What a horrific experience!
I somehow – somehow – managed to pick a taxi driver who booked it around the other taxi drivers through NYC (you know he was going fast!). There was construction and all the lanes were closed on one road, so we had to take a detour. That detour was nightmarish. By the time we hit Madison Square, we were stopped up completely yet again and I only had about two hours until my international flight from Newark. Suddenly, as we approached New Jersey, the traffic picked up tremendously and my driver brought me to my gate at about 80 miles an hour. I think he had a bit of pride delivering me to the Air India gate. “India?” he had said. “I’m from India! It HOT now!” Yes, yes I’m dreading the hot…
I had to take an elevator down a floor to find the right ticketing booth, which was crowded with Indians, but an employee helped me go straight to the counter with ease. Then I had to stand and wait about ten minutes for my tickets to print. It was only ten minutes, but it felt like two hours. I had the same feeling as when I drink too much coffee: I was numb, panting, and my heart was about to blow up. I didn’t even want to imagine negotiating another ticket to India after dropping $145 (fare and tip) over a $32 shuttle to rush me to my flight in time. But, suddenly, the tickets were in my hand, I was riding the escalator back upstairs, and I was standing in line for TSA.
That’s when I realized the line was short but slow and that nearly everyone in the line was taking the same plane. I began to calm down. In fact, I didn’t even run to the terminal when I got through. Unlike my flight to Alaska last fall, I was able to walk briskly to the gate to find it still open and the lobby full of waiting people. I had the time to fill my water bottle, buy snacks, and charge my phone a little. [When I left Pittsburgh, my mom had me exchange a ton of money (about $350) just to start. I already have a credit card, but she wanted me to prepare for my whole trip. I exchanged for more Euros, a fair amount of Rupees for India, then some pounds for the end of my trip in the UK, and some pocket change for Hungary and the Czech Republic. They were fresh out of Polish currency, and the same was the case at my particular gate in Newark. I only need a day’s worth, but it would good to keep looking now and save me the trouble later!]
The plane was pretty incredible. It was a standard international size, but even the windows on the outside were decorated to look like traditional grills or valances. “Namastey!” said every attendant as we climb onboard. The carpets and cushion material were an elegant, patterned dark red and gold, reminding me of an Indian restaurant. It even smelled vaguely of curry. I sat towards the back in an aisle seat in the middle section – ideal for bathroom access. We had private screens, fancy blankets, and a small pillow. Next to me was a little American girl and her Indian mother. The entire plane was full of Indians or Indian-Americans, spare maybe a few. Children were running everywhere and were either sleeping or jumping around, screaming. I saw many traditional outfits, especially on the older passengers. Everything was written in both Hindi and English. Sometimes pilot instructions weren’t even given in English, they were in Hindi only, but I was able to understand a few words after listening to enough announcements.
As our plane began to take off, I suddenly realized the flight was going to be about 15 hours long. That doesn’t sound quite as bad as it feels. I used to think France was long at 10 hours, but I began to feel the effects of sitting for so long before we had even passed Nova Scotia. I looked at the map: Canada, Iceland, Norway….down to Turkey,…Iran, Pakistan,… “It’s a looong flight,” said the little girl next to me as I played with the maps on the screen. One even showed where the Titanic had crashed in relation to us. “I’m realizing this,” I told her. “I’m already bored!” she said. “And I’m hungry,” I told her. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast and it’s already dinnertime!”
She was bilingual and extremely outgoing. We chatted for awhile to pass the time, making up the kinds of carts that we wished they would roll around as they brought out refreshments. “I want a candy cart!” she said. “I want a kitten cart!” I replied. “Would you eat the kittens?!” “No!” I told her. “Just pet them!” “Well you have to eat whatever is on your cart,” she said. “So… I want everything in the world! All the candy and cookies and…” “And bacon?” “I don’t eat meat!” “Me neither!” (This surprised her, but apparently her whole family and most of our cabin was actually vegetarian.) I continued: “But if you get a cart of everything, that means all of the meat. And bacon. Unless it’s a vegetarian pig.” “But it’s still meat!” she argued. “Yes, but maybe the pig was vegetarian…”
It was a silly conversation, but I liked seeing her laugh. When dinner came, she asked if I’d seen the dessert they gave us before. I told her no. “It’s carrot,” said her mom. “But it’s really good, I swear!” said the girl. And it was. It was sweet. I believe it was Gajar Ka Halwa. We were given several meals during the course of the flight, so I ended up saving little bits that I could not finish. I then watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and ended up freezing my screen afterwards and having nothing to watch. Instead, I typed some things from my journal, tried to sleep here and there, and watched the map. At about 4AM EST, I remembered to search the overhead bins for my malaria pills. At one point, the girl beside me passed out and her mother and I lifted the arm rests so she could sleep across us. Once it was breakfast, we were already over Pakistan. I was glad because I had lost feeling in most parts of my body since we flew over Budapest hours before.
Landing was an experience. I say this because our plane was equipped with three cameras, one for the front, one for the bottom, and one for the back view of the plane. We had played with these cameras in the beginning, watching Newark vanish from below us and turn into the upper side of cloud cover. Now, we were forced to watch the landing as the screens became controlled by the crew. I thought this would be terrifying as I watched shacks and beaches and trees roll below. I didn’t want to see pavement rapidly approaching my screen! Quite honestly, the more I fly the more terrified I become with landings and planes in general. But then they switched to the pilot’s view and I watched as we gracefully hit a large runway, larger than it seemed from the air. Even the obnoxious jolts seemed harmless as I saw through the screen how smoothly the plane had actually touched down. I then realized how much it would take to roll one of those planes and felt a lot more at ease.
I said goodbye to the girl, who was staying on for another stop, and hurried to the departures with my customs card already prepared. A plane was just unloading from Saudi Arabia. All the men were dressed in white pants and white tunics, and all the women had on black abayas. I finally passed security, made a few purchases, brushed my teeth, and now I’m sitting drinking iced black coffee, waiting for my flight to Delhi in less than an hour. My classmates should be arriving just before me, possibly sparing me having to wait with a large group to get through customs and find luggage.
I know I’ve been writing a lot now, but it’s been easy. I’m not sure how much I can write later in this trip, but I’m obligated to keep up entries for my column at least periodically. And proof that I’m still alive (although feeling the effects of two days on planes):
Me just now at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Mumbai International Airport.