My Tearfund driver, Teddy, knowing Ethiopian culture better than me, decided that telephoning the airport to inquire about my lost bag was a waste of time. So he headed off to the airport himself and returned to the hotel to tell me that he had located my lost bag. Both of us went back to the airport, negotiated the security, and Teddy led to the office where my bag was being stored. As I was exiting the airport feeling somewhat elated, a woman called after me. “Sir”, she cried, “where did you find your bag?” We got into conversation and I discovered that she and her French husband and two children had travelled to Addis Ababa from Paris via Amsterdam four days previously, but their baggage with essential medication for their children had gone missing and they were in despair. I sympathised with them, and as the conversation developed discovered that the French husband was a season ticket holder for the French rugby club, Stade Francais. My affection and concern for him and his family suddenly increased several notches as we quickly compared the fortunes of Ulster Rugby and the aristocrats of French rugby during last season. For a moment the lost bags were forgotten. Eventually I bade them a sombre farewell with an encouraging “Alllez les Bleus” as I exited the airport.
Today, as I rendezvoused with my Christian Aid colleagues in a hotel in Addis Ababa, who did I see but my friendly and forlorn French family. We greeted each other like long lost friends and my Stade Francais friend beamed, “I got my bags today!”. Here’s the interesting part. His bags had gone from Paris to Amsterdam to Nairobi to, wait for it, Sao Paulo, and then eventually to Addis Ababa. We shrugged our shoulders at the inefficiencies and creativity of KLM’s baggage handling operation, but rejoiced that he and his bags had been re-united. We wished each other well for the up-coming Heineken Cup season and said goodbye. I was so relieved that I had this second encounter, and thought that while we had been united in a common loss this past week, normal hostilities will be renewed come the autumn. C’mon Ulster!