Let the freak out commence.
This kid arrives at the Delhi airport feeling good. I’m two hours in advance of my flight — the hotel staff assured me it would be plenty of time — and I proceed with passport and itinerary in hand, asking various security personnel for directions to the appropriate desk.
Of course, this is for some reason not an efficient method of finding the right line to stand in at the Delhi airport and it takes me three tries to get to the right place. In the meantime, I notice that I have somehow misplaced my watch, which has an annoying velcro strap — meaning that it can’t have fallen off; I must have misplaced it. For the record, I still haven’t found it.
In any case, having no watch, but feeling somewhat nervous, I stand in the most enormous line I have seen in an airport since maybe I was 8 years old going to Belize with my parents and we had to get through customs in Guatemala when it was, um, possibly more dangerous there, or maybe it was just the way an airport works in particular countries. The enormous line makes me feel increasingly nervous, but I try to hold it together. They are calling flights headed to some specific locations — Katmandu is one of them — and pulling people out of the enormous line in order to get them checked in more quickly. I think, ok this is good for me because it means that they’ll call Milan before it becomes excessively urgent or maybe just when it becomes urgent. And I try to breathe deeply, practicing my best Buddhist self there in the enormous line in the Delhi airport. Then the man calling destinations calls Milan and I shoot my hand into the air, trying to make my way out of the line that bends back and forth like a snake in that old computer game where the snake eats the apples and grows longer and you have to keep doubling back and forth on yourself.
Yeah, so I get out of line. And the guy tells me to go to this particular kiosk. But there’s a huge family there. We’re talking eight or nine people large. I am not getting in front of them, so I go back to the guy and he tells me to go to the kiosk next to them. There’s a big woman there with her baby, who is cute and has a broken finger taped to her other fingers and the clerk is helping this woman, and it seems like it is taking ages, but finally he takes my passport and itinerary.
He types something and then looks up at me. This flight is closed, he says.
Maybe I have not properly expressed my anxiety up until this point, but let me say now that I was feeling very worried. That I was trying to behave in a socially appropriate manner, but my lack of time piece and failure to find the appropriate line time and again had been wearing on me and then the enormousness of the line that I finally found myself in had really taken my nerves into a new level of tension. I put my hands on the counter and I think that my eyes may have, um, brimmed with tears. I did not cry because I don’t like that as a tactic, even when it’s entirely natural. But I was overwhelmed with panic. So I tried to plead with him. I told him I had waited in three lines, that I had asked everyone I could think of to ask for help and he just sort of looked at me and typed something else and then the boy standing behind him taking checked luggage asked for my checked luggage.
It wasn’t entirely clear what was unfolding, but it was clear that I was going to at least get to the next stage of this process. He handed back my passport with a boarding pass tucked inside and sent me toward the customs clearance and security. Some men let me pass them in line — it was kind — and then I felt a few tears trickle out before the next customs agent was available to ascertain I had the appropriate documents. When I approached the counter he commented that I still had a lot of time and I said, I had thought so too but they told me the flight was closed.
He was sympathetic. He shrugged and stamped my passport and handed everything back to me and sent me through security, which went incredibly quickly. From there I sprinted through the Delhi airport, feeling that my mouth was dry from stress and still worried that somehow I wouldn’t make the flight.
Of course, when I arrived at my gate, they were still boarding.
And when I got on the airplane, we sat for about half an hour, motionless at the gate, and then another ten minutes we waited for the last passenger to arrive. This caused the plane to take off about fifteen or twenty minutes later than it was supposed to. Maybe it should be my lesson about Delhi — they won’t fly without you if you manage to get checked in?
Anyway, I felt it all worked out because I had four middle seats to myself on our massive plane. Although the massive plane was filled with a massive number of families with small children who screamed and cried intermittently for most of the flight such that I mostly felt the agony of an auntie who wants to make everyone stop crying and go to sleep peacefully. But even without sleep, it was more comfortable than it would have been. And now I am Milan and I am staying in a hotel because I’m a big girl and decided to. So it’s all good.
No need to panic. Just breathe and focus on the Dalai Lama.
Last night, my mom left for the airport at 10:30 and I was left to fend for myself until my later flight departs.
With a strange sense of closure, I have ended where I began — in the same hotel, writing a blog post, trying to think about what it means to have been here (as opposed to thinking about what it means to be here), and waiting, waiting for a taxi (before it was my mother) to leave.
India is extraordinary. It is unlike Argentina or Greece or home or Scotland, or anywhere else I may have compared it to. The particular issue of Tibetan refugees in India is astounding. The plethora of cultures and religions and people living and working together, and the stark nature of the inequalities visible alongside one another — these things feel different to me. I am sure it is not different than everywhere. Of course, countries may be unique, but they are diverse within as well. Spending five days in Delhi was something like spending five days in Dharamsala, but the hardness of city life has not spread to Dharamsala, and the presence of monks transforms a setting.
Aaagh. I sound so pretentious, trying to describe any piece of this place in broad strokes. With barely any time here. And no Hindi comprehension at all.
Anyway. I was here. Thank you, India.
Staying with relatives of relatives or family friends or distant acquaintances in foreign countries is just like living in a homestay during your semester or summer abroad. They are people who feel responsible for you. People who feel they should mother and teach you, beyond housing you.
You must be cautious not to offend and yet, for peace of mind, you must retain clarity about your needs and desires. It may feel selfish occasionally, but this is your opportunity to explore and understand. Your host family is not the only cultural representative available and probably represents only one specific aspect of the place you are visiting. Expanding your perspective requires balancing patience with plans to execute. It requires flexibility in general and firmness about specific things – like food.
(It is ok to say “no butter, please”). (It is not ok to say “only peanut butter, please”).
We must remember all the time how hard it is to understand one another: sometimes even when we speak the same language. We must consider what our host wants, hopes, expects. Sometimes those expectations are unreasonable (like the host mother in Argentina who became angry when I forgot to wipe out the sink after washing my hands because it left a water stain on the metal or the other Argentine host mother who insisted my mattress had no fleas even when I woke up with triplets of red welts on my face). Other expectations are reasonable. Most of the time expectations are reasonable. And most of the time we should be grateful, because we are lucky to glimpse another’s life so intimately and because we are lucky to be forgiven our many faux pas.
With family or friends, it is even closer, and maybe you will miss your grandmother or your uncle because your host recalls them to your mind’s eye. You may find your patience increased or decreased by this connection. More likely it will be increased because there is distance and your affection surfaces.
Also, it is different than the hotel or the tight schedule of sheer tourism. In a home, nothing can really be disguised only for you. The hospitality is immense and (fortunately) cannot include unlimited air conditioning or endless meal options (unless you are visiting the extremely wealthy). Instead, you are forced to live and experience and be present as the Buddha and the Dalai Lama who Tibetans adore. (I have only once visited someone in the upper-most echelon of a foreign country and it was also welcoming and kind – and I was grateful – though I could see I had wandered into an unusual realm of existence).
Maybe there is something about the 99% that comforts me. Maybe I remember that I am American (and a lucky American at that) and not really part of the 99% in a worldly sense. It is good to be reminded of privilege and to feel humility. It is good to be close with one another, to see our humanity – our human-ness – across divisions of culture, language, class or nation.
This is part of what I feel in sweltering Delheat: grateful, humbled, smaller in the significant sense, larger in the bodily sense, happy, grateful.