Thursday, March 15, 2012

A week of it

 ...or perhaps, a week without it.

A week without earthquakes, a week without Kiwi accents.
A week without decent coffee, and a week without my luggage.

Yes, in yet another demonstration of the perversity of the universe, when I arrived in the USA on March 3rd en-route to my conference in Orlando, my luggage was nowhere to be seen. This situation was not entirely unexpected however, as it had not been a smooth trip from the beginning.

The trouble started when my very first flight from C-city to Auckland was delayed, and I missed my flight from there to LA. No worries, I thought to myself. This is why I book complicated trips through a travel agent, so that it's all one continuous journey, and issues like this have to be resolved by the carrier that stuffed it up (*cough* AirNZ). After calls to my travel agent, followed by multiple presentations at various customer service desks and check-in counters, I had done everything I could to make sure my travel was sorted and my luggage was re-tagged & ready to follow me on my new flight path via San Francisco.

So, when my suitcase failed to materialise on the SFO carousel, it wasn't completely out of the blue. When I arrived at Orlando a little after midnight, funnily enough, my suitcase was not there either. I duly filed my claim at the office there (giving all the gory details) and headed off to my hotel for some much-needed sleep.

Sunday was emergency shopping day - separate a girl from her luggage and suddenly there's a whole lot of essential items that need replacing. Jeans & a t-shirt are not really appropriate conference attire either, so while mourning the potential loss of all my favourite clothes, I went to a local mall to remedy the situation.

I must say though, lost luggage is a great conversation starter. From retail shops to hotel reception desks, there is a universal kindness that emerges whenever a traveler gets separated from their stuff and has to go about replacing everything. It also forces you to engage with the world around you, which can be a wonderful thing. Despite my lack of luggage, or perhaps because of it, I had a great trip.
A dinner companion

At the ICRC conference, I met and chatted with many people while trying to find a suitable charger for my laptop and cellphone. Being stranded without your carefully planned & packed accessories makes starting a conversation easy, and was eventually partially successful - I managed to recharge my cellphone at least. A few people made the comment that I was handling my luggage crisis extremely well. To which I usually replied, 'I've already lost my home and my city centre - this is nothing, really'. Once you've gone through a major disaster and the losses associated with it, maybe it's easier to appreciate that even your favourite clothes are just things, and things can be replaced.
This can brings back memories!

This was my first time presenting at an international conference, and only my second ever presentation in this kind of setting. The ICRC wasn't solely an academic conference, it included experiential presentations - case studies and reports from those whose business is crisis and risk communication. The variety of styles, content, purpose, and subject matter made for a most enjoyable mix of presentations, some of which were extremely poignant and powerful (The powerpoint files are available as pdfs, but they're not the same as being there. If the ppt tells the whole story, you're not doin it right!). My survey research and documentary presentation were both well received, and I hope to be able to share the new AV version of the doco on the web shortly. Watch this space :)
...why, yes it does! (only chewy)

But without a doubt, the most enjoyable aspect of this trip was the people I met. Take Dani, one of the organising team, who totally rocks! This wonderful woman drove me to shops, all around the city, and out to local eateries, giving me a much richer experience than I would otherwise have gained. I got to enjoy sights, sounds and tastes, like alligator (tastes like chicken) & Hush Puppies (nothing to do with shoes). This is the stuff that the tour companies don't provide; a chance to hang out, to chat about the world & compare cultural norms, daily life and other random stuff. (As soon as I get pix, I'll add some to this post! EDIT: finally!) Bob was a wonderful host also, and took a couple of us out for a good ol' Southern meal one night. There are many people from that conference who I hope to keep in touch with, and with any luck I'll be able to attend again next year. Maybe next time, my luggage will travel with me rather than independently.
Hush Puppies

I've been home for a few days now, waiting for my body clock to readjust, getting back into house-building mode and going through all the paperwork I have to file for various things. Having finally itemized and costed every single thing that was in that suitcase (like my crazy colourful jacket from Rhythm & Alps, my new favourite jeans I'd worn only once, favourite t-shirts etc), I decided to ring the Akld baggage claim office once more for good luck.

I went through the whole story yet again, and finally I struck someone who was willing to make the effort to try & get all the loose ends to meet. He made some calls and found my suitcase. In Orlando. Where it's been sitting, sad and lonely, under a different file number, just waiting for someone to figure out who it belongs to. It should've been returned to me at the hotel before I left Orlando, as it arrived at the airport well before I started my journey back home - but nobody connected the dots.

Never mind. It's a win. As long as my suitcase makes it back to Shakeytown before I head away to my next conference in April, I'll be happy.

So, time to get back into that whole broken city/house rebuilding thing I suppose...
Next step: choosing a house-load of curtains (oh no, more decisions!!)

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