International travel has an amazing capacity to focus one’s attention on the challenges of aging. Confronting delayed flights, non-existent customer care, eight-hour flights, missing baggage, and language difficulties when trying to resolve problems can lead to a great deal of frustration, especially at the end of a long and tiring day.
Our problems began with a flight scheduled for 5:15 p.m. that did not depart until about 6:45. The safe window we had built into the itinerary to make our connection in Detroit for the flight to Paris was reduced to about forty minutes. When we arrived in Detroit, we sat on the tarmac for ten minutes or so until arrival personnel were available and the necessary “paper work” was completed. It seemed to me that perhaps during the delay caused by mechanical problems, some attention could have been given to expediting the disembarkation process when the flight arrived to facilitate the change to other gates for passengers arriving late. Finally liberated, we frantically double-timed it from Concourse C to Concourse A, and managed to find our seats a few minutes before the door was closed. Unfortunately, our bags must have been less motivated than we to get out of Detroit and evidently preferred to take a later flight as we would later discover.
The flight to Paris was fairly benign, and we even managed to sleep some during the eight hours or so available to us. Since we departed from Detroit about an hour and a half before midnight, we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport about 1:30 in the afternoon. Regrettably, that airport requires all passengers to be rescreened through security even if no terminal change is required. That requirement contributed to our frustration later when we discovered that Denise’s ubiquitous orthopedic cushion that helps her cope with her chronic back pain had been left on the plane. My inability to retrieve it led to my comments about the “customer care” mentioned earlier.
Arriving in Casablanca after another three hour flight, we verified the baggage had in fact not made it to Morocco and thus began the administrative exercise in trying to retrieve them. One of the two did appear yesterday, but the other’s location is still unknown. Maybe that suitcase has in fact seen “Paree” and no longer wants to stay on the farm.
Perhaps 25 years or so ago when we began this yearly experience in North Africa, we would have handled the frustration and anxiety better. I am sure my Mother would have reminded me that no one forces us to travel. Fortunately, there are redemptive experiences, though simple in nature, which occur that remind us of the value of being here.
The train from the airport to our hotel, a real convenience, did not leave for 45 minutes or so after we had completed our discussions with the lost baggage folks. We sat down in the little restaurant located there and had café au lait and croissants. A waitress who had been sweeping the floor saw us get up to leave and came over to take our cups and plates. Denise thanked her in Arabic and then offered the appropriate phrase, roughly pronounced “Lla ounik” that is spoken when someone has done something simple for you, but helpful, like waiting on you in a store. Translated it means God help you, or God be with you. The waitress smiled and replied in Arabic “God bless you.”
There is something special about the acceptance felt when you know just a little bit of another’s heart language. As we departed, the woman said “salama” to Denise and I felt a certain sense of pride as I watched her eyes follow Denise leaving, the broad smile still on her face. That sort of connection is another type of reality, one that doesn’t seem to change with advancing age.