Now, the Nepal International Airport is extremely basic. It’s plainly evident it’s a third world country. Security screening is very simplistic (do the X-ray machines even work?), the building is crutty and crappy and the seating options leave a lot to be desired. It’s almost like someone found an old abandoned warehouse and thought, This will do. Slap on a runway and Bob’s your uncle (although he’s actually not anymore; another split).
I was irritable. I’d had five hours sleep, I was bloody knackered and my mind was all foggy. I just wanted to get the fuck on the plane and pass out for the full four hour flight.
I was lining up to catch the bus (such is the Nepalese way; regardless if it’s a 1km or 300m distance to the plane, you catch the bus) when a spunky Nepalese boy caught sight of my New Zealand passport and exclaimed in utter delight, “You’re from New Zealand!”
I’m pretty good at putting on fronts. On the surface side, I enthusiastically responded but on the inside I was thinking, Rack off bozo, I want to sleep-stand in silence.
His name was Bibash and he was heading to Christchurch. What for? I enquired. Studying, he replied. He’d never been out of Nepal before. But he was off to hit the engineering books in Nelson, half a world away, on his own.
I felt like a complete bitch.
He was so nervous and a little emotional, gabbering on and asking me if I liked Chris Brown. I asked his age and he said 20, and I imagined my brother James in his position (like hell he’d ever have the balls to do what this kid was). I put my tiredness to bed (so to speak) and sat and talked to him about hunky dory NZ until we were called to board. He thanked me for calming his nerves and making him feel better about his foray into the Land Down Under.
I once again had a window seat (score!) and was just nestling in my nesting when my row mate appeared; a slight Nepalese girl about my age. We exchanged minor pleasantries, and as soon as the safety vid was through (what is up with all the blatant lip syncing here?) I proceeded to conk out.
I awoke slightly fresher an hour or so on, and found my companion snuggled up in her blanket across the spare seat. Throughout the remainder of the flight we shared a smile now and then, but otherwise didn’t really engage (weird for me! Usually by the time I’m an hour into a flight I know my neighbour’s family tree), until the pilot called descent.
The girl leaned over and asked if I minded if she share the window with me. “Of course not!” I responded, frantically attempting to move all my down jackets and vests (went a bit nuts at North Face and am having to wear a fair few tied around my waist to get them home).
It was early nightfall and the clouds looked incredible. I remarked on how different it can be landing night versus day and she just did a gentle head bobble. Suddenly it struck me.
“Have you been on a plane before?”
She waggled her head: no. “First time.”
Well, bitch Poppy strike number two.
I instantly insisted we swap seats and she was so so grateful. She stared out in fascination at the clouds and said, “I feel like we are right in the middle of the sky.”
I stopped looking at the view and just took in her facial expressions instead. The awe, the wonderment; it was really really cool.
Her name was Omkumari and like me, she was 24. She was moving to Auckland to study early childhood education and had left her husband in Nepal. He would be moving over to join her in three months time.
I was utterly incredulous. How ballsy and brave were these two young people I’d encountered? To never have even flown or left the country, to absolutely upping and moving to the ends of the earth on their own. I certainly don’t think I could’ve done it.
I looked at Omkumari and thought about how different we were. Our lives were so dissimilar. Then I rethought.
We were both 24. We were both on the same plane. We were both wearing a wicked cool ring (mine my ruby red piece from my beautiful yoga friend Eva; Omkumari’s a glitzy, glinting affair that glittered like a disco ball). She had no idea what to do once she got to Singapore. I’d often been in the situation of being frightened and frenzied and at a loss.
I asked her about her connecting flight and she handed me her boarding pass. We landed at 7.55pm; she had to be boarding at her gate at 8.10pm. We arrived in terminal two; her plane was awaiting at the furthest point of termibal three.
Under Pop’s wing she went.
As soon as we cleared Singapore security I chauffeured her to the skytrain. She was like a small child in a haunted house, all worrisome eyes and wanting her husband, the poor love. “It’s a lot bigger than the Nepal Airport,” she said faintly. I didn’t tell her we’d covered about a sixteenth of it.
I managed to deliver her to her gate and deposit her to two Kiwi gentlemen (made sure to find appropriate guardians) to aid her through security and onto her next leg. She added me on Facebook and I said to make sure to message me should she need anything or have any questions when she get to AKL. I wished I was on her flight; she looked terrified.
I walked away and thought about what I’d just done. I’m usually a helpful soul in such situations, but in the past the motivation has been for my own self good. You know, help a brother out and feel the chuffed kudos that you’re a decent person. But something has shifted.
I genuinely cared about Omkumari. I wanted to make sure she was safe, calm and ok. It wasn’t about me at all.
Could it be that I really am becoming less self centred?
I’ve always been a friendly sort, yarning to all and sundry. But being away and travelling on my own has me extending the hand of friendship from my heart. It may sound foolish and a bit wet, but now offers to help and invitations to stay are genuine and guileless.
Hank and Deb will want me to move out ASAP I feel. I have sort of taken it upon myself to let out 2 Norfolk Drive as a “home away from home” to quite a significant number of souls; there’s the hot female Chilean couple (brother James is going to love that) coming to trek NZ terrains with me in February, the fine Finnish friends heading over in April, and multitudinous Nepalese and Indian tour guides, taxi drivers, hotel workers and just plain sweet strangers that have been offered a bed should they ever find their way over to NZ.
I’ve met so many amazing people. Some will stick in my mind forever. Others I’ve already fondly forgotten. But my love for people, finding out their stories and making friends has skyrocketed.