Last week, I came home to the Philippines after my second visit to India in 1 ½ years. The trip was so terribly eventful, that after the first week, I broke down in tears wanting to immediately come home. But after I have cried my eyes out, I resolved to finish what I had started, a training that I wanted too much and invested so much into. The second week’s unfortunate events did not let up, but I had a respite in the good company of Lorina who was training coordinator in the 2015 workshop. She graciously invited me to stay with her after the training.
Finally, on the day of Holi, I took the train from Delhi to Kolkata to meet a friend I haven’t seen in 20 years and to catch my exit flight to Manila. Grace is a Filipina education consultant in a private school in Ranikuthi. My planned climate talk in her school did not push through but I thoroughly enjoyed our meeting, as if we never lost connection for so many years. I had to cut short our catching up in fear of missing my plane back home. I told her it would be the worst thing that could happen to me at the end of my trip. So I took an early taxi, six hours before my flight and arrived to the airport in less than an hour.
Everything was a breeze from check-in to immigration clearance. I had dinner and bought some gifts for home with a couple of hours to spare before boarding. I decided to charge my phone a few meters from the boarding gate and tried to connect using the airport wifi. Finally, I went to the gate but was told I could no longer board the plane as boarding has been closed.
Have any of your worst fears ever happened before your very eyes? I realized that when such a thing happens, it is simply surreal. I wanted to laugh out loud and say it was not happening, but it was. Despite the terrible panic I was feeling inside, I calmly requested to be allowed to board explaining that I would miss my connecting flight in Kuala Lumpur and could no longer buy another ticket (that was already my second exit ticket, the first one was Kolkata to Kathmandu, which I could no longer use when my Nepal plan did not pan out). I also stressed that my visa is expiring the next day, and I only had 2500 rupees in my wallet, aside from my worthless peso bills which I did not have time to exchange before entering India.
It wouldn’t have been such a huge problem if it would not entail buying a third exit ticket. Having funded myself for the training and the trip, I was really cash-strapped. My India visa expiring compounded the problem even more as it meant I would have to apply for extension. But really what made matters worse was that it was the culmination of a series of unfortunate events that hounded my entire trip. I was fatigued and unbelieving of my misfortune and no longer had the energy for any of it. I was at the verge of a breakdown.
It was not only me but an elderly lady was also not allowed to board. She had a connecting flight to Perth and had four bags checked in which had to be offloaded. It was unbelievable for me how the airline chose to offload the bags, which actually took more time, instead of just letting us board, which to me was a win-win solution.
We both felt the airline staff were being inconsiderate. The elderly lady was starting to raise her voice so I tried to appear calm even as I quietly reprimanded the airline staff on how she was being treated. I told the staff to be easy on her, as she might have a heart attack because she looked and sounded so tired and highly strung. Our pleadings went nowhere, and we were told we would have leave the airport and purchase new tickets.
I was determined not to leave the airport. It was the middle of the night and I had nowhere to go, and I couldn’t contact anyone because I could not access the airport wifi. Having no means to communicate in such a difficult situation amplifies the problem even more. I felt so alone and helpless and wanted to give up. But I prayed and decided to wait until morning to make my first move. I walked aimlessly in the airport waiting for morning, all the while trying to keep calm despite the turmoil in my head.
Come morning I borrowed a lady’s phone to make calls and send messages to those who could help me get out of the rut I was in. But I could not contact anyone and nobody was replying to my messages for a couple of hours. My panic came back and it was all becoming so real. I only had a few hours before my visa expires and it was almost noon in the Philippines. I felt that I was already losing precious time.
I tried to look for a kind face, somebody who would be willing to help. If I could only communicate, everything would be alright, I told myself. I decided to approach a man about my age, with an elderly lady who must be his mother. I requested to use his phone and briefly explained my predicament. I was surprised when he said, “Don’t text, call. Local or international, just call”. And I did. Still I was not able to contact anyone. It took some time and I explained to them what happened to me. They were both very helpful and trying to explore how my problem could be solved.
I also found that the mother had also missed her plane for the first time and told her son that there must have been a reason why she was not able to fly. In broken English she tried to say that I must have been the reason why. Then she cupped my face in her hands and gently kissed my hair. She said, “You’re my daughter.”
When I heard those three words the floodgates opened. I finally let go of all the feelings I was trying to bottle up inside. I cried with no inhibitions. I cried for all of the things I went through in the entire trip. I just let it all out. I felt like I was crying to my mother, and I had my brother there beside me.
When I had calmed down, Mother and I talked to each other. She in her broken English, and me in my broken Hindi. But I felt that we understood each other perfectly. We talked about praying, helping people, meditation, and strength coming from faith in God. She gave me little gifts. It was a short but lovely time.
Finally, Mother had to take her flight and my brother Manik vowed not to leave me until I have solved my problem. Manik recharged my local number so that I would have a way to communicate. I was able to contact home and my husband was able to purchase a ticket for me. Manik served me coffee with milk and bottled water. Those who know me would know I would normally decline, as I am vegan and advocating ban of disposable bottles. But those things did not matter momentarily. I drank the coffee in full gratitude and accepted the water like manna from heaven. He tried to find a way to have my ticket printed, all while answering a series of calls from work that he missed to help me out.
When everything was ok, I told Manik that he has done everything he could do for me and he could already go back to work without worrying about me. He said goodbye and offered to shake my hand. I refused it. I told him that is not the way siblings say goodbye. I gave him a tight, warm hug. I told him he is my brother, because we have the same mother.
Alone, while waiting for my flight I reflected on what the incident was trying to tell me. Why did it happen? I was not new in international travelling. And I was actually very fearful of missing my plane. I honestly did not understand what happened then. I never heard a single announcement for last call that the airline staff said was announced a dozen times. I was near the boarding gate and did not notice people falling in line. I missed flights before but was never offloaded. People might call me stupid or a weaver of fantastic stories, but all I know is that I lost time. And for all of it to make sense, I thought there must have been a reason for it to happen.
I told myself there must have been a lesson to be learned there. And what I realized was, in my desire to come back to India and take that training, I encountered problem upon problem that made me ask people for help. For so many times I had to smother my pride. I never wanted to be seen as needy but that time I really was. And each step of the way, family, friends, and even strangers helped in one way or another. And in each of the unfortunate event I was going through, I was meeting people who, like angels in disguise, helped solve my problems and made all the difference for me.
I finally took my flight home without any event. As the plane touched down in Manila I thought of my family waiting at home for me, and in India, my new brother Manik, and Mother, whose name is Angeli.
(April 3 postscript: today is my birthday, and while exchanging whatsapp messages with Manik, I found out that Mother’s name is actually spelled as Anjali. The net yielded this very powerful meaning to her name, which is not very far from the meaning of Angel:
Anjali (Devanagari : अञ्जली; अंजली) is a Sanskrit word that means “divine offering”. It is not only a given name, but also the name given to the greeting between Hindus, Buddhists and other religions on the Indian Continent: hands folded together.
My birthday wish for you who is reading this: may we find in our imperfect life perfect life lessons. May we find in dark moments angels who bring us light. A little pain from one’s vantage point could mean a world of pain for the person who suffers. But the world is beautiful no matter what. May we always find that beauty.)