Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology
I have been flying to and from the United States and Zambia my home country for more than 30 years. The trip has always caused me great anxiety because many things can sometimes go terribly wrong when checking in at the airport. Often that has to do with weight of my bags. May be sometimes I wrongly think it happens to people like myself who travel on the economy plane ticket. We are the people with the cheapest tickets who sit in the back of the plane. Often the check-in works out smoothly including the security screening prior to boarding.
As I was checking in at Dulles Airport flying to Lusaka via Johannesburg recently, my stomach tightened as the official weighed my 2 bags each at 49.5 lbs. or 29.5 Kgs. The weight limit for each bag was 50lbs. or 30Kgs. There was little margin for error between my house scale and the one at the airport. Then the ticket agent said twice firmly: “Put you carry-on bag on the scale”. It was upwards of 16 Kgs of my lap top, cameras and large lenses. My carry-on bag had to be 8 Kg I was told. I could not move anything to my checked in bags. Neither could I leave anything which my son could mail to me later as my experiences with the Post Office had not been positive lately to put it mildly. I was told my carry-on bag was too heavy. The agent consulted his baggage handler colleague about what to do. The colleague shrugged his shoulders. There was excruciating silence paralleling what Jesus Christ the Son of God must have felt before being crucified on the cross.
New Back Pack
The ticket agent advised me to go around the corner and buy a back pack. I was apparently allowed two carry-on items. For a long time passengers were allowed to carry only one bag on to the plane. At least I was not being asked to part with my precious belongings that I had taken agonizing weeks to carefully choose and pack.
When I came back with my new backpack that had cost me upwards of $30 unexpected dollars, I removed some of my few belongings from my carry-on into the new bag. This time the bag weighed 11kgs. The ticket agent shook his head and instructed me to remove more items. I walked away and feverishly removed more items. This time the bag was 9Kgs. The agent smiled while he told me to remove more items. I realized to my anguish that he was enjoying torturing me. He was not a World War II NAZI SS concentration camp guard in Germany about to send captives to the gas chambers. But this was humiliating me. I finally told him as gently as I could that at 8 Kgs my carry bag would have almost nothing in it. He may have felt some pity for me and waved me on. Later at the boarding gate I saw the same ticket agent. I asked him why he had given me such a hard time. He smiled and tried to make a joke of it. But I was not in a joking mood. I quietly walked way being afraid he might tell me this time I could not board the plane. I have learned in my life that anyone with power can find a rule that is never enforced but they may decide to enforce it on you.
The flight home was long but uneventful. When the Boeing 737 gently kissed Zambian soil at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka in the dark of night and twinkling lights, I was gripped with the usual excitement of coming home or kukaya where my soul resides. I felt the warm anticipation of seeing relatives, friends, eating Zambian food, speaking the familiar and comforting language, the blue sky, and being with the 14 million fellow Zambians on the same God given soil.
I have actually kissed the Zambian soil after landing at the airport. I have a few photos to show for it. This time it was dark on a rather chilly May night. I did not kiss the Zambian soil. The trip home is always worth the obstacles and the anxiety I always experience.