Hello from 32,000 feet! I’m en route to Oklahoma City by way of Munich and Chicago after getting in and out of Delhi without incident. Rather than leave Bhiwani at 2 a.m. to drive to the airport, we lobbied for a hotel stay nearer to the tarmac. There are too many wacky variables in India to attempt a 3-hour drive to the airport in the middle of the night. Surely we would’ve blown a tire, hit a cow, gotten hopelessly lost, had our luggage fly off of the roof of the van, or some combination thereof. Perhaps a camel would’ve gotten involved. I can’t really be sure.
We’d all acquired pounds upon pounds of gifts (there’s a Hindu saying, ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah,’ or ‘Guest is God,’ and Indians truly live it) and souvenirs (we shopped, and we shopped well), so we knew that all five of us needed to be together to sort and redistribute items to various pieces of luggage. When it was all said and done we’d shed our old clothes, India-worn shoes, and half-full bottles of shampoo to lighten our loads, all the while adding things here and there to each other’s baggage that wouldn’t fit elsewhere.
Our last meal in India was what became a delicacy to us over our four weeks abroad: Dominos Pizza. We toasted the end of an unforgettable four weeks, took hot showers (!), and collapsed into bed before rising and shining for our 6:00 a.m. call time in the hotel lobby.
India, I want you to know, is a place were nothing is ever simple. Were you aware, for example, that a person can’t enter the airport in Delhi unless they’re a passenger? Say your goodbyes at the curb, ladies and gentlemen, because you need a ticket to get through those automatic doors.
We weren’t advised of this, forcing us to search a yards-long, dot-matrix-printed list for our names to prove that yes, we were in fact going to be boarding a plane. Navigating poorly labeled ticket counters, not being told to fill out the necessary forms before standing and waiting, waiting to pass through passport control, only to be sent back to where we started, having carry-ons checked and checked again, getting frisked rather, well, thoroughly — it’s all part of the international travel game, but at 6:30 a.m. none of it is particularly enjoyable. And also it mostly tends to raise your blood pressure.
I lined up to move through security at the same time as a weathered and weary woman, 60 at least, and if her cargo pants and hiking shoes were any indication, a seasoned traveler. She rose slowly from her airport-issued wheelchair, neck in a brace, being assisted by an employee. I invented the cause of her injury (car accident, naturally, because driving in India is pure insanity) and her nationality (German, by the sound of her accent) as we stood waiting for our items to be x-rayed once, twice, three times.
As they tested our patience, two security officers came to her and asked if she had scissors in her bag. No, she half-whispered, she did not.
“Small scissors?” they persisted.
I watched her mind turn, searching. Then realization washed over her face, and finally completely and totally defeated, tears were running down her cheeks.
Extracted from her bag were tiny scissors from a $3 sewing kit, the inch-tall kind that don’t fit on the fingers of anyone except for maybe an infant or an elf, and besides that can’t cut anything, not even the thread they’re packaged with. The fork they serve your meal with on the plane could do more damage. Harmless though they were, they wouldn’t pass by the gun-toting security at Indira Gandhi International Airport. I worked to shove my camera and laptop into my backpack, simultaneously digging for a tissue.
I stood next to her, touching her shoulder when she’d finally been left mostly alone (and newly scissor-less), handing her the folded Kleenex. Her mouth turned to a smile as she thanked me. I twisted towards the terminal, walking away dabbing at my own eyes, because the easily verklempt such as myself involuntarily match anyone overwhelmed with emotion.
It was welcome perspective. My early-morning frustrations were trivialized. I’m not traveling in a neck brace. I didn’t get in a traumatic accident while in India. I’m not alone, trying to communicate with people who don’t speak my language. I’m going home, and maybe it’s to a blizzard, but it’ll be a blizzard I deal with while in one piece.
But wait, I’m not done! I’ll fill you in on our final days in India (Bhiwani, our last stop, which included an elephant sighting and a camel ride but lacked internet access and consistent hot water), and all sorts of other things a bit later.
Here’s a preview: