What Happened at Heathrow

Mussoorie: father and son holding hands

original

PART 1

You feel welcomed to India when you have spent the day vomiting and trying to find a position in which it doesn’t feel as if someone is cutting you open from the inside and pouring rock salt on the wound.

Just so: my first day of Himalayan life was a day of near-faints and general illness.

Aug 1, 2007

I arrive at London airport excited about, if not entirely conscious of, my imminent departure.

Everything seems to go smoothly until I discover that I wasn’t allowed two bags of 20 kilos each, but only one. Then I discover that the excess baggage charge would be 24 pounds sterling per kilo. You do the math!

Fortunately, my weeping was more effective than the shrill yells of my infuriated mother: a young Indian who worked for the airline took pity on me and managed to convince the hostess at check-in to give me a huge discount…

Now I’m alone running across the airport hoping I don’t miss the flight. Since I didn’t receive the t-shirt from the exchange program, which was supposed to help us recognize each other, I did my best with one that had the school logo on it. In fact I am soon recognized by one of the tribe of kids who is wearing a bright orange t-shirt at least three sizes too big!

I introduce myself, conversation begins with the usual questions that the occasion demands. I think to myself: “For a year, they will be part of my life.”

The arrival in New Delhi is a relief for all who, in spite of exhaustion and jet lag, are fascinated by the first impact of India and the enormity of the hotel we’re staying at.

I’m sharing a room with an American girl who has been living in Paraguay for many years. She explains to me that she’s a bit afraid because, even though the city where she lives is a lot more dangerous than India, she’s used to having body guards, guards outside the houses, armored windows, etc.

I’m proud of myself because the arrival in a place so drastically different from my home has not disturbed me in the least! I manage to stay awake and active, participate in conversations, and generally I think everybody likes me.

The girl I was talking about before, just now as I was writing, started to yell like the damned. She’s in the room across from mine. I decide not to react, until a rat runs into my room, and I understand what the yells were about.

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