I was excited to answer, patting the newspaper proudly, "This is a goat skin harp."
"What is it made of?"
"Goat and wood."
"Oh, you see, this is a problem. You cannot take wooden objects on the plane."
I had never heard this and I put up an argument. Moses told me to check online the policy of Egypt air. I told him I did not have the Internet on my person. He told me I would have to check it. That would make it my third checked bag and it would cost $80. Kenyan had wiped me out my savings and at the the time I had $50 to my name and was not eager to have the goat skin harp's price suddenly jump up 300%. I told him that it was ridiculous; that I had already passed through security and it was packed to a size that was perfectly acceptable as a carry-on item.
Moses would not hear it. He went to print out a list from EgyptAir.com of what could be taken as a hand luggage. He printed a non-exhaustive list of 13 items: Purse, Travel Document, Prescription medication, eyeglasses and sunglasses (without the case), contact lenses, equipment for babies, keys, laptop, computer, toothbrush, hairbrush, food and cigarettes (without a lighter)."
"You see," he told me as I was reading the list, caught in the moment of wondering why you could not take the case for your eyeglasses and sunglasses, "Goat skin harp is not on the list."
"Yes, but neither is jacket, or book? Can I bring these on a plane?"
"This is not open for discussion," he said sternly, "you will have to check it."
"Can I talk to someone above you? Your manager?"
This proved not to be diplomatic. "I am the manager," he said. Then he grabbed my boarding pass and shouted to the agent who he had given my boarding pass, "That is enough, cancel his reservation!"
Things had escalated quickly. I took a blurry photo of him holding my boarding pass, and he invited me to take another, "Fine, you want to take my photo?, take it, I don't care." Then he said again, "Cancel his reservation!"
The woman behind the counter had a hesitant look of being caught in the middle of a family fight and slowly began typing on her keyboard. I needed to make my peace and fast. My three months in Kenya had been wonderful, but I needed to be on that flight out.
I apologized, told him that we should all just calm down. I told him if I absolutely had to check the harp and there was no other choice other than leaving it, then I would check it. What after all, was a little more credit card debt?
He told me that it could not be checked as it was. I would have to have it packaged in the booth at the other end of the corridor that wrapped luggage in plastic for another $10. I wanted to point out that the man at the market had done a fine job of wrapping it, but kept that to myself.
Egyptian/Ugandan Tag-team Scam Revealed
I went to wait in line, which had a half dozen people waiting to wrap various items. In front of me was a British woman with a long cardboard tube complaining to an indiscriminant European man with a cardboard box. "I already paid to have my spear packed in town . . . It's crap that I have to have it double packaged." The man was nodding and agreeing, mumbling that he did not understand why he had to wrap his box in plastic. Now things made sense. I understood what was really at the heart of the problem with the harp.
Moses met me at the ticketing counter, my boarding pass still in his hands. I asked him bluntly, "Do you get any money from the guy who wraps things in plastic?"
"No, of course not," he told me, indignant.
He had played his trump card earlier when he grabbed my boarding pass and it was my turn to play mine. I handed him a card with my website TravelWriteSing.com prominently printed on it. "I'm a travel writer," I said with implication. Nothing gambled, nothing gained.
Moses told me that for all the trouble I had had to go through that he was not going to charge me for the third checked in bag.
I thanked him, told him that I really appreciated that, and headed to my gate, unburdened with hauling The Goat Skin Harp through three connecting airports.
Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About and How We Are Human. After finishing degrees in philosophy and English in Chile, Luke backpacked from Chile to Guatemala, where he spent four years as director of development organization Nuestros Ahijados. These efforts were featured on the 2010 ABC News Global Health Special: Be the Change, Save a Life. Follow him @lukespartacus.
The Day I Did Not Meet Kenya's Prime Minister by Luke Maguire Armstrong
Victoria: The Lake That Wasn't There by Luke Armstrong
The Warrior Scholar from Kenya by James Dorsey
That First Night in Cairo by Jim Johnston
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