I’d been in Casablanca for about a week when I was informed that my shipment had arrived at the airport and I was to go and retrieve it. My school kindly supplied a driver and a car for me for the day and off I went.
My companion for the day, lets call him Mr. M, spoke no English and I my brain was still catching up with French. We arrived at the airport and we headed for the terminal. All I had was an invoice from the shipping company saying that my shipment had arrived and had been shipped on Saudi Airlines. I presume the plan was to go in, and talk to the airline but at the door we were stopped because only passport holders were allowed in. Mr. M wasn’t carrying the correct documents, so I was pushed through the door with shouted directions to look for the office on the right.
So there I was, in the terminal looking to the right for this mysterious office that was supposed to give me a clue as to the whereabouts of my shipment. I looked to the right and started walking. It’s hard to find what you’re looking for when you have no idea what it actually is. I walked as far as I could, and at the end of the terminal I found an information desk. As I was mustering up all the French words I could, the man behind the counter asked me if I needed help in English and I almost cried. I often underestimate the frustration of not being able to express myself in words. But the frustration is real, and this case exacerbated by the circumstances. I was fairly confident that I could look and act helpless, but my needs were so specific and I had no idea how to tell someone that I wasn’t traveling, but I needed to pick up a shipment of boxes that I had shipped from Kuwait. I made my predicament known to the man behind the desk and was told to go back in the direction from whence I had come. On the right would be doors to the baggage claim, go through the third one and they will help you.
“A droit, a droit” he said.
Off I went. But here’s the thing, I was in the terminal and people laden with luggage were coming OUT of the baggage claim area. These were automatic doors. The kind that open when you stand too close to them and they were all shut. My instructions were to go through one of these doors…..so I did the only thing I could. I walked up to each door, my nose inches from the glass and waited to see if it would open or not. The third door opened and I walked through, only to be turned away by security because I was going against the flow of traffic. I was strictly told that I was not to enter baggage claim at this door. But if I continued the next door would be on my right. “A droit!” Fine. I made it to the next door where, wonder of wonders, people were entering. And here I realized the problem. I was given directions to find lost luggage. Not what I wanted.
I knew that I needed to talk to the airline, but it was Friday and almost lunch time… around here that means that some offices might not be open… at all. I found the airline office and, sure enough,the doors were closed and the shades drawn. So I knocked on the window and door. A small man opened the door. I explained to him my predicament and he laughed.
“You need the freight terminal! That’s not here at all. Leave this airport and take the road to the right. You will find it.”
Ok. Real progress. Now I needed to find Mr. M.
What followed was an epic series of events that included running (literally) between offices, an obscene number of stamps and “tipping” a few people. Each customs document (and there were about three) was filled out by hand in triplicate and then we were sent to get each copy stamped and signed by various officials (all located in different buildings) before returning to the original office where the Chief Stamper approved everything. At times Mr. M and I would return with a new stamp and wait…..because the Chief Stamper had stepped out of the office. It was a scavenger hunt. Finally we were taken to the ware house and sure enough my boxes were there. But now we had to wait for the Chief Stamper to come to us and inspect my boxes. This involved cutting open and unlocking all of them and then having my belongings perused by a diminutive customs official with thick glasses that kept sliding down his nose. The final step, (and this was my favorite) involved one final form. The Chief Stamper kept the white copy, and we were given the yellow and pink copies to have stamped by two more officials. We were directed back to the warehouse where two officials whose two desks faced each other, one on each side of the warehouse. We got the first stamp, walked across the room to the other desk and waited for the official to join us (he was smoking outside). He stamped the second page AND SENT US BACK across the room for a final check and one more stamp. Did I mention that we were the day’s entertainment? I was the only woman on the premises and I was white. Everyone was staring. The whole time. Every step of the way I vacillated between wanting to burst into tears or laughter but I didn’t think it wise to draw more attention to myself. I saved the laughter for later when I told my co-workers.
Now I have my books and important things like my teapot and favorite shoes so my small apartment is feeling more and more like home. The comforts of home are important, I’m glad I have them, but if I do this again…… is shipping really worth it? I don’t know.