Whether you believe in God not, I truly believe he watches over us and every once in a while, puts someone in our path as if to say, “I’m here.” Those eight hours with complete stranger settled any nerves I had.
The aisles were congested and the air was thick with humidity with what I guessed was human day-old sweat, as most planes tend to be when boarding a long haul flight like this. I was tired and exhausted and not really looking forward to the next eight hours to my final destination of Delhi, India. I had just spent a small fortune for a Starbucks and fell asleep, probably publicly embarrassing myself in a slobbering comatose state, during what was four rounds on those massage chairs, as I attempted to relax the tension in my head and neck. My head had been pounding like nothing I’ve experienced before. Not quite a migraine and not quite blunt force trauma to the head. My whole head was in pain, just enough for me to send my mom a message complaining like my daughter would complain to me. Luckily I was so exhausted and the sleep I was hoping for came swiftly. I had attempted to “shower” with wet wipes in the washroom, which was more for my need to tolerate myself than for the benefit of others.
The flight from Vancouver to Shanghai was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in travel. The word long doesn’t quite do it justice. Every 30 minutes I would tap on the flight path screen to see our progression like a child would, as if to say “are we there yet?” ……..”are we there yet?………”are we there yet?”
I wasn’t able to sleep for the unknown lay ahead and for the fact we seemed to be chasing the sun as if we were playing tag and were always it. On the previous flight from Vancouver to Shanghai, the airline policy of no cellphone usage was the strictest I have ever heard of. No cell phone in sight or you can be fined and/or prosecuted accordingly to the Chinese governing law stated in various forms throughout the journey. It didn’t really surprise me given the fiasco on social media with United Airlines, but maybe that had nothing to do with it, it could just be a “China” thing. I really wouldn’t know, I hadn’t flew overseas before. Maybe it had something to do with it. Maybe not. It did however have something to do with me getting in trouble when I had texted my mom about my headache. You couldn’t even watch a movie or play a game on a device unless it was a tablet of sorts. They did however have a decent entertainment system available on the screens in front of us as passengers.
So here I was on the last leg of my trip, Shanghai to Dehli. I was trying to gauge how I was feeling inside. Part excited. Part insecure. Part too exhausted to really care anymore. Maybe it was naive of me, but I wasn’t scared. I knew what I was doing, where I was going, but most importantly why.
I had checked all my luggage so my only carry on was a x-over bag, the kind that you pay good money for travelling. Slash proof, theft proof and I’d like to think for the money I paid, fire proof – but I highly doubt it. So here I am walking sideways to make room for my bag and my North American ass while the plane from Shanghai to Delhi begins to fill. I look around. I am definitely the minority. I’ve been the minority since I left Canadian soil.
As I look forward just ahead of me, I’m watching the aisle numbers count up in efforts to find my way to 36B. I can’t wait to pass out and sleep. It’s then that I notice to my excitement another “North American” just ahead. She’s looks well travelled. You know, the stereotypical Dora-the-explorer-type, complete with leggings, a half sleeve cargo-esque type blouse and a scarf around her neck. The scarf wasn’t like we use in North America for fashion but rather it was old and worn and hung rather limply around her neck. It had definitely been worn for a more practical choice like sweating and keeping cool, and yet the floral pattern gave little hint of its past vibrant life. Her hair was shoulder length pulled into a low pony, and she wore no makeup. She was definitely a plain type girl, someone who looked natural and comfortable and self confident. The biggest quality however that I noticed was a friendly smile and kind eyes.
As I reach my seat, I’m kind of relieved as a sense of familiarity sets in as I see that my window seat was next to hers, 36B. What are the chances of that? The only two North American chicks on the plane and we sit next to each other. I think someone knew what they were doing when they assigned seats – or maybe not – I was trying to remember if I had picked mine at the time of booking, either way I was impressed with myself.
I smiled back and introduced myself “hey roomie,” motioning with my head that the seat next to hers was mine.
She replied, “I saw you up ahead and prayed you’d be my seat mate. There’s always something comforting about sharing the unknown with the known. You know, single woman, travelling – well I’m assuming you’re single as I saw you sleeping in the massage chairs.” – UGH!!!
Her name was Sarah and she was off to India, meeting up with a girlfriend who was flying in from Germany for one last girls adventure before her baby was due. She had to have been only a few month pregnant otherwise she would have shown more, but I am only guessing. I didn’t ask which I find strange looking back now as that would have been an appropriate response to a soon to be new mother.
To be honest, my head was still pounding. The throbbing pain had been laying deep in the recesses of my brain for so long, making my trip seem even longer as sleep was out of the question. I had been downing water trying to drown it away but no such luck was to be had.
As I sat down and organized my things, I made the casual comment that I was surprised at how many single white girls there were in the airport and that there must have been a group tour or something as I had ran into a few of them buying water. They had mentioned they were arriving via Okinawa.
Sarah’s features were simple but I could tell knowledgable. In her hands she was reading something political. The kind of book you get on registration day for university and charge an insane amount for. It was thick – like bible thick, and silver grey. No pictures. And the title? “World Politics” ….or something to that effect……I had already lost interest reading the title it made my head pound. I knew it spoke to that of her intellect and I was impressed.
She smiled to herself as if she knew a secret.
She replied “I’m coming from there as well.”
“Oh really?” I looked at her curiously.
“Yes, what you saw were military members going back home for a visit. I’m actually a journalist for the military. (She actually gave me some formal title but I can not remember it) My husband and I are stationed in Okinawa and have lived there for the past two years. We’ve actually been stationed in the Asian Pacific for the past six years.”
“Well, that explains the book.” My eyes motioning towards her lap where the book was laying. I attempted humour trying to gauge her personality. She laughed softly and sighed.
“How long have you been doing that for?” – I was referencing her serving in the military.
“6 years. I took my journalism degree in university and then joined the military as I decided I needed to learn more leadership and management skills.”
“Makes sense.” I nod. I really did admire the decision because it wouldn’t have even been on the radar or up for consideration in my past world. I don’t even know if it was offered as a possibility, or maybe it was and I never paid attention, Canada is a much different place when it comes to the military. My inner adventurer listened with depth and the pounding in my head seemed to ease.
The conversation flowed on for some time.
Two women from different worlds rooming together for the next 8 hours. I had learned that her and her husband had been stationed in various Asian Pacific bases, sometimes together, sometimes not, and that they were about to start the journey “home” aka the mainland, with a purposeful slow transition by taking a station together in Hawaii. They wanted to raise kids back home but it had been so long since they lived there and they loved the Asian Pacific simple life, they figured it best to take it in steps, so Hawaii it was.
I held my breath and let out a long sigh as if to break some catastrophic news. “I guess it’s safe to assume you’re aware of the gong show that is North America and the political realm it’s in??!?!” I let out a laugh as I was being sarcastic, finding humour in the absurdity of it all. I was glad she thought it was funny as well and she nodded in a silent agreeable manner complete with a dramatic eye roll. What I find even funnier now looking back is that obviously she would know much more than I. Sometimes I question myself and what I was thinking.
Her actual role was to mediate and approve all public information released regarding the goings on in Okinawa and area including releasing and creating briefings and media statements destined for the White House. She did add that it included little special projects as well, such as cleaning up loose information or slip of the tongues via over zealous military personelle.
She asked what I did for a living which looking back we both found the humour in it all when I said “I play for a living.” A statement that was meant to be more humorous to lighten the mood, given the more formal and official role in which she held and the uneasy climate that is politics and world events.
She laughed. I’m glad she found it funny. She was more easy going than she looked. Of course once explained on a more in depth level she said “I need more people like you in my life. You don’t know how lucky you have it.”
It was then the conversation shifted.
“So Jennel, tell me.” The interview had begun, “Your second trip alone on a plane, your first being San Diego five years ago. Why India? Why now?”
Exhale long, slow sigh.
“Well…” I was hesitating, “It’s complicated.”
Her response was light-hearted and totally understanding the true picture “Soooo it IS about a boy!” Her eyes lit and laughing. “I knew it!!! It was either going to be ‘I’m going to be one with the world,’ or ‘about a boy.’ The boy usually wins out….”
“Soooooooo tell me about this boy.” Her eyebrow raised in curiosity.
“Wellllll….” I hesitate longer and smile “it’s interesting you ask that given our conversation thus far…..”
“Ohhh really?” Her eyebrows rose with curiosity. “Now I really have to hear this”
It was her turn to ask the questions and boy they were good ones too. She’s done this before, I thought. Ask questions. I could tell. It was in fact, her job. The questions had meat to them and were not easily answered with pad statements so naturally my answers had to included some of my personal whys and hows. I didn’t mind sharing though, I was pretty confident in them. In 45 minutes of casual chat, we had laid enough ground down to know we liked each other and got along.
But eventually exhaustion set in, and we both fell asleep trying to pass the time.
As the plane landed in Delhi, and we gathered our things together we were both somewhat sleepy and somewhat exhausted. Sarah hands me a piece of paper, smiles at me and says “Jennel, it was a joy to meet you. Have an adventure, get to know people, and enjoy seeing Mahdi.” Her smile is genuine and she is about to give me some reassurance, both woman to woman, and professionally. “This is my email address. Email me anytime for anything and IF you feel uncomfortable” she searched my eyes for a clue “which I don’t think you are, I have the security clearance to do a back ground check on him.” Her smile reassured me. “Otherwise, if you’re ever in Hawaii, look me up!”
I smile back.
I thank her for the resource but I decline the offer. Been there. Done that. Twice. I did however tuck her contact info into my bag for safe keeping. Its always good to a back up an to your backup plan – just in case. We give each other an open-armed friendly hug, the kind that girls give when they say goodbye to a good friend, yet knowing the chances of meeting again are slim to non-existent. I tell her that she will hear from me again and that the next time I’m in Hawaii I’ll look her up, but it probably wasn’t going to be soon as I had already been there, done that.
With that, we laughed one last laugh and parted our ways.
As she disappears into the masses, I look ahead at the international arrival line up and prepare my passport. Behind the wall ahead of me, I know he’s waiting as his text flashed on my phone, but of course not until after “Hey jet-set traveller!!! Welcome to India. Your data and over seas plan has been activated” appeared on my phone.
His arrival was a surprise to me as he was to arrive the following week. When he heard I was travelling alone due to change in plans, he hopped on a flight to India to beat me there, as he felt it was his duty to keep me safe. He felt he owed me that – at least that’s what he told me. He didn’t owe me anything. But honestly, in the grand scheme of things, he was right.
“I’m outside” said his text.
With my passport stamped and my luggage claimed, I walk to the tinted glass doors and peek out to see if I could see him. I was trying to be sneaky. You know where you squint your face and assess the scene before going in to a situation that was uncomfortable. Apparently my pink buff wrapping my head glowed through tinted glass, I was anything but sneaky. He could see me clear as day, making an ass out of myself. It made him laugh.
As I walked through the doors the thick midnight air and the mad sound of insane loud chatter and the blare of car horns overwhelmed me. I was definitely in another world. The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming.
It was then I heard that familiar accent;