Happy Birthday to me

“You must empty your bag now…please”. This strong suggestion came from the poor airline security chap on day two of my 40th birthday trip to Africa. He was speaking not only to me (I was in the foetal position sobbing on the floor of the world’s smallest airport) but also to my long suffering husband in the hope that my loved one might have more power to persuade me. Going by the expression on my husband’s face, it was not quite the beginning of our holiday he had hoped for. I should not have been quite so devastated at such a request, but after the previous 48 hours, I was incapable of any rational reaction.

I am a woman who takes enormous pride in her organisational skills, it’s a self preservation tool as I do not cope with any type of ‘surprise’. Ever. We were awoken by a call from our airline on our first day prior to leaving home, (also my first time flying at the pointy end of the plane). They advised us that our flight was cancelled. That word sent husband into the most impressive positive speech in an attempt to placate his wife and thus minimise his own torture.

After a delay of six hours, we were boarding a rescheduled flight. I blame the wedding we attended the day before flying for making my first class seat become my sick bed, as this wedding had coincidentally served all my favourite wine. For the first six hours of our fifteen hour flight, I was in blissful ignorance of what was about to happen.

Lying on the mattress of my flat bed, I started to feel dizzy. Avoiding graphic details, after collapsing in the first class toilet and having to be carried out by lovely airline staff to my bed, it became apparent that mixing alcohol plus altitude plus dehydration plus me equals very sick birthday girl. For the next nine hours I had an oxygen mask on. The only thing that got me to my feet prior to landing was vegemite on toast, I love Australia for that invention alone. Travelling through Johannesburg airport on a wheelchair with husband in tow, I started to believe that the worst was behind me. Foolish I now know.

On arrival at the check-in counter to fly to Zambia, we were asked for our Yellow Fever vaccination card. “Yes we had it five months ago,” I say with such pride at my commitment to being organised well in advance. “I need to see the card”, she demanded. Apparently I had forgotten this vital piece of information or was never told. She advised we could venture downstairs and get another vaccination, simply put, get a needle in my arm in the Aids capital of the world. It’s shocking what you can do when you have no other option (as the crying, swearing and hyperventilation thing hadn’t gone over to well).

After $1000 for our repeat needles and having to wait two hours to call our bank manager to help with payment, as neither of our credit cards apparently worked in Africa, (this holiday just keeps on giving) we were on our way to Zambia. I felt relief that soon I would be surrounded by the magical landscape and wildlife that was awaiting us. On day two in Zambia we needed to catch a small plane to our luxury tented camp. The soft-sided bag I had ordered for myself was slightly larger than husbands but still well within the restrictive measurements that our travel agent advised me these small planes allow. Wrong again. Instead of having the usual ten or six seater plane, the only one available that day had three seats. For the uninitiated, the size of a planes baggage compartment directly corresponds to how many seats, three seats meaning my larger bag needed emptying.

I was told by my husband and large security man with gun (not sure if for non-compliant passengers like myself or scary big animals) that my only option was to put all my belongings in small plastic bags, get off the floor, get on the plane and stop sobbing. With husbands help yet again, I did.

“Let me take your bags for you ma’am”, greeted our adorable tour guide on arrival to our exclusive accommodation, refreshing cocktail in hand. After handing over my newly acquired plastic luggage, he asked “ was birthday happy?”.

C Dunstan

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