July 5, 2013

Balkan Adventure: Lost Luggage

My daughters and I have been privileged guests of the Paunović family this past month. We flew to Belgrade a couple weeks in advance of the rest of our family for Jovana's sister, Maja’s (My-uh) wedding. From the very beginning, this has been a different experience traveling compared to any other trip I’ve been on. For years, I thought Jovana was born into the wrong family. Not that there’s anything wrong with her family. 

There isn’t. 

It’s just that our bond together here seems to have always existed. Like our spirits were close before we were born and when we came to earth we just had to find a way to meet again. In much the same way I love my family, I love Jovana. While I always knew Jovana had another family who loves her dearly, it didn’t seem real to me until I came to Belgrade.

I arrived exhausted. We had traveled for about 15 hours; I stayed up the night before packing with only a couple hours of sleep, and got no more than a 2 hour rest on the flight due to the inconsistent sleeping patterns of an active toddler. I just wanted to go to sleep. But to make our story more interesting, when we arrived, the only pieces of our luggage on the conveyor belt were the girls’ car seats. So I figured out which line to stand in and waited for my turn to describe my luggage and figure out when it would arrive. Meanwhile, the crowd from our flight had slimmed down to nothing and there was Jovana, waiting on the other side of the customs door wondering what had happened to me.

Remember that one time I blogged about me being the lucky one? Mostly because I seem to win prizes more than my fair share of the time…often enough that I’m never really surprised when it happens to me. Well, the same goes for lost luggage. If someone’s luggage is going to be lost, I’m not surprised if it’s mine. It’s been like this for years…or decades. Missionary luggage left on the tarmac in the rain in New York - my blue skirt bleeding all over my white shirts. Car seats lost when going to a wedding in San Diego. Car seats and luggage lost when flying from Calgary to Vancouver, BC. Those had to be FedEx’d to Seattle a couple days later. This isn’t all. Just some that I remember right now. 

If I can help it, I don’t check baggage. I know the airline will give you loaner car seats until they find yours but all the same, I usually pack light, wear the same pair of jeans 3 days in a row and plan to do laundry at least once for a longer trip. But this trip is different. I started out traveling alone with two young children. We are gone for weeks not days. I had a stroller, car seats, and 3 pieces of luggage. It’s a lot to juggle so this time, I checked everything I could.

The lost luggage clerk in Belgrade thought my luggage would come in the next day or two but it might be up to a week later. Uh oh, I said. I have a wedding on Saturday (I arrived Thursday afternoon). “Your wedding?” he asked with fear in his eyes. No. Relief flooded his face. But my dress is in that bag and I need to know if I should go shopping. He told me I should call tomorrow and by that time, they should have at least found out where it was.

All my apprehension about traveling alone with the girls and with juggling luggage was for naught. I walked through the doors to meet Jovana only pushing Kira in a stroller while one of the luggage guys pushed the cart with a zonked out Jocelyn and car seats on it. So simple.

Waiting with Jovana were her uncle and cousin. I was hugged and squeezed and kissed. In Serbia, they kiss three times. Always. When we got to Jovana’s home, her mother and father greeted me like they knew me. They were just meeting me for the first time. And for the girls, this was really uncanny. I’m not sure Jocelyn realized that Jovana had a family. They shied away from the attention. It felt good to be welcomed with open arms. A month later, they are just as welcoming and hospitable as in the beginning. The Paunović family is like an extension of ours. Family we just hadn’t met yet.

The next day, Friday, our luggage arrived on the same flight it should have been on the day before. They would deliver it on Saturday (day of wedding) or we could pick it up later that afternoon. Not a tough choice. We’ll pick it up now. Jovana had a function to attend, so Sneki (her mom) had one of her friends from work go to the airport with us. This friend named Maria reminded me in age, appearance, temperament and intelligence of Tymon’s brother’s ex-girlfriend…named Marie. Whoa. Maria speaks Serbian and English, so I’m pretty sure she and Marie aren’t the same person. It makes me wonder if we all have doppelgangers around…kind of like Olivia and Faux-livia in Fringe.

Once we arrived at the airport, we had to wait about an hour once to get the luggage. Apparently, a full flight arrived with only 5 pieces of luggage on it. That isn’t 5 lost pieces. That’s 5 pieces in total got loaded onto the plane. There were 200 people in the lost luggage line. So we waited. And waited (Jocelyn making lots of friends as she ran around) until they could help us. It was such a relief to get our bags and not have to fit in an emergency shopping expedition.

We are coming to the close of our trip. I'm now sitting in the basement of my British cousins who live in the Cotswolds of England and typing stories from the previous weeks that have been neglected. 

As we arrived in London, the boys were looking out the window as the bags were being unloaded and they got excited when they saw our car seats as they were coming out of the plane. We got off the plane before we saw our luggage, but no worries; all of it was on the conveyor belt at baggage claim. Except the car seats weren't. And we had no stroller, as well.

It took about half an hour to find out where our items went to but they were all returned...only our trusty old blue stroller was a bit lacking. As in it was missing a front wheel.

The poor thing has been through 6 kids and was in rough condition. I'd already been thinking about leaving it in England when it was time to come home. So when the lost baggage guy suggested that he give me a stroller that they had in the back room, I readily agreed. We got a lovely stroller...one that has a foot rest strap, something old blue lost a kid or two back. 

This red one works for our trip, but it's also one that we will also be leaving here. The front wheels don't rotate, which proves tricky for steering. Alas, I now know what Kira will be getting for her birthday next week. Ha ha.

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