Hanna Fernando-Pacua (PHILIPPINES) temporarily leaves her comfort zone to travel, serve, and perform around the world in five months. She hopes to share with you this very meaningful experience.

Up with People provides students with an extraordinary semester of traveling the world. As a student your perspectives on the world will never be the same. UWP is for that certain student who's looking for an intense, hands-on, involved global educational experience. The program addresses the very real need for young adults and leaders who have global perspectives, intercultural understanding, knowledge of worldwide social issues, leadership skills and a dedication to community service. For more information, visit www.upwithpeople.org.

HANNA's SATTELITE SITE and GALLERY (+ photos, videos, calendar) http://www.bananaspinuwp.multiply.com/

Friday, 11 January 2008

Overweight in Brussels

Yes, I gained 12 pounds during the trip, but this is not about that. I would have called this entry “Mga Bagong Bayani” but the thought of being overweight amused me.

I would have included this story in my Pinoy blog entry but this deserved its own space.

I went home to the Philippines a couple of nights earlier ahead of the cast. I missed our biggest show in Europe (I heard more than 2,000 people watched, including VIP sponsors and it was also the first one that had cocktail tables and champagne) and our best guest performer (Sandrine, who was like the “Belgian Idol”) and had to ride the train from Leuven to Brussels with all my luggage.

The best part about it was that I can have 2 pieces of luggage at 20 kilos each because it was an international flight. Normally, if I was traveling with the whole group, I was allowed only ONE piece of checked in luggage, then the other slot would be for UWP equipment. Since I was alone, and the equipment was still in use, I had the go signal to use my luggage allowance. It was stress free packing!

So I made it through the train ride and dragged my suitcase and backpack and shoulder bag to the check-in counter. I was so happy because it was still 2 hours till boarding and I can still have a leisurely time walking to my departure gate. Only to find out that I had to pay 600 Euro for an extra 23 kilos – my blood ran cold.

Turns out that the flight from Brussels to Frankfurt will be on a small plane and couldn’t accommodate more than 20 kilos per passenger! It doesn’t matter how many bags, as long as they add up to 20 kilos. I told her that I will be on the connecting flight from Frankfurt – ChinaManila and that I should have the international luggage allowance. No, she’s sorry. Brussels-Frankfurt is 20 kilos. Cross-continent flights, 40 kilos. I wished UWP ended its tour in Frankfurt!

I only had 15 Euro left in my pocket, and I was not about to use my credit card to pay for extra luggage. Lufthansa even had a weight limit for ONE carry on (not two pieces, like most American flights) and my laptop just about made the limit, so it was impossible for me to unload some suitcase stuff to my carry on.

In the middle of the Brussels airport, I opened my suitcase and surveyed its contents. With a heavy heart, I filled a plastic bag with some of my clothes, my toiletries, scarves, some books and magazines that I accumulated. All these went to the lost and found bin at the airport.

One hour until boarding time, I was back in line for the check in counter – they weighed my suitcase and this time I was 450 Euro overweight. I noticed a group of Pinoys at the end of the line and acknowledged them with a brief smile – but I did not have enough sanity to think about my Pinoy-quest game. Sigh. I really wanted to cry – I did not have 450 Euro, but then I could not bear the thought of leaving my valuables behind. In my suitcase taking up space and weight are sentimental stuff and some pasalubong I collected along the way and I really did not want to part with them. 5 months of travel can get really heavy.

30 minutes until boarding time, I was beside the check-in counter. The long lines were gone because check-in was about to close. Again, I had a small plastic bag already filled with valuables that I was about to throw away, I was holding on to it tightly. I was silently praying, I don’t know for what – for divine intervention, for a smart decision.

Then suddenly,

Kabayan, ano ang problema?

A group of Filipinos, the same ones at the end of the line, were obviously very late for check in. The attendant at the counter was hurriedly processing their papers and was about to close. She was talking to the Pinoy’s Flemish boss.

I explained my predicament to the 3 seafarers (seamen) and they were surprised with the luggage allowance. It turns out that seafaring companies have agreements with airlines about UNLIMITED baggage allowances since their employees travel for at least 9 months. Before I knew it, their Flemish boss was asking me if I wanted to check in my luggage with them.

The lady at the check-in counter told us that once we do that, it will be all our responsibility already, but I can see that she was also happy for me! I was ecstatic and couldn’t stop thanking everyone! It was less than 20 minutes until our boarding time and we said goodbye to the Flemish boss and practically ran to our gate. We made it! And I made 3 new friends in the queerest of circumstances.

The flight was amazingly quick and once we were in Frankfurt, we were joined by a lot more Pinoys on the flight to Manila. There were a lot of greetings of “Kabayan! Saan ka sa atin?” and I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. When the plane touched down in Manila, the passengers cheered. Most of them were seafarers who are excited to be spending Christmas at home.

What happened to me in Brussels was really a miraculous thing – I prayed for intervention and God gave me my heroes in the form of 3 seamen who were almost late for the flight. What if they were on time? Nobody would have saved me!

A million thanks ! Kina Mr. Hilario Caspe, Mr. Boy Villanueva at sa kanilang isa pang kaibigan. Alam kong masayang masaya po kayo at nakapiling ninyo ang inyong pamilya nitong nakaraang Pasko at Bagong Taon. Nawa'y maging masaya ang inyong 2008!

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