Packages - a work in progress
A year and half ago I boarded an Uzbek Air flight at JFK. Final destination: Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I was dragging with me: a dog - YES - a dog, 2 large suitcases, and 1 stuffed backpack. After trying to calm Milo in his crate and digging for my passport, I take a split-second to look up and out at the growing check-in counter line and all I see are people of all shapes, ages and sizes and their — packages.
Packages bound tight in plastic.
Packages tied up in garbage bags.
Packages taped together with scotch tape.
Packages tossed into shopping bags.
Packages repackaged and repackaged again in a desperate attempt to meet the weight restrictions.
I stood amazed for maybe 30 seconds and then realized the familiarity of this scene. Every year - for all I can remember - my relatives would stand in lines just like this one. Toting large 55lb. boxes. They may not have been oddly shaped or mysteriously packed, but they were packages nonetheless.
Carefully thought out packages for the journey home. Cans of spam and corned beef amongst school shoes for my cousins and Kirkland Signature white t-shirts for my uncles. Maybe some perfume or some nice bathroom towels for my aunties. The lines, while long, were devoid of any real chaos and the passengers well prepared with their neat, 90 degree, cubes. We know every step to this dance and are usually able to finish the number without stepping on anybody’s toes.
By strict comparison - my relatives and the millions part of the Filipino diaspora have had decades more of practicing this dance over Uzbek travelers. The breakup of the Soviet Union was only 20 years ago, meaning that the ability to afford travel - and the infrastructure to do it - is all relatively new. In fact, I don’t even think there is a place here in Tashkent where you can buy a box like the “balikbayan” size my relatives use. So instead they improvise, with whatever material they can come up with. Moreover, whatever that’s in those packages were not necessarily meant for relatives back home, but most likely for sale at the bazaar - a consequence of a young, developing economy and a more stable black market.
Recently, I was at the Istanbul airport waiting for my connecting flight back to Tashkent. The gate agent looked wearily at the passengers and their odds and ends purchased in Turkey and started to tag each extra bag to check-in at the gate. I marveled at the sea of packages, knowing that it would probably mean a long night at the Tashkent carousel waiting for my bag to emerge. But I understood the method to the madness because despite the stark differences in the way the packages are packed, just like me and my relatives, they were on their way home.