A forced experiment in minimalism
After close to thirteen hours on the road (well, in the air, actually) and four hours at airports, after getting up at 4 am after three hours sleep, I arrived at the hotel in Cape Town. Got out of the car and a polite voice said
‘Can I help with your luggage, Madam?’
Great question! If I only had any luggage and KLM – the company I flew with – hadn’t misplaced it somewhere between Manchester and Cape Town.
So, here we are: I am in Cape Town in South Africa and my luggage is somewhere in Europe; most likely Amsterdam but I won’t bet anything on that. My carefully and lovingly packed clothes, cosmetics, running shoes, swim stuff (exercise is vital when working 12 hour days on the other side of the world) is all lost; hopefully not forever. But the last time this happened (interestingly I was in South Africa about 15 years ago) my luggage arrived four days after me.
This trip sounded very nice to begin with: Cape Town, sunshine but no heat and the final conference of a nine months long course for policy people where our mentees will be showcasing their work.
In practice, the dream rapidly turned into a nightmare: on Thursday evening I didn’t know where I’ll be staying, whether I’ll be met at the Airport or whether my ticket had been upgraded from the economy class that was booked initially. I was supposed to take off at 5.55 am on Friday morning – and I had said that if one of these conditions is not met I am not getting on the plane. Enough is enough!
You may think that demanding an upgrade when working for poor countries and in the conditions of austerity is spoiled. Think again! I am not some kid going on a backpacking holiday to South Africa; I am a fifty year old woman with varicose veins, high blood pressure and this is a work trip.
Although I am very seriously insured, it would be better for everyone if I don’t have thrombosis during the flight and ‘kick the bucket’: for John and our sons the benefit is obvious, for the university the benefit is that were I to die on business it will cost them dearly in insurance and pension for John and Philip; as to me – well, call me biased but I still would rather live than die on some plane flying to work.
Apart from that, I can’t see why I should pay the osteopath’s bills because I got bad back while flying economy class for work.
All in all, the upgrade was important! So was meeting me and making sure there is bed at the end of the trip!
Having got all my conditions met, I arrived in Cape Town with my:
- The clothes I was wearing;
…and little else. Not even chargers – rather stupidly all my chargers are in my suitcase. To add insult to injury I got stopped by customs – WTF! Didn’t they see I am carrying only hand luggage?
So, this morning early I made a list of the minimum stuff I need and went shopping. In total (including the clothes I travelled in) I have:
- 4 pairs of knickers;
- 3 bras;
- 2 pairs of trousers;
- Three tops;
- A jumper (purple hoodie, saying ‘The University of Manchester’ on it);
- iChargers (just bought)
- toothbrush and toothpaste
Not nearly adequate for a working week in Cape Town; particularly accounting for the high policy level of the gathering and the nature of the trousers: a baggy pair of harem trousers and my new pair of jeans that are the turquoise blue I’ve always wanted. Completely inappropriate!
I’ve been told that my luggage may arrive tomorrow evening and I surely hope it does. But if it doesn’t, I am more than ready for an experiment: could I spend a week here using only the items listed above? Inappropriate may be, but still will be fun! Who would have thought it: me and minimalism!
Oh, and I intend to make KLM pay for all this!