It was with a very heavy heart that I said goodbye to the children in Kathmandu kindergarten on Friday. They were a very special bunch, who had so little in terms of material possessions, and appeared in the same filthy clothes day after day, yet they were so appreciative of the little I could give them. What they wanted, as much as knowledge, was love and attention, and I was far better at giving that than teaching the English alphabet. In return they gave me heaps of cuddles and a real sense of purpose. I do wonder what will become of them as adults. I desperately hope they will be able to elevate themselves from the poverty they were born into, and have more secure and comfortable lives.
On Saturday morning I set off on my epic journey from Nepal to Goa via Delhi. I kept telling myself that this was all going to work like clockwork, but I guessed there would be some drama along the way. Kathmandu airport is so dated that it could have been built in the Victorian times, if there were planes then. Acres of brown carpet and brown wood are only interrupted by a vast array of large gold Buddhas. My first problem was an unexpected one. Nepalese security spotted that I was carrying a large consignment of E cigarettes. Those who know me personally will confirm that E cigs are my drug of choice, and they are as much a part of me as my blonde mop. I had enough to keep me going for 10 weeks so yes, I did look like a smuggler. Anyway the actual issue was that the officers had never seen an E cig before and just kept repeating the word ‘battery.’ I was not going to lose my drugs, so I quickly assembled 2 cigarettes and gave them to the rather stern guards and said ‘You try, you try.’ I then watched with amusement as they coughed and spluttered through the E cig initiation process, but it paid off. They waved me through and I laughed all the way to the departure lounge. There I stopped laughing, as I heard my plane was delayed due to ‘technical difficulties.’ These are words which you never want to hear before boarding, particularly in Nepal, where every vehicle that moves has an exhaust or a wheel hanging off. I was even more alarmed when 15 minutes later they announced this fault has been ‘fixed’ and we were ready to board. I suspected that some Nepalese mechanic, desperate for his lentil curry, had said ‘Yeah this one can go,’ without actually checking whether the left engine was now working. I am pleased to say we did take off with full power, but we were late, which meant that when we landed in Delhi I had only 2 1/2 hours before my next plane departed. I literally sprinted the length of the airport, which also had 15 miles of dire brown carpet, and then I had to negotiate Indian Border Control. The officer looked at my passport photo, then my visa photo, then my passport photo, and so on. I felt like saying ‘For Christ’s sake go to Specsavers, it is the same b-l-o-o-d-y photo!’ But I didn’t … Once he had taken my finger prints (yes really) I grabbed my luggage and dashed outside to wait for the shuttle bus to the next terminal. In the queue in front of me was an Indian family. I was slightly alarmed when the wife stared at me, then whispered to her husband, who in turn whispered to grandma, and so on. It was like Chinese (or should I say Indian) whispers. They then all turned round and stared at me. I did a quick check of my flies (zipped) blouse (buttoned) and could only assume I had wildly smeared lipstick, which I could do little about. Then to my surprise the little son came up and said ‘Excuse me Miss, are you Meryl Streep?’ I just smiled and said that sadly I wasn’t. What I actually felt like saying was ‘Do you think Meryl Streep would be standing in a crumpled linen shirt, waiting for a sodding shuttle bus, in this heat, with a 30 kg rucksack?’
Soon after the rusty old bus arrived and we spent 30 minutes driving round in circles. By the time I got off I had only 1 hour 40 minutes to catch my next plane so I went straight to the front of the mile long sari-ed check-in queue and waved my ticket. Unfortunately Indigo Air had just installed a new computer system, and there was a glitch they hadn’t thought of. As I had already had one baggage label for the first leg of my journey the computer could not generate another. 40 minutes later I was still standing there, whilst supervisor after supervisor, and the whole of the IT department, huddled round the computer screen trying to sort it out. To start with I was quite patient, and politely pointed out that I was going to miss my flight, the second time my observation had an irate edge to it and when I only had 50 minutes before take off I shouted ‘I AM GOING TO MISS MY BLOODY FLIGHT!’ That time they all agreed and told me to go to the boarding gate where my baggage receipt would be waiting. As I dashed through security I had as much hope of seeing my bag again as getting steak and chips for dinner. Anyway I got to the gate just 5 minutes before it closed and there was my baggage receipt.
On arrival in Goa I was extremely relieved when my bag actually appeared on the carousel and I headed out into the sultry evening to meet my driver. I noticed that Goa has a lot of new roads, unfortunately none of them are finished, and after an hour of juddering along in a clapped-out Toyota, I was in severe need of a neck brace. This requirement was exacerbated when, just outside my hostel, the driver slammed on the brakes, resulting in me being partially ejected into the front seat. ‘Sorry Miss’ he said, ‘there is a snake in the road.’ My first thought was ‘Well why stop then, why not flatten it?’ My second thought was ‘Christ! How many snakes ARE there in Goa??’