by Nancy King
I am a shy person. I spend most of my days alone. Although it was daunting to figure out how to pack my 21-inch carry on with clothes for hot weather in Rapa Nui and Buenos Aires and freezing weather in Patagonia, dealing with more than a dozen strangers for three weeks was even more of a challenge. During the first few days of the trip I quietly mingled and occasionally exchanged stories, but it wasn’t until the group and I were in the Buenos Aires airport that I discovered there were limits to my shyness.
© Eyeidea®/istockphotoWhen I say that we were in the airport in Buenos Aires I do not mean that we were passing through, although that was our plan. We spent a full day there because no flights were leaving. Instead of canceling our flight so we could leave and make the best of the day, the airline simply said our flight was delayed, which meant we couldn’t leave the airport.
For breakfast, the airline offered free ham and cheese on white bread sandwiches and a bottle of water or soda. For a mid-morning snack, it offered free ham and cheese on white bread sandwiches. For lunch, even the most diehard among us couldn’t bear the thought of another jamon y queso sandwich and settled for water and a fried pastry. It was a long, long day.
Finally, around 7 pm the decision was made to leave the airport and I quietly followed the group and our leader to the waiting bus. When we got to our hotel to check in, we discovered the hotel had no power and couldn’t accept any guests. We were transferred to another hotel. At least it was an upgrade, the first good thing that had happened all day.
The next morning, at 6:30, we arrived at the airport to find chaos beyond my wildest imagination. People and suitcases and packages crowded every nook and cranny leaving little space to walk, much less a way to figure out where to go. No clear lines. No clear information. Many in our group spoke Spanish and kept asking, “Is this the line to Bariloche?” Each time they inquired they received a different answer. Then, as though there weren’t enough mayhem, soldiers appeared from every direction. There was a bomb scare. A box had been left on a table in the café and the area had to be cleared. Immediately! We were at the front of the demarcated line and soldiers began screaming at us to move back. Where? How? With hundreds of people behind us there was nowhere to move. Members of the group kept telling the soldiers to move the people in the back first but they just pressed and pushed us, getting us to move any way they could. Although many people complained to the soldiers, that moving was impossible. I kept quiet. I was intimidated by their presence and their power.
Watching the soldiers deal with the box was like watching a Marx Brothers film. Four men, with thick black gloves, but no protective gear, walked up to the box, stared at it, and then . . . kept staring at it. Finally, after more gawking at the box and exchanging ominous looks, one of them gingerly lifted one end open with the tip of his finger and shook his head. The others shook their heads. The crisis was over. The box probably contained the remains of someone’s breakfast.
When the soldiers gave us the sign to move, the crowd surged forward, colliding with people who had been at the end of the line and had gone out a back door to re-emerge at the front of the line. The mass of people converging in front of us pushed my group to the back. After four hours of waiting on shifting lines and plodding toward different counters we finally arrived at counter 29 where some official had told us we could check in. But, when I presented my passport to the agent behind the counter, she told me, the first in line in our group, that she couldn’t check us in, that we now had to go to counter 51.
I am a quiet person. In life, I generally go my own way; I watch rather than rant. But when the agent told me to move twenty-two counters in order to be checked in, after waiting four hours in a crowded chaotic space stuffed with people blindly trying to follow non-existent rules, I reached a boiling point I didn’t know I had. I rose to my full five feet and three inches and demanded that she check us in. The others in my group quietly applauded, and for a moment, I forgot my shyness. I became a ferocious mama tiger defending her cubs. If I do say so myself, I staged a magnificent tantrum, worthy of an Oscar as my group cheered me on. At first the agent tried to ignore me but I was reminded of the song, We Shall Not Be Moved, and took heart from it. I yelled at the agent. I told her that we would not be moved and she should bloody well take care of us. I created such a ruckus that an airline official came over to see what was happening. He looked at me as if I were a contagious disease but I kept up my tantrum, until, much to our enormous collective relief, he told the agent to check us in. More cheers from the group and a strange satisfaction in my soul.
We lost a day and a half at the airport, but I gained a new self-confidence that will accompany me in life, which is one of the most important reasons I love to travel—it impacts me in powerful and unexpected ways.
Nancy King’s most recent books are three novels: A Woman Walking, Morning Light, The Stones Speak, and a nonfiction book, Dancing With Wonder: Self-Discovery Through Stories. You can read excerpts of her books, as well as order them, on her website: www.nancykingstories.com, at local bookstores, or on Amazon. For information about her upcoming readings and workshops, please contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.