And Then…

I am one of those people who arrives at the airport about five hours in advance. I like to avoid stress whenever it is possible to do so. Hence, I leave with plenty of time in case of traffic, in case I’ve forgotten something critical, in case the driver takes me to the wrong terminal, in case I can’t get my phone to produce my reservation code, in case the airline can’t find the reservation code, or in case of multiple glitches, even minor ones – all of which have happened to me at one time or another.

I arrived at the Johannesburg airport, O.R. Tambo Airport, at about 5:30 a.m. for my 10:00 a.m. flight to Ivato International Airport, in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

O.R. Tambo Airport is a reasonably nice airport. The Emerald Guesthouse where I was staying is near the airport (but not under the flight path, except for one daily flight) and ran a regular shuttle to drop off and retrieve guests. The airport had restaurants and a decent, small Woolworths grocery store, so it was handy for me to hop on the shuttle and get dinner in the early evening during the few nights I was in Johannesburg. The Guesthouse area was otherwise residential, and, while the people were very nice, their food was not great.

The idea of spending four hours in the airport was fine with me. There were shops and restaurants and a bookstore (always good for an hour or two,) so I arrived early. I took care of changing my extra rand (the South African currency) into U.S. dollars, checking on my flight (on schedule,) and then stopped in the restroom before proceeding to the local coffee shop serving espresso.

It was when I started going through my daypack to find my wallet that I noticed my phone was not there. I looked through it twice more, finally taking everything out and putting it on the table until the bag was visibly empty. I had my wallet, I had my camera, I had everything – except my phone.

I shoved my wallet, camera, etc., back into my pack, grabbed my suitcase, and walked quickly straight to the restroom where I had been. I realized that when I checked my mail on my phone, I set it down on top of the TP holder, and then washed my hands and walked away without it.

I edged through the cluster of housekeeping staff at the entrance to the restroom and checked the stall where I had been. Nothing. I checked all the other stalls, but still nothing. I could hardly believe it. I had had that phone for about five years (I don’t upgrade instantly) and had never left it anyplace before, except one time in Upstate New York. I asked the staff if they had seen my phone, but the people still standing there said they hadn’t seen it.

I spent the next couple of hours reporting the phone lost to the information desk, talking with the airport police, and checking and re-checking the airport’s lost and found. I kept hoping some good person had found it and would turn it in. Everyone I talked with was very nice, but no one turned my phone in.

Eventually, I had to get on the plane to Madagascar. I was coping, but it was hard. It was my iPhone, and it had my contacts list. I used it to check emails and What’s App messages. Sometimes it was a handier camera than my DSLR, so there were photos on it. Because of the unreliability of African internet service, not all of the photos were backed up to iCloud, or even to my iPad.

I still had my iPad. I had gotten into the habit of downloading my camera’s memory card to my iPad each evening, so I had those photos. They had not all backed up to the cloud, either, but I had the iPad and my memory card. The missing photos were the more spontaneous kind, the selfies, the “quick before they disappear” animal shots, photos from museums that didn’t allow DSLR cameras, but allowed mobile phone cameras because how could they stop them, and at least two photos I had promised to email to fellow travelers.

Luck was just not with me that day. The flight I was on had taken off, then about twenty minutes later it had to return to O.R. Tambo because of a problem with the emergency exit door. Apparently the seal around the door was leaking. I was sitting two rows back from it, and I could see the flight attendants looking closely at a gauge on the door. I assume it was a pressure reading of some kind. They moved the people in those first two rows to seats in the back of the plane. Okay, then. If the door blows, will I have time to brace myself?

We landed without incident, however, and it was unknown when we would be taking off again, so no one was allowed to leave the gate area. I sat down with my iPad and realized that I had a “Find My Phone” app. I should have thought of it before, but I’d never had to use it. I entered all of the information, and waited.

It took a few minutes, but it came up with a location! Technology is amazing. In another few minutes, it had the street address. It was close to the airport, too. This made me suspect the housekeeping staff, but, in fairness, who knows? I emailed the information to the policewoman to whom I had reported the missing phone.

She and I stayed in touch by email, even after I arrived in Antananarivo, because I would be returning to Johannesburg after my visit to Madagascar. She said that she did go to the address, and the address belonged to three apartment buildings with twenty units each. It was then that I knew I was never going to get the phone back. I used the “erase” feature in the Find My Phone app, and wiped it clean.

I sent a message thanking her for her efforts, but I understood that it was a dead end, thanks anyway, have a nice life. The police officer then emailed me to see if I was interested in writing about her life story. I allowed as how I was mainly a travel writer, and someone else would be better suited to writing about her adventures. I may have passed up a best-seller, you never know, but I wanted to put the whole episode behind me.

Forward, into Madagascar.

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