The ATM machine in the Minsk airport, conveniently located in the baggage claim area, threw my card back at me. I knew I was in for trouble when the transaction was almost completed and the screen went black with “415” written in white in the top left corner. Trying not to read into this and reckoning that I had passed my limit by trying to take out 2 million Rubles, I tried again with a lower denomination. Rejected. Hoping that this was not going to be indicative of the trip, I turned to the luggage turnstile which had just begun its brisk rotation.
I waited and watched as the luggage carousel was slowly emptied of its contents. My bag was not there. After 20 minutes, I was alone in the small but spacious baggage claim area. There was one piece of luggage left, a silver hardcase suitcase with a transfer tag. This transfer tag piqued my curiosity before I knew I had to be worried. I had watched the bag circling, wondering who would transfer through Tbilisi. The airport is not a hub. Now, realizing that it was the only bag left and feeling defeated, I went to the man standing at the information desk.
“I’m missing my baggage!” I hoped that he would say there were still bags being unloaded. The silver bag came into view.
“Isn’t that your baggage?” he demanded as if I had missed the only piece of luggage left. It was not rude, this demand, although it sounded that way. I understood from my time living in Eastern Europe that he was hopeful that I had spaced out, that the lonely suitcase was my bag, and that we both would not have to fill out mountains of paperwork.
“No, I am missing my baggage.” He sighed and handed me 3 sheets of exactly the same paperwork, explained what I should write and where while he filled out the Belavia Property Irregularity Report.
Finally finished with filling out the paperwork, we went to customs where he turned me over to another man. We continued filling out several more sections of the same 3 pages as customs asked me about the contents of my luggage and the amount of money I was carrying. As I thought about some of the items that were in my bag, I almost burst into tears. A vintage Sonia Rykiel dress bought with a good friend in a second hand shop in St. Rafael, all my recently purchased make-up, and my hiking clothes–everything except the dress, I could eventually replace. What brought tears to my eyes was the loss of my toothbrush and toothpaste. After 2 hours of sleep and 8 hours of travel, the only thing that I wanted to do was brush my teeth. In a daze, I was waved on by the customs agent and walked towards the exit.
The sliding doors opened and I left the customs declaration area. Standing 5 feet away, next to an ATM, was a man with my bag propped up against his hip waiting for me. A flood of relief rushed over me.
“That’s my bag!” I ran towards him and he pushed the bag towards me, then headed out the door. He was one of a group of 10 men who had all been on a hiking tour in Georgia. Being the only backpackers, and in their haste to get home, they had piled every backpack on the arrival luggage carousel onto their trolley and walked out the door. The sliding doors opened again behind me, and I caught the customs official’s eye. I held up my bag. He nodded, smiled, and waved.
Feeling rejuvenated, I successfully took money out of the nearby ATM, and walked out of the airport, toothbrush in tow, towards the line of airport taxis feeling happy to be in Minsk.