In my time I have had some crazy trips trying to get to gigs on time …. But the gig in Malta seemed to be THE GIG which the world was against us getting to.
When Tara told me we may have an up and coming bellydance gig in Malta, I didn’t care that I was in Egypt, my answer was YES! The gig was for a combination of bellydance and whirling (tanoura) for a Turkish themed week which a new Bar in Malta was holding. Not only would I have a nice get away with my beautiful friend Tara, but also some much needed whirling performance practice – I love to whirl but rarely get the chance to perform.
I was going to get there no matter what. At first, it all seemed so simple. I would buy a cheap flight back to the UK a couple of days before flying out to Malta with Tara and return to Egypt a couple of days after our return to London. Compared to the pay for the gig the flights were nothing and had the added bonus of me seeing my mum for a few days in the UK either side of the gig – perfect!
When I told Farah Nasri, in Cairo, that I was flying back to the UK she asked me if I could take some of her old costumes back. Some dancers had shown an interest in buying them from her but she was uneasy about sending them from Egypt. From this a plan hatched. When I was back I could have an Open House event on Saturday and Sunday, sell some of Farah’s costumes, catch up with loads of people I had been missing in the UK and even sell a few items from Zara’s Zouk before flying out Monday morning to Malta. It seemed the most perfect plan. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?!?! I made a Facebook event for the Open House and announced my return.
Well it turns out A LOT could go wrong – being an international dancer was not as straight forward as I had hoped…
Thursday Evening: Cairo to Rome (and supposedly Rome to London)
Well, I arrived at Cairo airport – the Uber taxi journey there turned out to be the only part to go smoothly.
The first sign of any difficulty was trying to get my bags to the check in desk. Wonky bag trolley aside this was not easy. I had several dance swords in my bag. I was taking them home for the Open House. My bags went through the metal detectors and alarm beeps sounded – loud and clear! Then about an hour’s discussion with the security guards began as to why I was travelling with swords and why I needed 4. Various people in the airport were called, my passports taken and read …… They all looked clueless as to what to do! Finally, one asked me what I worked as – I told them I was a Doctor, and pulled out my driver’s licence which has my official title: Dr Zara…. Suddenly things changed. Apparently there was no longer any reason to worry as to why I was carrying swords; I mean a doctor is trustworthy, right? And hey, I was allowed to go through with all my bags –swords and all! Well, if there was ever a motivation for doing a PhD there it was: you can get through airports with bellydance swords! LOL
After that stressful encounter I still had to worry about the baggage check in. I knew my bags were overweight. My hand luggage was 20kg alone which was 12kg over weight… let’s not even begin with my check in bags. I could see people in front of me being forced to leave items behind, or pay extra for excess baggage…. Ahhh, how much was I going to need to pay? The thought churned my stomach. Why had I tried to save money and not just booked an extra bag in when I did my online check in?
As I approach the check in desk the guy seemed less interested in my baggage and more concerned about my flight connection (Rome to London). “We are running a little late on our flight. Your connection will be tight but I am sure you will make it.” IF ONLY I KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW. He didn’t seem to care that my bags were massively overweight; he just let them through.
I thought I was lucky! Little did I know he already knew the hell that awaited me! Letting my bags through was a small token of an apology.
My flight from Cairo to Rome was delayed by over four hours. Four hours! Rome had been experiencing EXTREAMLY bad rain storms. I missed my connecting flight by miles. They put me on the next flight which was early the next morning (better than what many were given; my stern demands ensured I was getting to London a lot sooner than most!) and I had been checked in to a Marriot hotel for the night – I was devastated. My biggest concern, at this point, was missing my nail appointment, booked for early Friday morning. I hadn’t had my nails done in ages and half of them were falling off! They needed doing for the Malta gig. I also wouldn’t have as much time to prepare for the Open House but it was ok. I emailed my mum and went to sleep.
Little did I know a lot more stress was to follow. Not helped by my period deciding to start early.
Friday: Rome to London
The flight the next morning was also delayed…. By over 3 hours: because wait for it: the tunnel connecting the gate to the flight wasn’t lit properly to conform to health and safety guidelines ?! As time passed and nothing changed we were eventually allowed to use it anyway!? Once on the plane it transpired that the toilets in economy were not working which meant the whole of the plane had to use one toilet which was prioritised for business class! Had to be the time of the month when I just needed the toilet – grrrr!
When I arrived, late, in the UK the real stress started!
My bags didn’t arrive! Full of Farah Nasri’s designer bellydance costumes - the main feature of the Open House. WHAT? Where were my bags? Why oh why was this happening to me? The contents of the bags were worth loads of money and I had a LOT of dancers ready to descend on my house the following day to look at these costumes?! AND, just as scarily, I had several costumes and props in the bags which Tara and I needed for Malta. Things we couldn’t easily find replacements for. My heart sank to a new low......
What would I say to Farah? To Tara?
All I was given at the baggage hall was a reference number and told to go home and I’d be emailed if they came to light. WHAT?! I left the baggage hall crying my eyes out with just my hand luggage, which subsequently led to me being pulled aside by border control and being heavily harassed.
“Why are you crying?”
“Where have you come from?”
“What is in your hand luggage?”
“How long have you been away?”
I lost my patience and got into a horrible argument with them and I strongly accused them of being bullies. Finally, when I was allowed out of the airport I found that my phone and UK sim refused to work. I couldn’t call anyone to tell them I had arrived and arrange a lift. I nearly had a breakdown … Luckily I picked up free wifi and managed to contact my brother on Facebook and got him to contact my mum and she picked up an exhausted and tired me after what felt like a very long, long, long tube journey.
That evening I called the baggage department at Heathrow again and again to ask if they had found out anything, only to be told their system wasn’t working and that they could do nothing. They seriously did not care about how stressful it was for me and my situation.
On top of that I got even worse news. Tara was stranded! She had organised a fitness holiday in Greece and the Greek airport staff had decided to go on strike. She had no clue if or how she was going to get home on time to fly out on Monday to our Malta gig.
That night I couldn’t sleep.
Saturday: first day of Open House
The next morning I was scared. I continued to call the airport… only to be told that the baggage system was still down. I couldn’t believe it. Farah called me from Egypt. She told me to persist: she had lost baggage before and her advice: PERSIST STERNLY AND YOU WILL GET THE BAGS. But time was running out. The Open House was in a few hours time and I had very little to open the house for!
I decided to give in and admit defeat…. I cancelled the Open House publicly on Facebook … I was devastated – Maybe I had taken on too much. I am always juggling a lot, especially when it comes to bellydance: my gigs, travel, agency and souk. Many may think I just want it all and hey maybe this time I had bitten off more than I could chew.
The moment I sent out news that the event had been changed to just the Sunday, I picked up the phone and tried again to get the bags. Regardless of the Open House I needed to retrieve those designer costumes… I couldn’t afford to replace them! Maybe it was the complete anger in my voice from having to cancel my event but a lead. I refused to let this person on the end of the phone, claiming the system was down, go until he gave me something - SOME LEAD ON MY BAGS!
He gave me an internal number which really he was not allowed to give out.
I called it. The guy on the other end spent the first 10mins of the call refusing to answer anything I asked and demanded I tell him how I had got this internal number. I couldn’t divulge my source. Then, I remembered a trick a good friend of my mum had taught me. Men can’t stand crying women and will do anything to stop them crying. I started to cry on the phone begging the guy to somehow help. His tone changed. He took my baggage details and said hold on and that he would call me back in 5mins.
Five min later he called me and guess what? HE HAD FOUND MY BAGS! Ahhh, a mixture of relief and also anger hit me. After all, if it was that easy why hadn’t I got to this point earlier? They had gone to another terminal but he would have them brought over and I could go right then to pick them up.
People had already started knocking on the door.... some had not got the message that the event had been cancelled. They were at the door at 11am on the dot! I apologised and said I would be back ASAP from Heathrow with the costumes – I posted on Facebook that the event was now going ahead. How embarrassing and unprofessional I must have looked. I then begged my brother to drive me the 1hr 30min to Heathrow and then back with the bags but the journey took a lot longer than expected as there was a massive accident on the motorway.
When I finally got my bags I was so relieved. … but of course it wasn’t that simple.
When I got home I was welcomed by LOADS of dancers! it was so nice to see them. None were bothered I was late. They were all enjoying sitting around with my mum and each other and catching up on the gossip in the bellydance world. Even those who had arrived at 11am were still around. I was so happy!
Then, I opened the bags. Were they joking? They were soaked through and musty (they had obviously been left out in the rain storm in Italy). Luckily, all of Farah’s and my costumes were fine as they were in plastic bags. But loads of nuts, which I had brought to share, and all of my personal clothing were wrecked!
Hey, the Open House was a massive success. A lot of Farah’s costumes sold within hours. And lots of Zara’s Zouk stock went too. People were there until well past midnight and it was fun!
I went to bed exhausted.
Sunday: second day of Open House
Good news - a call came from Tara saying she was on her way! She’d make it for Malta! She had somehow managed to get on to another flight but she would arrive on Monday just a few hours before we took off for Malta!
Again, I had to leave the Open House to my mum.
I had to get the key to Tara’s home from a friend, who was going to her flat to feed her fish, so I could go in and pack Tara’s bag including all of our whirling costumes, our matching costumes and her personal clothing for us to meet at the airport on Monday. We had been contracted for 5 sets each night with props for 6 days. That was 30 performances which I needed to pack for. I couldn’t even think what I needed, let alone Tara!
When I got back home once again there were lots of people at the Open House!! It was thankfully all going well regardless of my stress – I told everyone of my crazy story and of Tara’s and managed to talk to everyone who came. That evening, once again, people were at the house until the early hours. Everyone was so warm, supportive and friendly. It was a lovely feeling.
Monday and Malta
Monday morning and Tara arrived earlier than expected! She had time to come home. The bags were packed and we went to Heathrow and flew to Malta without any issues. WE MADE IT!!
Luckily the gig in Malta, despite the chaos before it and the crazy stress both Tara and I had been through to get there, went really well. We were put up in a beautiful apartment only a 5min walk from the venue: The Jazz Café. The staff were friendly and we were in the party capital of the island. Every day we went for a swim in the sea and after our bellydance shows and whirling performances we went out and hit the town to enjoy the night life.
A highlight was when Mary, a bellydance friend from the UK who was visiting the island, came to watch us perform one evening. It was so, so lovely to see her and her husband.
I loved catching up with Tara too. I hadn’t seen her for quite some time.
Our flight home was also smooth. We even had the opportunity to use up the last of our Euros in the airport for a very much needed go on a couple of massage chairs …. Oh how we deserved those massages! LOL