wearing concrete gray Russell Athletic shorts, a navy blue Big Dog tee-shirt, and week old underwear (off white!).

  6. Hahaha. You are the MASTER story teller!!!

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