Nor for me
Though we would be parted
And long terribly
For each other
The tears came because they knew
That for all my aching longing
I would survive
The tears knew
That I would be happy without you
Airports are always abuzz with a lot of activity, and the activity at airports in foreign lands can be quite mind boggling. However, there are always experiences in travel which distinguish Nepali experiences from others, and always there are ways to distinguish a Nepali in a crowd. What makes us Nepali in foreign land? The distinction starts at the home port itself, as no one but a Nepali could cram their suitcases so full that they are almost double the weight limits. After several prods and strict shakes of the heads from customs officer, out come the biscuits, triscuits and all other would-be-confiscates. Those will be given back to the family, hoping against hope for just this contingency.
After the blur of farewells, as anyone who leaves home knows very well, the moment the plane starts taxiing is the moment for tears. For me, the vegetarian Nepali, the feeling was intensified soon when I got scolded at by the air hostess for not informing her that I was vegetarian. And when she finally brought me fruits that she had rummaged for in the drawers (or so she said), I was too sleepy to eat it. I was licking my lips in my dreams, thinking of the wonderful fruits. But my dreams were rudely interrupted when the air hostess came and snatched away my plates instead, insisting that since we were landing already, she had to take it away.
I suffered a similar fate of “looks that can kill” from every other air hostess, except in Qatar airlines, who already have a vegetarian menu. Unlike the food of Thai airlines, which had several dishes of gooey green things, all similarly sweet and quite undistinguishable from each other, Qatar also had proper food that caters to Nepali tastes better, like rice, vegetables, pancakes, sandwiches and (yum yum) ice creams! I never really found out what the green gooey lumps are called, and my carnivorous friend could not tell one meant from another either, so there goes the Nepali hopes of avoiding beef!
Qatar distinguished itself for other reasons too, because at Qatar airport you can be sure that every person who looks familiar is a Nepali. You can just go and talk in Nepali to any person at a shop counter, and chances are that they will understand. “Don’t forget to look at the sheikh types for me, and tell me what they look like!” my sister had said to me of Qatar to me.
But, strangely, or perhaps it was strange only to me, there were no sheikh types hanging around at the airport, only foreign types: people from Africa and different parts of Asia, definitely not native Arabs. And among them were a lot of Nepalese people, by far the friendliest Nepali people I have met abroad. Nepalese in US run the whole gamut, right from being very friendly and protective to being indifferent, to being downright rude and refusing to acknowledge you as a Nepali. Not so at Qatar, where every Nepali person at the counter greets you with a smile, and gives you friendly advice in Nepali, and asks whether you are going to Nepal or coming from there. Even the lady who cleans, usually heard shouting at foreign women and calling them uncivilized witches (in much stronger language) gives you a brilliant smile when she knows you are Nepali.
At other airports where the Nepali people are not so all over the place, if you see a group of very fashionably dressed youngsters lie sprawling on the floor, you can be sure that they are Nepali students. Groups of girls dressed in kurta suruwal or trousers and simple tees with a care worn look, ditto: you can be sure they are Nepali women looking for work in the Middle East. The care worn look similarly identifies Nepali men looking for work, who form groups easily too. We Nepalese seem to have an innate need for community, manifested very soon at unfamiliar places. At airports, specially, it is not unusual to see complete strangers strike up intimate conversations, just because they are Nepali.
And often, if you look close enough, it’s easy to spot other groups too. The Indians are the ones who travel in large families, and dress in saris and kurtas. The Americans are the most unself-conscious, walking around in shorts and tees, sprawling (alone, unlike Nepalis) on the floor, and busy with their electronic devices. The women with a shawl or headscarf are the ones from Middle East, and chinky eyed girls in really smart designer clothes, who look like they are going to a party or picnic, are Korean. Ditto for European people, who seem to have a lot of frills and bows in their dresses, so it is easy to distinguish them from other fair skinned people like the Americans. The really dark people, more shy than not, would mostly be African, and that is how I distinguished them from the more outgoing American blacks.
And after all the sorting of people, when you finally reach the US of A, you realize that the effort has been wasted because it is entirely impossible to distinguish anyone. Because here you have people from all over the world all claiming to be American, and most confusing of all, people who look 100% Nepali but turn out to be Mexican.
As a Nepali, I was surprised that when I took my luggage and turned to leave, nobody questioned me and asked to see my ticket or luggage claims. Surprisingly, it made me homesick, and wanting to have a security guard confirm that my luggage was mine and I was not stealing somebody else’s. Well, at least then I knew, that a Nepali is the person who longs for home, for both the rough and smooth of it wherever they are. And at the end of the day, that is what makes a Nepali in foreign land!