Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fambai, PI: Finding John X

It’s been a 4 day weekend in Zimbabwe, due to two consecutive holidays falling on Monday and Tuesday - Heroes Day and Defence Forces Day. Due to a last minute work trip cancellation, my hubby and I are some of the few remaining in town during this break – nearly all of our friends went away for excursions to the mountains, game parks or further afield.

A phone call on Monday morning left us a little perplexed. A manager of one of the lodges by lake Kariba called to say that a guest had just checked out the day before with his family, leaving a bag in his room containing a laptop computer, a notebook and some other bits and pieces. The manager had looked through the notebook and found my name, number and email address, and was calling me to find if I knew a – well for the sake of his anonymity, let’s call him - John, and could I kindly call him to let him know that he’d left his laptop behind. The manager did not know John’s surname or contact details and assumed that John was a friend of mine and I would be able to contact him quickly and send him back to collect his bag.

I couldn’t imagine who would leave their laptop in a hotel, but just in case, I called all the Johns I know. None of them had been to Kariba over the holiday. I then called a few other friends to see if they knew other Johns or had any suggestions on ways to track him down.


So I called the manager of the lodge and got him to look at the notebook for other clues as to John’s surname or profession. We found his surname, which still didn’t ring a bell, so I looked him up on the web, and found a link to an organisation he’s worked with in the US. I emailed them, plus a few others in his field, and made a few international calls.

I finally got his number this evening and called him, to find that he was in front of his laptop, marvelling at the barrage of international emails he’d received asking if he’d been reunited with his computer. He confessed that he’d been a bit of an idiot to leave his laptop behind in his room in the first place, remarked on my efforts to leave no stone unturned, and said that he now had a good story to tell people over a beer. He didn’t offer me one, though, which would have been polite, nor did he say thank you, but I think he was still a bit surprised that he had been able to recover all his lost goods.

Fair enough really, how many countries can you think of that would have the manager of a lodge calling people to track you down and return a lost notebook and pen and a laptop computer? Well, apart from in Switzerland I don’t think it would be that common. On a trip to the USA recently I had my credit card imprinted and the night desk manager used it to buy fuel, hamburgers, and a few other items, before I managed to cancel the card. Imagine what would have happened if I’d left my laptop behind in the room - the possibilities of identity theft would have loomed very large indeed.

And yet, in Zimbabwe, a country that has been through the mill economically and politically, in a lodge where without doubt the manager is underpaid and overworked, he still cares enough to invest his own money and time to help a guest who had already checked out without bothering to leave his name or contact details.

And in the capital city a complete stranger spends a day and half emailing people across the planet in an effort to track down the elusive John X.