This is the sad sad story of how I got home. So my ticket from Nepal back to Bangladesh was for Tuesday afternoon, giving me a full day to get to Dhaka, collect my big luggage that I left at the Grand Prince, and get a good night's sleep before my flight to Dubai on Wednesday. Paola had left Nepal a day earlier, so Tuesday morning Homero and I headed to the Kathmandu airport, ready to get home. Nepal was great but it was a little draining just from the constant hawking of street vendors and begging from street kids. As soon as we got there, we found out that our flight was delayed a few hours, and then it was cancelled until the next morning. We were shocked that they would cancel a flight at 4 PM, when there seemed to be plenty of hours left in the day to get a plane to Dhaka. It's only an hour and a half flight so it's not far. The next-day delay immediately caused stress: the proposed 11 AM departure meant that I would miss my 11:35 AM flight to Dubai. The airline officials recognized this but said they could do nothing for me until we got to Dhaka. Then we got a firsthand glimpse of how the third world airline system works: instead of a PA announcement, an official shouted for all the Bangladesh passengers to go back out past security and to get on a bus where they would be taken to a hotel for the night. The official then pulled me and Homero aside, and told us to get on a different bus that was filled with Bangladesh-bound passengers, but ones that looked like businessmen or had money. It was a vastly different crowd than the tshirts and backpacks group that were taken no-doubt to a rundown hotel right away. We were told they were taking us to a nicer hotel. It was an awkward and slightly uncomfortable to see the obvious segregation that was going on, and Homero and I both knew the only reason we got on that bus was because of our white skin and foreign passports. And it was terrible to think it, but we were so glad to be there. It was a sketchy situation to begin with and it was nice to be with a group who were educated, knew some English, and would be getting a little less third-world accommodations. Still, the whole situation seemed unjust.
An hour of immense traffic later, we pulled into an alley in Thamel with a hotel that didn't look so great. They had about 15 rooms and Homero and I saw them and then decided to just go ourselves back to the guest house we'd stayed at previously. It was cleaner and less sketch, and we knew the people there. That night was a quiet dinner in Thamel, in shock over the delay and the barrage of unfortunate events that had filled the day. I was texting my mom and said that it would take a miracle to get me home the next day, especially because we heard that the reason the flight was cancelled was because the airline officials went on strike. Her response was just what I needed to hear at that moment: "I believe in miracles." What a good reminder.
That night I spent hours on fuzzy Skype calls with the various airlines that were supposed to be flying me home, hearing a lot of discouraging news about my options and what it would take (money-wise and time) to get back to the US. The next morning we went to the airport early, arriving at 9 AM, to hear that the flight to Dhaka had just left. We were dumbfounded and immediately irritated because the airlines didn't tell us the flight was leaving at 9 and not 11. They even went so far to say that since we weren't there, it was no longer their responsibility. And they took it further to say it was not their responsibility that I was missing my flight to the US. We spent a few hours arguing -- unsuccessfully -- with the station manager, who finally got us on the next flight to Dhaka that afternoon, but wouldn't do anything for my US flight. When we landed in Dhaka 8 hours later, I spent three more hours talking to various airline managers who all refused to do anything for me, instead talking in Bangla to themselves even though I asked them repeatedly to speak in English, since they know the language fluently. They finally told me to come back at 6 AM the next morning and they'd see if I could get on the next flight to Dubai.
Looking back, the one blessing from this horrible travel experience was the conversations I had with Homero. We had hours and hours of waiting time in airports and bus rides to talk, and we had a lot of serious conversations about religion and convictions and the role of the church in a believer's life. I always appreciate these opportunities, shining little gems that God grants me, to share my faith and learn and be a light for Him. I can see in myself how much I've grown in my faith and become more comfortable in who I am. I actually love these opportunities now -- such a change than the new and timid believer I was in high school. It's harder to have these encounters at home; traveling puts you in unique situations where you can get to know strangers in a matter of days or weeks. When everything else is new and strange, the same familiar faces become good friends. But you know you only have a short time to be with these other travelers or interns or friends so conversations can span anything -- childhood, school, families, career plans, dreams, religion, politics, culture. There is no routine talk of the weather, that is for sure. It comes with a little bit of uncomfortable newness, definitely, putting myself in new situations with unfamiliar people , but I am always happy that I have done it. I just think of how many conversations I have saved away in my heart from unlikely people in South Caicos, Nicaragua, and now Bangladesh and Nepal, and I feel so blessed. There are a lot of searching souls out there and I am so glad if God can use a few words from my mouth to make someone think about their own life. It strengthens my own faith and prods me to commit more of the Bible to memory and study it more.
Anyway, I got up before 5 AM to traverse the Dhaka streets one last time to the airport. They were quiet, for Dhaka, at that time and I was so thankful for my time there but so ready to be home. At the airport, which was packed with people, I immediately had to explain my situation over and over to security guards and immigration officers and baggage attendants who wouldn't let me through the transfer desk, where I had been told to go. When I finally made it to officials in charge, I was treated rudely again and after an hour was given no help. It was beyond hot in the un air conditioned airport and I had to lug a bag, backpack, and suitcase all around the airport as each person sent me off to talk to someone else, where I had to reexplain the situation and was again told the airline could do nothing for me. The final outcome, as I was close to tears and just dying to get out of the country and HOME: a $300 change fee and a $620 ticket to Dubai, where I could catch the rest of my flights. The delayed airline would cover none of it. It was a very sad moment but there was no other way to get home and at the moment, I likely would have paid anything. Reflecting on it later, I think the blessing in this can be the lesson that money is just money and it is all God's anyway, so I shouldn't be too sad about it. That is hard to believe in practice, but I am working on it!
So, one full day later than I was hoping, I boarded a 5 hour flight to Dubai to start my trip home. Then I had 12 hours to wait in Dubai and then a 14 hour flight to DC. I landed in DC at 6:30 AM Friday and connected in Chicago before I got to Portland. Just trying to take as many flights as possible, it appears;) I took a quick trip into the city to have lunch with Tiera over my layover, so that was a nice reprieve from these airports and airplane seats I'd been in for the past 40 hours so far. Only another 11 and I'm home!
Seriously though, I have so much appreciation for our country now. More than anywhere else I've been, the Indian subcontinent made me realize how much we have in the West and how much the rest of the world envies us. The name "America" stirs awe, hope, respect, and jealousy ubiquitously, unlike any other country in the world. As the plane lowered into the DC sunrise, I was so happy to be home I could almost kiss the ground: a country where we have security, clean water to drink, toilets with plumbing, people speak English, people actually drive in lanes and follow a semblance of order -- you don't need to worry about getting hit every time you cross the street or ride in a rickshaw, we have a beautiful climate and air conditioning when it's hot, we have a comfortable population size for our country -- we don't have thousands of people living in spaces much too small. The population density in Bangladesh is like if the population of the ENTIRE WORLD lived in an area the size of the United States. Or if you put 143 million people in the state of Wisconsin. We are spoiled to have so much personal space when the rest of the world lives in constant crowds. We have the luxury to expect -- demand even -- 24/7 electricity, and when the power goes out for an hour it throws our life into a spin. On other side of the world, the power usually goes out for 10 hours a day and some people don't even have electricity in their houses. For them, the world goes dark at 7 PM. These are hard truths to deal with and not question why I was born where I was or feel guilty for what I have. I hope God can use these experiences to teach me more about His plan for me and to give me a greater awareness and thankfulness for the abundance He has given me. And now the strength and grace to get used to being back in the US!
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.