Pass the parcel: My airport mule moment

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donkey

We’ve all seen the warnings at airports but how often do we think it will happen to us? Those signs that tell you not to accept parcels from strangers, to make sure you pack your own bags and not to leave luggage unattended. So many signs, so many warnings.

And all so useless.

Let’s face it, how many of us would agree to carry a parcel when approached at an airport or elsewhere?  It’s much more likely these ‘strangers’ are miles from airports and devising subtle, sly and extremely clever plots with which to lure unsuspecting, gullibe targets. Like, for instance, offering a tour with lunch and afternoon tea provided.

There is a hostel in Luxor, Egypt full of backpackers. Luxor is famous for the Valley of the Kings and it brims with sightseers. I was immediately attracted to a tour that proffered a donkey and a local guide who would provide lunch at his house. A donkey, ancient wonders and lunch in an Egyptian village; I signed up immediately.

The next morning, two other backpackers and I were waiting enthusiastically for an adventure. Our guide didn’t disappoint and appeared outside the hostel with several donkeys in tow. We trotted off (or the donkeys did) and spent the next 6 hours exploring Valley wonders.

At the tour’s end, our guide took us to his village, introduced us to his brother, mother and a cousin who’d popped in ‘unexpectedly.’

The cousin asked us a favour.

He’d received a letter in English from a woman he’d met months earlier and he asked us to read it to him. The letter informed him of a “donation” she’d made to his bank account for his children’s schooling.

He became very agitated after we delivered this news. He said he hadn’t received it and that the thieving post office employees had stolen it.

 At this point, the tour guide disappeared (as did the cousin) and we were left in the company of his brother.

It was during the meal of beans, bread and dips that the brother then asked a favour.  He needed to send a parcel to his girlfriend in England. He regretted having to ask but, as we had already seen with his cousin, the post office employees were bound to steal his gift. His girlfriend would never receive his letter and would no doubt leave him for someone else more deserving of affection.

The brother left the room and returned 5 minutes later with a parcel wrapped in brown paper. I thought this odd but didn’t question it at the time. One of my fellow backpackers took the parcel and we bid farewell and returned to our hostel.

A few days later the backpacker with the parcel had changed his plans and wasn’t returning to the UK. He asked me to take the parcel instead. 

When I got to the airport I remembered the warnings. Carrying drugs in Egypt is heavily penalised and I realised I had no idea what was inside the parcel. If my luggage was searched and the package found and opened, I had no excuse for its contents. I didn’t even know the name of the village where we’d had lunch – let alone who the parcel was really for. It was too late to throw the parcel away as I was in line and the security guards were checking the bags in front of me. A few anxious minutes ensued. Did I look suspicious? Would I be searched and hauled off to an Egyptian prison? Would I ever see my family again? How could I have been so stupid? However, the security guards waved me through.

On the plane – an old propeller driven Romanian aircraft – the flight attendants prayed as we took off.  This was even more disconcerting and for the remainder of the flight I thought we were either going to crash or my baggage would be checked at Heathrow. Luckily, the plane (and the package) made it and I posted it soon after landing – glad to be rid of it.

I realised I had been lucky. I also thought the airport signage needed to change to more accurately reflect potential threats. They should read, ‘Beware tour guides on donkeys, particularly if they have a brother.’

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About the author

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.


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